Russia-China advance Asian roadmap for Afghanistan

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for a family photo before a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Contact Group on Afghanistan, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Sputnik via AFP
Russia-China advance Asian roadmap for Afghanistan

July 15, 2021

Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s ‘facilitate, not mediate’ role could be the key to solving the Afghan imbroglio

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

Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting of Foreign Ministers on Wednesday in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, may have been an under-the-radar affair, but it did reveal the contours of the big picture ahead when it comes to Afghanistan.

So let’s see what Russia and China – the SCO’s heavyweights – have been up to.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi laid out the basic road map to his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Haneef Atmar. While stressing the Chinese foreign policy gold standard – no interference in internal affairs of friendly nations – Wang established three priorities:

1. Real inter-Afghan negotiations towards national reconciliation and a durable political solution, thus preventing all-out civil war. Beijing is ready to “facilitate” dialogue.

2. Fighting terror – which means, in practice, al-Qaeda remnants, ISIS-Khorasan and the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Afghanistan should not be a haven for terrorist outfits – again.

3. The Taliban, for their part, should pledge a clean break with every terrorist outfit.

Atmar, according to diplomatic sources, fully agreed with Wang. And so did Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin. Atmar even promised to work with Beijing to crack down on ETIM, a Uighur terror group founded in China’s western Xinjiang. Overall, the official Beijing stance is that all negotiations should be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”

There is no sign yet that the Taliban will enter a power-sharing arrangement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Photo: AFP/Wali Sabawoon/NurPhoto

It was up to Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov to offer a more detailed appraisal of the Dushanbe discussions.

The main Russian point is that Kabul and the Taliban should try to form a provisional coalition government for the next 2-3 years while they negotiate a permanent agreement. Talk about a Sisyphean task – and that’s an understatement. The Russians know very well that both sides won’t restart negotiations before September.

Moscow is very precise about the role of the extended troika – Russia, China, Pakistan and the US – in the excruciatingly slow Doha peace process talks: the troika should “facilitate” (also Wang’s terminology), not mediate the proceedings.

Another very important point is that once “substantive” intra-Afghan negotiations resume, a mechanism should be launched to clear the Taliban of UN Security Council sanctions.

This will mean the normalization of the Taliban as a political movement. Considering their current diplomatic drive, the Taliban do have their eyes on the ball. So the Russian warning that they should not become a security threat to any of the Central Asian “stans” or there will be “consequences” has been fully understood.

Four of the five “stans” (Turkmenistan is the exception) are SCO members. By the way, the Taliban have sent a diplomatic mission to Turkmenistan to ease its fears.

Break for the border

In Dushanbe, a special meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, established in 2005, for the first time was held at the foreign minister level.

This shows that the SCO as a whole is engaged in making its “facilitate, not mediate” role the prime mechanism to solve the Afghan drama. It’s always crucial to remember that no fewer than six SCO member-nations are Afghanistan’s neighbors.

During the main event in Dushanbe – the SCO Foreign Ministers Council – the Russians once again framed Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy as an attempt to deter China and isolate Russia.

Following recent analyses by President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian delegation explained to its SCO counterparts its view counterposing Moscow and Beijing’s effort to develop a polycentric world system based on international law, on the one hand, with the Western concept of the so-called “rules-based world order.”

The Western approach, they said, puts pressure on countries that pursue independent foreign policy courses, ultimately legitimizing the West’s “neocolonial policy.”

On the ground

While the SCO was discussing the drive towards a polycentric world system, the Taliban, on the ground, kept doing what they’ve been doing for the past few weeks: capturing strategic crossroads.

The Taliban already controlled border crossings with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. Now they have taken over ultra-strategic Spin Boldak, bordering Balochistan in Pakistan, which in trade terms is even more important than the Torkham border crossing near the Khyber Pass.

Taliban in Spin Boldak, the very busy commercial border between Afghanistan and Balochistan in Pakistan. Photo: AFP

According to Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, “the Spin Boldak district in Kandahar province has been cleared of the enemy” – Kabul’s forces – “and the district is now under the control of the mujahideen.” The term “mujahideen” in the Afghan context means indigenous forces fighting foreign invaders or proxies.

To have an idea of the importance of Spin Boldak for the Taliban economy during their years in power, see the third chapter of a series I published in Asia Times in 2010, here and here. Eleven years ago, I noted that “the Afghan-Pakistan border is still porous, and the Taliban seem to believe they may even get their Talibanistan back.” They believe that now, more than ever.

Meanwhile, in the northeast, in Badakhshan province, the Taliban are getting closer and closer to the border with Xinjiang – which has led to some hysteria about “terrorism” infiltrating China via the Wakhan corridor.

The Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, seen from the Tajik side. Photo: Pepe Escobar, November 2019

Nonsense. The actual Afghanistan-China border in the Wakhan is roughly 90 kilometers. Beijing can exercise full electronic surveillance on everything that moves.

I crossed part of the Wakhan on the Tajik side, bordering Afghanistan, during my Central Asian loop in late 2019, and on some stretches of the Pamir Highway I was as close to Xinjiang as 30 kilometers or so through no man’s land. The only people I saw along the geologically spectacular, desolate landscape were a few nomad caravans. The terrain can be even more forbidding than the Hindu Kush.

If any terror outfits try to get to Xinjiang, they won’t dare cross the Wakhan; they will try to infiltrate via Kyrgyzstan. I met a lot of Uighurs in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital: mostly businessman, legally going back and forth. On the Kyrgyz-Xinjiang border, there was a steady flow of cargo trucks. ETIM was dismissed as a bunch of nutcases.

What’s way more relevant is that the Ministry of Public Works in Kabul is actually building a 50-kilometer road – for the moment unpaved –  between Badakhshan province and Xinjiang, all the way to the end of the Wakhan corridor. They will call it the Wakhan Route.

No imperial graveyard ahead

SCO member Pakistan remains arguably the key to solve the Afghan drama. The Pakistani ISI remains closely linked to every Taliban faction: never forget the Taliban are a creation of legendary General Hamid Gul in the early 1990s.

At the same time, for any jihadi outfit it’s easier to hide and lie low deep in the Pakistani tribal areas than anywhere else – and they can buy protection, irrespective of what the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan and his circle are very much aware of it – as much as Beijing. That will be the ultimate test for the SCO in its anti-terror front.

China needs an eminently stable Pakistan for all the long-term Belt and Road/China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects and to fulfill its goal of incorporating Afghanistan. Kabul would be bound to benefit not only from increased connectivity and infrastructure development but also from future mineral including rare earth exploration projects.

Meanwhile, Hindu nationalists would love to outflank Pakistan and extend their influence in Kabul, encouraged by Washington. For the Empire of Chaos, the ideal agenda is – what else? – chaos: disrupting Belt and Road and the Russia-China road map for Eurasian integration, Afghanistan included.

Added hysteria depicting Russia and China involved in Afghan reconstruction as but a new chapter in the never-ending “graveyard of empires” saga does not even qualify as nonsense. The talks in Dushanbe made clear that the Russia-China strategic partnership approach to Afghanistan is cautiously realistic.

Taliban negotiators Abdul Latif Mansoor (right), Shahabuddin Delawar (center) and Suhail Shaheen (left) walk to attend a press conference in Moscow on July 9, 2021. Photo: AFP / Dimitar Dilkoff

It’s all about national reconciliation, economic development and Eurasian integration. Not included are a military component, hubs for an Empire of Bases, foreign interference. Moscow and Beijing also recognize, pragmatically, that fulfilling those dreams will not be possible in an Afghanistan hostage to ethno-sectarianism.

The Taliban for their part seem to have recognized their own limits, hence their current inter-regional diplomatic drive. They seem to be paying close attention to the inevitable heavyweights – Russia and China – as well as the Central Asian “stans” plus Pakistan and Iran.

Whether all this interconnection dance will herald the beginning of a post-war Afghanistan as a real functioning state, all we can say is insha Allah.

Say hello to the diplo-Taliban

Say hello to the diplo-Taliban

July 09, 2021

Deploying diplomatic skills refined from Doha to Moscow, the Taliban in 2021 has little to do with its 2001 incarnation

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

A very important meeting took place in Moscow last week, virtually hush-hush. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, received Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s national security adviser.

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Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (center) and other members of the Taliban arrive to attend an international conference in Moscow on March 18, 2021. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP

There were no substantial leaks. A bland statement pointed to the obvious: They “focused on the security situation in Afghanistan during the pullout of Western military contingencies and the escalation of the military-political situation in the northern part of the country.”

The real story is way more nuanced. Mohib, representing embattled President Ashraf Ghani, did his best to convince Patrushev that the Kabul administration represents stability. It does not – as the subsequent Taliban advances proved.

Patrushev knew Moscow could not offer any substantial measure of support to the current Kabul arrangement because doing so would burn bridges the Russians would need to cross in the process of engaging the Taliban. Patrushev knows that the continuation of Team Ghani is absolutely unacceptable to the Taliban – whatever the configuration of any future power-sharing agreement.

So Patrushev, according to diplomatic sources, definitely was not impressed.

This week we can all see why. A delegation from the Taliban political office went to Moscow essentially to discuss with the Russians the fast-evolving mini-chessboard in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban had been to Moscow four months earlier, along with the extended troika (Russia, US, China, Pakistan) to debate the new Afghan power equation.

On this trip, they emphatically assured their interlocutors there’s no Taliban interest in invading any territory of their Central Asia neighbors.

It’s not excessive, in view of how cleverly they’ve been playing their hand, to call the Taliban desert foxes. They know well what Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been repeating: Any turbulence coming from Afghanistan will be met with a direct response from the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In addition to stressing that the US withdrawal – actually, repositioning – represents the failure of its Afghan “mission,” Lavrov touched on the two really key points:

The Taliban is increasing its influence in the northern Afghanistan border areas; and Kabul’s refusal to form a transitional government is “promoting a belligerent solution” to the drama. This implies Lavrov expects much more flexibility from both Kabul and the Taliban in the Sisyphean power-sharing task ahead.

And then, relieving the tension, when asked by a Russian journalist if Moscow will send troops to Afghanistan, Lavrov reverted to Mr Cool: “The answer is obvious.”

Mohammad Suhail Shaheen is the quite articulate spokesman for the Taliban political office. He’s adamant that “taking Afghanistan by military force is not our policy. Our policy is to find a political solution to the Afghan issue, which is continuing in Doha.” Bottom line: “We confirmed our commitment to a political solution here in Moscow once more.”

That’s absolutely correct. The Taliban don’t want a bloodbath. They want to be embraced. As Shaheen has stressed, it would be easy to conquer major cities – but there would be blood. Meanwhile, the Taliban already control virtually the whole border with Tajikistan.

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New face of the Taliban: The insurgents’ spokesman Mohammad Suhail Shaheen speaks to media in Moscow on February 15, 2021.

The 2021 Taliban have little in common with their 2001 pre-war on terror incarnation. The movement has evolved from a largely Ghilzai Pashtun rural guerrilla insurgency to a more inter-ethnic arrangement, incorporating Tajiks, Uzbeks and even Shi’ite Hazaras – a group that was mercilessly persecuted during the 1996-2001 years of Taliban power.

Reliable figures are extremely hard to come by, but 30% of the Taliban today may be non-Pashtuns. One of the top commanders is ethnically Tajik – and that explains the lightning-flash “soft” blitzkrieg in northern Afghanistan across Tajik territory.

I visited a lot of these geologically spectacular places in the early 2000s. The inhabitants, all cousins, speaking Dari, are now turning over their villages and towns to Tajik Taliban as a matter of trust. Very few – if any – Pashtuns from Kandahar or Jalalabad are involved. That illustrates the absolute failure of the central government in Kabul.

Those who do not join the Taliban simply desert – as did the Kabul forces manning the checkpoint close to the bridge over the Pyanj river, off the Pamir highway; they escaped without a fight to Tajik territory, actually riding the Pamir highway. The Taliban hoisted their flag in this crucial intersection without firing a shot.

The Afghan National Army’s chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadza, fresh into his role by appointment from Ghani, is keeping a brave face: ANA’s priority is to protect the main cities (so far, so good, because the Taliban are not attacking them); border crossings (that’s not going so well), and highways (mixed results so far).

This interview with Suhail Shaheen is quite enlightening – as he feels compelled to stress that “we don’t have access to media” and laments the “baseless” barrage of “propaganda launched against us,” which implies that Western media should admit the Taliban have changed.

Shaheen points out that “it’s not possible to take 150 districts in just six weeks by fighting,” which connects to the fact that the security forces “do not trust the Kabul administration.” In all districts that have been conquered, he swears, “ the forces came to the Taliban voluntarily.”

A smoke plume rises from houses amid an ongoing fight between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Badghis province, on July 7. The Taliban launched its first major assault on a provincial capital since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country.

Shaheen makes a statement that could have come straight from Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s: The “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are the real freedom fighters.” That may be the object of endless debate across the lands of Islam.

But one fact is indisputable: The Taliban are sticking by the agreement they signed with the Americans on February 29, 2020. And that implies a total American exit: “If they don’t abide by their commitments, we have a clear right of retaliation.”

Thinking ahead to “when an Islamic government is in place,” Shaheen insists there will be “good relations” with every nation, and embassies and consulates will not be targeted.

The Taliban “goal is clear: to end the occupation.” And that brings us to the tricky gambit of Turkish troops “protecting” Kabul airport. Shaheen is crystal clear. “No NATO forces – that means continuation of occupation,” he proclaims. “When we have an independent Islamic country, then we will sign any agreement with Turkey that is mutually beneficial.”

Shaheen is involved in the ongoing, very complicated negotiations in Doha, so he cannot allow himself to commit the Taliban to any future power-sharing agreement. What he does say, even though “progress is slow” in Doha, is that, contrary to what was previously reported by media in Qatar, the Taliban will not present a formal written proposal to Kabul by the end of the month, The talks will continue.

Going hybrid?

Whatever the “Mission Accomplished” non-denial denials emanating from the White House, a few things are already clear on the Eurasia front.

The Russians, for one thing, are already engaging the Taliban, in detail, and may soon strike their name off their terror list.

The Chinese, for another, are assured that if the Taliban commits Afghanistan to join the Belt and Road Initiative, connecting via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, ISIS-Khorasan will not then be permitted to go on overdrive in Afghanistan bolstered by Uyghur jihadis currently in Idlib.

And nothing is off the table for Washington when it comes to derailing BRI. Crucial silos scattered across the deep state must be already at work replacing a forever war in Afghanistan with hybrid war, Syria-style.

Lavrov is very much aware of Kabul power brokers who would not say “no” to a new hybrid war arrangement. But the Taliban for their part have been very effective – preventing assorted Afghan factions from supporting Team Ghani.

As for the Central Asian “stans,” not a single one of them wants any forever wars or hybrid wars down the road.

Fasten your seat belts: It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

The long and winding multipolar road

July 01, 2021

The West’s ‘rules-based order’ invokes rulers’ authority; Russia-China say it’s time to return to law-based order

The long and winding multipolar road

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

We do live in extraordinary times.

On the day of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), President Xi Jinping, in Tiananmen square, amid all the pomp and circumstance, delivered a stark geopolitical message:

The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to intimidate, oppress or subjugate them. Anyone who tries to do this will find themselves on a collision course with a large steel wall forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese.

I have offered a concise version of the modern Chinese miracle – which has nothing to do with divine intervention, but “searching truth from facts” (copyright Deng Xiaoping), inspired by a solid cultural and historical tradition.

The “large steel wall” evoked by Xi now permeates a dynamic “moderately prosperous society” – a goal achieved by the CCP on the eve of the centennial. Lifting over 800 million people out of poverty is a historical first – in every aspect.

As in all things China, the past informs the future. This is all about xiaokang – which may be loosely translated as “moderately prosperous society”.

The concept first appeared no less than 2,500 years ago, in the classic Shijing (“The Book of Poetry”). The Little Helmsman Deng, with his historical eagle eye, revived it in 1979, right at the start of the “opening up” economic reforms.

Now compare the breakthrough celebrated in Tiananmen – which will be interpreted all across the Global South as evidence of the success of a Chinese model for economic development – with footage being circulated of the Taliban riding captured T-55 tanks across impoverished villages in northern Afghanistan.

History Repeating: this is something I saw with my own eyes over twenty years ago.

The Taliban now control nearly the same amount of Afghan territory they did immediately before 9/11. They control the border with Tajikistan and are closing in on the border with Uzbekistan.

Exactly twenty years ago I was deep into yet another epic journey across Karachi, Peshawar, the Pakistan tribal areas, Tajikistan and finally the Panjshir valley, where I interviewed Commander Masoud – who told me the Taliban at the time were controlling 85% of Afghanistan.

Three weeks later Masoud was assassinated by an al-Qaeda-linked commando disguised as “journalists” – two days before 9/11. The empire – at the height of the unipolar moment – went into Forever Wars on overdrive, while China – and Russia – went deep into consolidating their emergence, geopolitically and geoeconomically.

We are now living the consequences of these opposed strategies.

That strategic partnership

President Putin has just spent three hours and fifty minutes answering non-pre-screened questions, live, from Russian citizens during his annual ‘Direct Line’ session. The notion that Western “leaders” of the Biden, BoJo, Merkel and Macron kind would be able to handle something even remotely similar, non-scripted, is laughable.

The key takeaway: Putin stressed US elites understand that the world is changing but still want to preserve their dominant position. He illustrated it with the recent British caper in Crimea straight out of a Monty Python fail, a “complex provocation” that was in fact Anglo-American: a NATO aircraft had previously conducted a reconnaissance flight. Putin: “It was obvious that the destroyer entered [Crimean waters] pursuing military goals.”

Earlier this week Putin and Xi held a videoconference. One of the key items was quite significant: the extension of the China-Russia Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, originally signed 20 years ago.

A key provision: “When a situation arises in which one of the contracting parties deems that…it is confronted with the threat of aggression, the contracting parties shall immediately hold contacts and consultations in order to eliminate such threats.”

This treaty is at the heart of what is now officially described – by Moscow and Beijing – as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era”. Such a broad definition is warranted because this is a complex multi-level partnership, not an “alliance”, designed as a counterbalance and viable alternative to hegemony and unilateralism.

A graphic example is provided by the progressive interpolation of two trade/development strategies, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), which Putin and Xi again discussed, in connection with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which was founded only three months before 9/11.

It’s no wonder that one of the highlights in Beijing this week were trade talks between the Chinese and four Central Asia “stans” – all of them SCO members.

“Law” and “rule”

The defining multipolarity road map has been sketched in an essay by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that deserves careful examination.

Lavrov surveys the results of the recent G7, NATO and US-EU summits prior to Putin-Biden in Geneva:

These meetings were carefully prepared in a way that leaves no doubt that the West wanted to send a clear message: it stands united like never before and will do what it believes to be right in international affairs, while forcing others, primarily Russia and China, to follow its lead. The documents adopted at the Cornwall and Brussels summits cemented the rules-based world order concept as a counterweight to the universal principles of international law with the UN Charter as its primary source. In doing so, the West deliberately shies away from spelling out the rules it purports to follow, just as it refrains from explaining why they are needed.

As he dismisses how Russia and China have been labeled as “authoritarian powers” (or “illiberal”, according to the favorite New York-Paris-London mantra), Lavrov smashes Western hypocrisy:

While proclaiming the ‘right’ to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries for the sake of promoting democracy as it understands it, the West instantly loses all interest when we raise the prospect of making international relations more democratic, including renouncing arrogant behavior and committing to abide by the universally recognized tenets of international law instead of ‘rules’.

That provides Lavrov with an opening for a linguistic analysis of “law” and “rule”:

In Russian, the words “law” and “rule” share a single root. To us, a rule that is genuine and just is inseparable from the law. This is not the case for Western languages. For instance, in English, the words “law” and “rule” do not share any resemblance. See the difference? “Rule” is not so much about the law, in the sense of generally accepted laws, as it is about the decisions taken by the one who rules or governs. It is also worth noting that “rule” shares a single root with “ruler,” with the latter’s meanings including the commonplace device for measuring and drawing straight lines. It can be inferred that through its concept of “rules” the West seeks to align everyone around its vision or apply the same yardstick to everybody, so that everyone falls into a single file.

In a nutshell: the road to multipolarity will not follow “ultimatums”. The G20, where the BRICS are represented, is a “natural platform” for “mutually accepted agreements”. Russia for its part is driving a Greater Eurasia Partnership. And a “polycentric world order” implies the necessary reform of the UN Security Council, “strengthening it with Asian, African and Latin American countries”.

Will the Unilateral Masters ply this road? Over their dead bodies: after all, Russia and China are “existential threats”. Hence our collective angst, spectators under the volcano.

Article by Sergey Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, “The Law, the Rights and the Rules”, Moscow, June 28, 2021

Article by Sergey Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, “The Law, the Rights and the Rules”, Moscow, June 28, 2021

June 27, 2021

https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4801890

The frank and generally constructive conversation that took place at the June 16, 2021 summit meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden in Geneva resulted in an agreement to launch a substantive dialogue on strategic stability, reaffirming the crucial premise that nuclear war is unacceptable. The two sides also reached an understanding on the advisability of engaging in consultations on cybersecurity, the operation of diplomatic missions, the fate of imprisoned Russian and US citizens and a number of regional conflicts.

The Russian leader made it clear, including in his public statements, that finding a mutually acceptable balance of interests strictly on a parity basis is the only way to deliver …The Russian leader made it clear, including in his public statements, that finding a mutually acceptable balance of interests strictly on a parity basis is the only way to deliver on any of these tracks. There were no objections during the talks. However, in their immediate aftermath, US officials, including those who participated in the Geneva meeting, started asserting what seemed to be foregone tenets, perorating that they had “made it clear” to Moscow, “warned it, and stated their demands.” Moreover, all these “warnings” went hand in hand with threats: if Moscow does not accept the “rules of the road” set forth in Geneva in a matter of several months, it would come under renewed pressure.

Of course, it has yet to be seen how the consultations to define specific ways for fulfilling the Geneva understandings as mentioned above will proceed. As Vladimir Putin said during his news conference following the talks, “we have a lot to work on.” That said, it is telling that Washington’s ineradicable position was voiced immediately following the talks, especially since European capitals immediately took heed of the Big Brother’s sentiment and picked up the tune with much gusto and relish. The gist of their statements is that they are ready to normalise their relations with Moscow, but only after it changes the way it behaves.

It is as if a choir has been pre-arranged to sing along with the lead vocalist. It seems that this was what the series of high-level Western events in the build-up to the Russia-US talks was all about: the Group of Seven Summit in Cornwall, UK, the NATO Summit in Brussels, as well as Joseph Biden’s meeting with President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

These meetings were carefully prepared in a way that leaves no doubt that the West wanted to send a clear message: it stands united like never before and will do what it believes to be right in international affairs, while forcing others, primarily Russia and China, to follow its lead. The documents adopted at the Cornwall and Brussels summits cemented the rules-based world order concept as a counterweight to the universal principles of international law with the UN Charter as its primary source.

In doing so, the West deliberately shies away from spelling out the rules it purports to follow, just as it refrains from explaining why they are needed. After all, there are already thousands of universal international legal instruments setting out clear national commitments and transparent verification mechanisms. The beauty of these Western “rules” lies precisely in the fact that they lack any specific content.When someone acts against the will of the West, it immediately responds with a groundless claim that “the rules have been broken” (without bothering to present any evidence) and declares its “right to hold the perpetrators accountable.” The less specific they get, the freer their hand to carry on with the arbitrary practice of employing dirty tactics as a way to pressure competitors. During the so-called “wild 1990s” in Russia, we used to refer to such practices as laying down the law.

To the participants in the G7, NATO and US-EU summits, this series of high-level events signalled the return by the United States into European affairs and the restored consolidation of the Old World under the wing of the new administration in Washington. Most NATO and EU members met this U-turn with enthusiastic comments rather than just a sigh of relief. The adherence to liberal values as the humanity’s guiding star provides an ideological underpinning for the reunification of the “Western family.” Without any false modesty, Washington and Brussels called themselves “an anchor for democracy, peace and security,” as opposed to “authoritarianism in all its forms.” In particular, they proclaimed their intent to use sanctions to “support democracy across the globe.” To this effect, they took on board the American idea of convening a Summit for Democracy. Make no mistake, the West will cherry pick the participants in this summit. It will also set an agenda that is unlikely to meet any opposition from the participants of its choosing. There has been talk of democracy-exporting countries undertaking “enhanced commitments” to ensure universal adherence to “democratic standards” and devising mechanisms for controlling these processes.

The revitalised Anglo-American Atlantic Charter approved by Joseph Biden and Boris Johnson on June 10, 2021 on the sidelines of the G7 Summit is also worth noting. It was cast as an updated version of the 1941 document signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill under the same title. At the time, it played an important role in shaping the contours of the post-war world order.

However, neither Washington, nor London mentioned an essential historical fact: eighty years ago, the USSR and a number of European governments in exile joined the 1941 charter, paving the way to making it one of the conceptual pillars of the Anti-Hitler Coalition and one of the legal blueprints of the UN Charter.

By the same token, the New Atlantic Charter has been designed as a starting point for building a new world order, but guided solely by Western “rules.” Its provisions are ideologically tainted. They seek to widen the gap between the so-called liberal democracies and all other nations, as well as legitimise the rules-based order. The new charter fails to mention the UN or the OSCE, while stating without any reservations the adherence by the Western nations to their commitments as NATO members, viewed de facto as the only legitimate decision-making centre (at least this is how former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described NATO’s role). It is clear that the same philosophy will guide the preparations for the Summit for Democracy.

Labelled as “authoritarian powers,” Russia and China have been designated as the main obstacles to delivering on the agenda set out at the June summits. From a general perspective, they face two groups of grievances, loosely defined as external and internal. In terms of international affairs, Beijing is accused of being too assertive … Russia stands accused of adopting an “aggressive posture”in a number of regions. This is the way they treat Moscow’s policy aimed at countering ultra-radical and neo-Nazi aspirations in its immediate neighbourhood, where the rights of Russians, as well as other ethnic minorities, are being suppressed, and the Russian language, education and culture rooted out. They also dislike the fact than Moscow stands up for countries that became victims to Western gambles, were attacked by international terrorists and risked losing their statehood, as was the case with Syria.

Still, the West reserved its biggest words to the inner workings of the “non-democratic” countries and its commitment to reshape them to fit into the Western mould. This entails bringing society in compliance with the vision of democracy as preached by Washington and Brussels. This lies at the root of the demands that Moscow and Beijing, as well as all others, follow the Western prescriptions on human rights, civil society, opposition treatment, the media, governance and the interaction between the branches of power. While proclaiming the “right” to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries for the sake of promoting democracy as it understands it, the West instantly loses all interest when we raise the prospect of making international relations more democratic, including renouncing arrogant behaviour and committing to abide by the universally recognised tenets of international law instead of “rules.” By expanding sanctions and other illegitimate coercive measures against sovereign states, the West promotes totalitarian rule in global affairs, assuming an imperial, neo-colonial stance in its relations with third countries. They are asked to adopt the democratic rule under the model of the Western choosing, and forget about democracy in international affairs, since someone will be deciding everything for them. All that is asked of these third countries is to keep quiet, or face reprisals.

Clearheaded politicians in Europe and America realise that this uncompromising policy leads nowhere, and are beginning to think pragmatically, albeit out of public view, recognising that the world has more than just one civilisation. They are beginning to recognise that Russia, China and other major powers have a history that dates back a thousand years, and have their own traditions, values and way of life. Attempts to decide whose values are better, and whose are worse, seem pointless. Instead, the West must simply recognise that there are other ways to govern that may be different from the Western approaches, and accept and respect this as a given. No country is immune to human rights issues, so why all this high-browed hubris? Why do the Western countries assume that they can deal with these issues on their own, since they are democracies, while others have yet to reach this level, and are in need of assistance that the West will generously provide.

International relations are going through fundamental shifts that affect everyone without exception. Trying to predict where it will take us is impossible. Still, there is a question: messianic aspirations apart, what is the most effective form of government for coping with and removing threats that transcend borders and affect all people, no matter where they live? Political scientists are beginning to compare the available toolboxes used by the so-called liberal democracies and by “autocratic regimes.” In this context, it is telling that the term “autocratic democracy” has been suggested, even if timidly.

These are useful considerations, and serious-minded politicians who are currently in power, among others, must take heed. Thinking and scrutinising what is going on around us has never hurt anyone. The multipolar world is becoming reality.Attempts to ignore this reality by asserting oneself as the only legitimate decision-making centre will hardly bring about solutions to real, rather than farfetched challenges. Instead, what is needed is mutually respectful dialogue involving the leading powers and with due regard for the interests of all other members of the international community. This implies an unconditional commitment to abide by the universally accepted norms and principles of international law, including respecting the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in their domestic affairs, peaceful resolution of conflict, and the right to self-determination.

Taken as a whole, the historical West dominated the world for five hundred years. However, there is no doubt that it now sees that this era is coming to a close, while clinging to the status it used to enjoy, and putting artificial brakes on the objective process consisting in the emergence of a polycentric world. This brought about an attempt to provide a conceptual underpinning to the new vision of multilateralism. For example, France and Germany tried to promote “effective multilateralism,” rooted in the EU ideals and actions, and serving as a model to everyone else, rather than promoting UN’s inclusive multilateralism.

By imposing the concept of a rules-based order, the West seeks to shift the conversation on key issues to the platforms of its liking, where no dissident voices can be herd. This is how like-minded groups and various “appeals” emerge. This is about coordinating prescriptions and then making everyone else follow them. Examples include an “appeal for trust and security in cyberspace”, “the humanitarian appeal for action”, and a “global partnership to protect media freedom.” Each of these platforms brings together only several dozen countries, which is far from a majority, as far as the international community is concerned. The UN system offers inclusive negotiations platforms on all of the abovementioned subjects. Understandably, this gives rise to alternative points of view that have to be taken into consideration in search of a compromise, but all the West wants is to impose its own rules.

At the same time, the EU develops dedicated horizontal sanctions regimes for each of its “like-minded groups,” of course, without looking back at the UN Charter. This is how it works: those who join these “appeals” or “partnerships” decide among themselves who violates their requirements in a given sphere, and the European Union imposes sanctions on those at fault. What a convenient method. They can indict and punish all by themselves without ever needing to turn to the UN Security Council. They even came up with a rationale to this effect: since we have an alliance of the most effective multilateralists, we can teach others to master these best practices. To those who believe this to be undemocratic or at odds with a vision of genuine multilateralism, President of France Emmanuel Macron offered an explanation in his remarks on May 11, 2021: multilateralism does not mean necessity to strike unanimity, and the position of those “who do not wish to continue moving forward must not be able to stop … an ambitious avant-garde” of the world community.

Make no mistake: there is nothing wrong with the rules per se. On the contrary, the UN Charter is a set of rules, but these rules were approved by all countries of the world, rather than by a closed group at a cosy get-together.

An interesting detail: in Russian, the words “law” and “rule” share a single root. To us, a rule that is genuine and just is inseparable from the law. This is not the case for Western languages. For instance, in English, the words “law” and “rule” do not share any resemblance. See the difference? “Rule” is not so much about the law, in the sense of generally accepted laws, as it is about the decisions taken by the one who rules or governs. It is also worth noting that “rule” shares a single root with “ruler,” with the latter’s meanings including the commonplace device for measuring and drawing straight lines. It can be inferred that through its concept of “rules” the West seeks to align everyone around its vision or apply the same yardstick to everybody, so that everyone falls into a single file.

While reflecting on linguistics, worldview, sentiment, and the way they vary from one nation or culture to another, it is worth recollecting how the West has been justifying NATO’s unreserved eastward expansion towards the Russian border. When we point to the assurances provided to the Soviet Union that this would not happen, we hear that these were merely spoken promises, and there were no documents signed to this effect.There is a centuries-old tradition in Russia of making handshake deals without signing anything and holding one’s word as sacrosanct, but it seems unlikely to ever take hold in the West.

Efforts to replace international law by Western “rules” include an immanently dangerous policy of revising the history and outcomes of the Second World War and the Nuremberg trials verdicts as the foundation of today’s world order. The West refuses to support a Russia-sponsored UN resolution proclaiming that glorifying Nazism is unacceptable, and rejects our proposals to discuss the demolition of monuments to those who liberated Europe. They also want to condemn to oblivion momentous post-war developments, such as the 1960 UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, initiated by our country. The former colonial powers seek to efface this memory by replacing it with hastily concocted rituals like taking a knee ahead of sports competitions, in order to divert attention from their historical responsibility for colonial-era crimes.

The rules-based order is the embodiment of double standards. The right to self-determination is recognised as an absolute “rule” whenever it can be used to an advantage. This applies to the Malvinas Islands, or the Falklands, some 12,000 kilometres from Great Britain, to the remote former colonial territories Paris and London retain despite multiple UN resolutions and rulings by the International Court of Justice, as well as Kosovo, which obtained its “independence” in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. However, if self-determination runs counter to the Western geopolitical interests, as it happened when the people of Crimea voted for reunification with Russia, this principle is cast aside, while condemning the free choice made by the people and punishing them with sanctions.

Apart from encroaching on international law, the “rules” concept also manifests itself in attempts to encroach on the very human nature. In a number of Western countries, students learn at school that Jesus Christ was bisexual. Attempts by reasonable politicians to shield the younger generation from aggressive LGBT propaganda are met with bellicose protests from the “enlightened Europe.” All world religions, the genetic code of the planet’s key civilisations, are under attack. The United States is at the forefront of state interference in church affairs, openly seeking to drive a wedge into the Orthodox world, whose values are viewed as a powerful spiritual obstacle for the liberal concept of boundless permissiveness.

The insistence and even stubbornness demonstrated by the West in imposing its “rules” are striking. Of course, domestic politics is a factor, with the need to show voters how tough your foreign policy can get when dealing with “autocratic foes” during every electoral cycle, which happen every two years in the United States.

Still, it was also the West that coined the “liberty, equality, fraternity” motto. I do not know whether the term “fraternity” is politically correct in today’s Europe from a “gender perspective,” but there were no attempts to encroach on equality so far. As mentioned above, while preaching equality and democracy in their countries and demanding that other follow its lead, the West refuses to discuss ways to ensure equality and democracy in international affairs.

This approach is clearly at odds with the ideals of freedom. The veil of its superiority conceals weakness and the fear of engaging in a frank conversation not only with yes-men and those eager to fall in line, but also with opponents with different beliefs and values, not neo-liberal or neo-conservative ones, but those learned at mother’s knee, inherited from many past generations, traditions and beliefs.

It is much harder to accept the diversity and competition of ideas in the development of the world than to invent prescriptions for all of humanity within a narrow circle of the like-minded, free from any disputes on matters of principle, which makes the emergence of truth all but impossible. However, universal platforms can produce agreements that are much more solid, sustainable, and can be subject to objective verification.

This immutable truth struggles to make it through to the Western elites, consumed as they are with the exceptionalism complex. As I mentioned earlier in this article, right after the talks between Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden, EU and NATO officials rushed to announce that nothing has changed in the way they treat Russia. Moreover, they are ready to see their relations with Moscow deteriorate further, they claimed.

Moreover, it is an aggressive Russophobic minority that increasingly sets the EU’s policy, as confirmed by the EU Summit in Brussels on June 24 and 25, 2021, where the future of relations with Russia was on the agenda. The idea voiced by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to hold a meeting with Vladimir Putin was killed before it saw the light of day. Observers noted that the Russia-US Summit in Geneva was tantamount to a go-ahead by the United States to have this meeting, but the Baltic states, siding with Poland, cut short this “uncoordinated” attempt by Berlin and Paris, while the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned the German and French ambassadors to explain their governments’ actions. What came out of the debates at the Brussels summit was an instruction to the European Commission and the European Union External Action Service to devise new sanctions against Moscow without referring to any specific “sins,” just in case. No doubt they will come up with something, should the need arise.

Neither NATO, nor the EU intend to divert from their policy of subjugating other regions of the world, proclaiming a self-designated global messianic mission.The North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation is seeking to proactively contribute to America’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific Region, clearly targeted at containing China, and undermining ASEAN’s role in its decades-long efforts to build an inclusive cooperation architecture for Asia-Pacific. In turn, the European Union drafts programmes to “embrace” geopolitical spaces in its neighbourhood and beyond, without coordinating these initiatives even with the invited countries. This is what the Eastern Partnership, as well as a recent programme approved by Brussels for Central Asia, are all about. There is a fundamental difference between these approaches and the ones guiding integration processes with Russia’s involvement: the CIS, the CSTO, EurAsEC and the SCO, which seek to develop relations with external partners exclusively on the basis of parity and mutual agreement.

With its contemptuous attitude towards other members of the international community, the West finds itself on the wrong side of history.

Serious, self-respecting countries will never tolerate attempts to talk to them through ultimatums and will discuss any issues only on an equal footing.

As for Russia, it is high time that everyone understands that we have drawn a definitive line under any attempts to play a one-way game with us. All the mantras we hear from the Western capitals on their readiness to put their relations with Moscow back on track, as long as it repents and changes its tack, are meaningless. Still, many persist, as if by inertia, in presenting us with unilateral demands, which does little, if any, credit to how realistic they are.

The policy of having the Russian Federation develop on its own, independently and protecting national interests, while remaining open to reaching agreements with foreign partners on an equal basis, has long been at the core of all its position papers on foreign policy, national security and defence. However, judging by the practical steps taken over the recent years by the West, they probably thought that Russia did not really mean what it preached, as if it did not intend to follow through on these principles. This includes the hysterical response to Moscow’s efforts to stand up for the rights of Russians in the aftermath of the bloody 2014 government coup in Ukraine, supported by the United States, NATO and the EU. They thought that if they applied some more pressure on the elites and targeted their interests, while expanding personal, financial and other sectoral sanctions, Moscow would come to its senses and realise that it would face mounting challenges on its development path, as long as it did not “change its behaviour,” which implies obeying the West. Even when Russia made it clear that we view this policy by the United States and Europe as a new reality and will proceed on economic and other matters from the premise that we cannot depend on unreliable partners, the West persisted in believing that, at the end of the day, Moscow “will come to its senses” and will make the required concessions for the sake of financial reward. Let me emphasise what President Vladimir Putin has said on multiple occasions: there have been no unilateral concessions since the late 1990s and there never will be. If you want to work with us, recover lost profits and business reputations, let us sit down and agree on ways we can meet each other half way in order to find fair solutions and compromises.

It is essential that the West understands that this is a firmly ingrained worldview among the people of Russia, reflecting the attitude of the overwhelming majority here. The “irreconcilable” opponents of the Russian government who have placed their stakes on the West and believe that all Russia’s woes come from its anti-Western stance advocate unilateral concessions for the sake of seeing the sanctions lifted and receiving hypothetical financial gains. But they are totally marginal in Russian society. During his June 16, 2021 news conference in Geneva, Vladimir Putin made it abundantly clear what the West is after when it supports these marginal forces.

These are disruptive efforts as far as history is concerned, while Russians have always demonstrated maturity, a sense of self-respect, dignity and national pride, and the ability to think independently, especially during hard times, while remaining open to the rest of the world, but only on an equal, mutually beneficial footing. Once we put the confusion and mayhem of the 1990s behind us, these values became the bedrock of Russia’s foreign policy concept in the 21st century. The people of Russia can decide on how they view the actions by their government without getting any prompts from abroad.

As to the question on how to proceed on the international stage, there is no doubt that leaders will always play an important role, but they have to reaffirm their authority, offer new ideas and lead by conviction, not ultimatums. The Group of Twenty, among others, is a natural platform for working out mutually acceptable agreements. It brings together the leading economies, young and old, including the G7, as well as the BRICS and its like-minded countries. Russia’s initiative to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership by coordinating the efforts of countries and organisations across the continent holds a powerful consolidating potential. Seeking toEfforts to bring more democracy to international relations and affirm a polycentric world order include reforming the UN Security Council by strengthening it with Asian, African and Latin American countries, and ending the anomaly with the excessive representation of the West in the UN’s main body.

facilitate an honest conversation on the key global stability matters, President Vladimir Putin suggested convening a summit of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council that have special responsibility for maintaining international peace and stability on the planet.

Regardless of any ambitions and threats, our country remains committed to a sovereign and independent foreign policy, while also ready to offer a unifying agenda in international affairs with due account for the cultural and civilisational diversity in today’s world. Confrontation is not our choice, no matter the rationale. On June 22, 2021, Vladimir Putin published an article “Being Open, Despite the Past,” in which he emphasised: “We simply cannot afford to carry the burden of past misunderstandings, hard feelings, conflicts, and mistakes.” He also discussed the need to ensure security without dividing lines, a common space for equitable cooperation and inclusive development. This approach hinges on Russia’s thousand-year history and is fully consistent with the current stage in its development. We will persist in promoting the emergence of an international relations culture based on the supreme values of justice and enabling all countries, large and small, to develop in peace and freedom. We will always remain open to honest dialogue with anyone who demonstrates a reciprocal readiness to find a balance of interests firmly rooted in international law. These are the rules we adhere to.

Statements after Putin / Biden summit

June 16, 2021

Source

Statements after Putin / Biden summit

Russian-American consultations began with a restricted-format meeting that included Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

After that the talks continued in an expanded format.

Following the summit, the US – Russia Presidential Joint Statement on Strategic Stability was adopted.

U.S. – Russia Presidential Joint Statement on Strategic Stability

June 16, 2021

We, President of the United States of America Joseph R. Biden and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, note the United States and Russia have demonstrated that, even in periods of tension, they are able to make progress on our shared goals of ensuring predictability in the strategic sphere, reducing the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war.

The recent extension of the New START Treaty exemplifies our commitment to nuclear arms control. Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Consistent with these goals, the United States and Russia will embark together on an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust. Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.

http://en.kremlin.ru/supplement/5658


President Putin: News conference Q&A following Russia-US talks

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Friends, ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

I am at your service. I think there is no need for long opening remarks since everyone is familiar with the topics of discussion in general: strategic stability, cyber security, regional conflicts, and trade relations. We also covered cooperation in the Arctic. This is pretty much what we discussed.

With that, I will take your questions.

Question: Good evening,

Perhaps, you can name the topics that were discussed especially closely? In particular, Ukraine is of great interest. In what context was it touched upon, was the situation in Donbass and the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO discussed?

One more thing: before the talks, there were great expectations about the ambassadors of the two countries returning to their stations in the respective capitals. In particular, your assistant, Yury Ushakov, said that this was possible. Have these decisions been made? How did the talks go in general?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: With regard to the ambassadors returning to their stations – the US ambassador to Moscow, and the Russian ambassador to Washington, we agreed on this matter, and they will be returning to their permanent duty stations. When exactly – tomorrow or the day after tomorrow – is a purely technical issue.

We also agreed that the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation and the US State Department would begin consultations on the entire range of cooperation on the diplomatic track. There are things to discuss, and an enormous backlog [of unresolved issues] has piled up. I think both sides, including the American side, are committed to looking for solutions.

With regard to Ukraine, indeed, this issue was touched upon. I cannot say that it was done in great detail, but as far as I understood President Biden, he agreed that the Minsk agreements should be the basis for a settlement in southeastern Ukraine.

As for Ukraine’s potential accession to NATO, this issue was touched upon in passing. I suppose there is nothing to discuss in this respect.

This is how it was in general terms.

Question: Mr President, you said strategic stability was one of the topics. Could you tell us in more detail what decisions were made on this issue? Will Russia and the United States resume or start talks on strategic stability and disarmament, and, in particular, on the New START Treaty? Do they plan to start talks on extending New START, perhaps revising its parameters or signing a new treaty altogether?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: The United States and the Russian Federation bear special responsibility for global strategic stability, at least because we are the two biggest nuclear powers – in terms of the amount of ammunition and warheads, the number of delivery vehicles, the level of sophistication and quality of nuclear arms. We are aware of this responsibility.

I think it is obvious to everyone that President Biden made a responsible and, we believe, timely decision to extend New START for five years, that is, until 2024.

Of course, it would be natural to ask what next. We agreed to start interdepartmental consultations under the aegis of the US Department of State and the Foreign Ministry of Russia. Colleagues will determine at the working level the line-up of these delegations, the venues and frequency of meetings.

Question: Hi, Matthew Chance from CNN. Thank you very much for giving me this question.

First of all, could you characterise the dynamic between yourself and President Biden? Was it hostile or was it friendly?

And secondly, throughout these conversations did you commit to ceasing carrying out cyberattacks on the United States? Did you commit to stopping threatening Ukraine’s security? And did you commit to stop cracking down on the opposition in Russia?

Vladimir Putin: I will begin with a general assessment. I believe there was no hostility at all. Quite the contrary. Our meeting was, of course, a principled one, and our positions diverge on many issues, but I still think that both of us showed a willingness to understand each other and look for ways of bringing our positions closer together. The conversation was quite constructive.

As for cyber security, we have agreed to start consultations on this issue. I consider this very important.

Now about the commitments each side must make. I would like to tell you about things that are generally known, but not to the public at large. American sources – I am simply afraid to mix up the names of organisations (Mr Peskov will give them to you later) – have said that most cyberattacks in the world come from US cyberspace. Canada is second. It is followed by two Latin American countries and then the United Kingdom. As you can see, Russia is not on the list of these countries from whose cyberspace the most cyberattacks originate. This is the first point.

Now the second point. In 2020 we received 10 inquiries from the United States about cyberattacks on US facilities – as our colleagues say – from Russian cyberspace. Two more requests were made this year. Our colleagues received exhaustive responses to all of them, both in 2020 and this year.

In turn, Russia sent 45 inquiries to the relevant US agency last year and 35 inquiries in the first half of this year. We have not yet received a single response. This shows that we have a lot to work on.

The question of who, on what scale and in what area must make commitments should be resolved during negotiations. We have agreed to start such consultations. We believe that cyber security is extremely important in the world in general, for the United States in particular, and to the same extent for Russia.

For example, we are aware of the cyberattacks on the pipeline company in the United States. We are also aware of the fact that the company had to pay 5 million to the cybercriminals. According to my information, a portion of the money has been returned from the e-wallets. What do Russia’s public authorities have to do with this?

We face the same threats. For example, there was an attack on the public healthcare system of a large region in the Russian Federation. Of course, we see where the attacks are coming from, and we see that these activities are coordinated from US cyberspace. I do not think that the United States, official US authorities, are interested in this kind of manipulation. What we need to do is discard all the conspiracy theories, sit down at the expert level and start working in the interests of the United States and the Russian Federation. In principle, we have agreed to this, and Russia is willing to do so.

Give them a microphone – part of the question remained unanswered.

Remark: That’s correct and thank you very much for coming back to me, sir.

So, there were two other parts to the question. The first one is: did you commit in these meetings to stop threatening Ukraine? Remember the reason this summit was called in the first place, or the timing of it, was when Russia was building up lots of forces close to border. And the second part of the question, third part of the question was: did you commit to stopping your crackdown against the opposition groups inside Russia led by Alexei Navalny?

Vladimir Putin: I did not hear that part of the question – either it was not translated, or you just decided to ask a second question.

With regard to our obligations regarding Ukraine, we have only one obligation which is to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. If the Ukrainian side is willing to do this, we will take this path, no questions asked.

By the way, I would like to note the following. Back in November 2020, the Ukrainian delegation presented its views about how it was planning to implement the Minsk Agreements. Please take a look at the Minsk Agreements – they are not a confidential document. They say that, first, it is necessary to submit proposals on the political integration of Donbass into the Ukrainian legal system and the Constitution. To do so, it is necessary to amend the Constitution – this is spelled out in the agreements. This is the first point. And second, the border between the Russian Federation and Ukraine along the Donbass line will begin to be occupied by the border troops of Ukraine on the day following election day – Article 9.

What has Ukraine come up with? The first step it proposed was to move Ukraine’s armed forces back to their permanent stations. What does this mean? This means Ukrainian troops would enter Donbass. This is the first point. Second, they proposed closing the border between Russia and Ukraine in this area. Third, they proposed holding elections three months after these two steps.

You do not need a legal background or any special training to understand that this has nothing to do with the Minsk Agreements. This completely contradicts the Minsk Agreements. Therefore, what kind of additional obligations can Russia assume? I think the answer is clear.

With regard to military exercises, we conduct them on our territory, just like the United States conducts many of its exercises on its territory. But we are not bringing our equipment and personnel closer to the state borders of the United States of America when we conduct our exercises. Unfortunately, this is what our US partners are doing now. So, the Russian side, not the American side, should be concerned about this, and this also needs to be discussed, and our respective positions should be clarified.

With regard to our non-systemic opposition and the citizen you mentioned, first, this person knew that he was breaking applicable Russian law. He needed to check in with the authorities as someone who was twice sentenced to a suspended prison time. Fully cognisant of what he was doing, I want to emphasise this, and disregarding this legal requirement, this gentleman went abroad for medical treatment, and the authorities did not ask him to check in while he was in treatment. As soon as he left the hospital and posted his videos online, the requirements were reinstated. He did not appear; he disregarded the law – and was put on the wanted list. He knew that going back to Russia. I believe he deliberately decided to get arrested. He did what he wanted to do. So, what is there to be discussed?

With regard to the people like him and the systemic opposition in general, unfortunately, the format of a news conference precludes a detailed discussion, but I would like to say the following. Look, I think I will not say anything complicated, it will be clear for everyone. If you find it possible to objectively convey this message to your viewers and listeners, I would be very grateful to you.

So, the United States declared Russia an enemy and an adversary. Congress did this in 2017. US legislation was amended to include provisions that the United States must maintain democratic governance rules and order in our country and support political organisations. This is in your law, US law. Now let’s ask ourselves a question: if Russia is an enemy, what kind of organisations will the United States support in Russia? I think not the ones that make the Russian Federation stronger, but the ones that hold it back, since this is the goal of the United States, something that has been announced publicly. So, these are the organisations and the people who are instrumental in the implementation of the United States’ policy on Russia.

How should we feel about this? I think it is clear: we must be wary. But we will act exclusively within the framework of Russian law.

Transcript to be continued.


Remarks by President Biden in post-summit Press Conference

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/06/16/remarks-by-president-biden-in-press-conference-4/June 16, 2021 • Speeches and Remarks

Hôtel du Parc des Eaux-Vives
Geneva, Switzerland

7:20 P.M. CEST

(There is some French bleedthrough at the start of the audio for a few moments)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s been a long day for you all.  (Laughs.)  I know it was easy getting into the — the pre-meeting.  There was no problem getting through those doors, was it — was there?

Anyway, hello, everyone.  Well, I’ve just finished the — the last meeting of this week’s long trip, the U.S.-Russian Summit.

And I know there were a lot of hype around this meeting, but it’s pretty straightforward to me — the meeting.  One, there is no substitute, as those of you who have covered me for a while know, for a face-to-face dialogue between leaders.  None.  And President Putin and I had a — share a unique responsibility to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries — a relationship that has to be stable and predictable.  And it should be able to — we should be able to cooperate where it’s in our mutual interests.

And where we have differences, I wanted President Putin to understand why I say what I say and why I do what I do, and how we’ll respond to specific kinds of actions that harm America’s interests.

Now, I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else; it’s for the American people: fighting COVID-19; rebuilding our economy; reestablishing our relationships around the world with our allies and friends; and protecting our people.  That’s my responsibility as President.

I also told him that no President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view.  That’s just part of the DNA of our country.

So, human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him.  It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights; it’s about who we are.  How could I be the President of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights?

I told him that, unlike other countries, including Russia, we’re uniquely a product of an idea.  You’ve heard me say this before, again and again, but I’m going to keep saying it.  What’s that idea?  We don’t derive our rights from the government; we possess them because we’re born — period.  And we yield them to a government.

And so, at the forum, I pointed out to him that that’s why we’re going raise our concerns about cases like Aleksey Navalny.  I made it clear to President Putin that we’ll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights because that’s what we are, that’s who we are.  The idea is: “We hold these truths self-evident that all men and women…”  We haven’t lived up to it completely, but we’ve always widened the arc of commitment and included more and more people.

And I raised the case of two wrongfully imprisoned American citizens: Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.

I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech.

I made it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to violate our democratic sovereignty or destabilize our democratic elections, and we would respond.

The bottom line is, I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by.

I also said there are areas where there’s a mutual interest for us to cooperate, for our people — Russian and American people — but also for the benefit of the world and the security of the world.  One of those areas is strategic stability.

You asked me many times what was I going to discuss with Putin.  Before I came, I told you I only negotiate with the individual.  And now I can tell you what I was intending to do all along, and that is to discuss and raise the issue of strategic stability and try to set up a mechanism whereby we dealt with it.

We discussed in detail the next steps our countries need to take on arms control measures — the steps we need to take to reduce the risk of unintended conflict.

And I’m pleased that he agreed today to launch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue — diplomatic speak for saying, get our military experts and our — our diplomats together to work on a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.  And we went into some detail of what those weapons systems were.

Another area we spent a great deal of time on was cyber and cybersecurity.  I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack — period — by cyber or any other means.  I gave them a list, if I’m not mistaken — I don’t have it in front of me — 16 specific entities; 16 defined as critical infrastructure under U.S. policy, from the energy sector to our water systems.

Of course, the principle is one thing.  It has to be backed up by practice.  Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory.

So we agreed to task experts in both our — both our countries to work on specific understandings about what’s off limits and to follow up on specific cases that originate in other countries — either of our countries.

There is a long list of other issues we spent time on, from the urgent need to preserve and reopen the humanitarian corridors in Syria so that we can get food — just simple food and basic necessities to people who are starving to death; how to build it and how it is in the interest of both Russia and the United States to ensure that Iran — Iran — does not acquire nuclear weapons.  We agreed to work together there because it’s as much interest — Russia’s interest as ours.  And to how we can ensure the Arctic remains a region of cooperation rather than conflict.

I caught part of President’s — Putin’s press conference, and he talked about the need for us to be able to have some kind of modus operandi where we dealt with making sure the Arctic was, in fact, a free zone.

And to how we can each contribute to the shared effort of preventing a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan.  It’s very much in — in the interest of Russia not to have a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan.

There are also areas that are more challenging.  I communicated the United States’ unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

We agreed to pursue diplomacy related to the Minsk Agreement.  And I shared our concerns about Belarus.  He didn’t disagree with what happened; he just has a different perspective of what to do about it.

But I know you have a lot of questions, so let me close with this: It was important to meet in person so there can be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate.

I did what I came to do: Number one, identify areas of practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world.

Two, communicate directly — directly — that the United States will respond to actions that impair our vital interests or those of our allies.

And three, to clearly lay out our country’s priorities and our values so he heard it straight from me.

And I must tell you, the tone of the entire meetings — I guess it was a total of four hours — was — was good, positive.  There wasn’t any — any strident action taken.  Where we disagreed — I disagreed, stated where it was.  Where he disagreed, he stated.  But it was not done in a hyperbolic atmosphere.  That is too much of what’s been going on.

Over this last week, I believe — I hope — the United States has shown the world that we are back, standing with our Allies.  We rallied our fellow democracies to make concert — concerted commitments to take on the biggest challenges our world faces.

And now we’ve established a clear basis on how we intend to deal with Russia and the U.S.-Russia relationship.

There’s more work ahead.  I’m not suggesting that any of this is done, but we’ve gotten a lot of business done on this trip.

And before I take your questions, I want to say one last thing.  Folks, look, this is about — this about how we move from here.  This is — I listened to, again, a significant portion of what President Putin’s press conference was, and as he pointed out, this is about practical, straightforward, no-nonsense decisions that we have to make or not make.

We’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters.  We’ll find out whether we work to deal with everything from release of people in Russian prisons or not.  We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.

Because, look, the countries that most are likely to be damaged — failure to do that — are the major countries.  For example, when I talked about the pipeline that cyber hit for $5 million — that ransomware hit in the United States, I looked at him and I said, “Well, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?”  He said it would matter.

This is not about just our self-interest; it’s about a mutual self-interest.

I’ll take your questions.  And as usual, folks, they gave me a list of the people I’m going to call on.

So, Jonathan, Associated Press.

Q    Thank you, sir.  U.S. intelligence has said that Russia tried to interfere in the last two presidential elections, and that Russia groups are behind hacks like SolarWinds and some of the ransomware attacks you just mentioned.  Putin, in his news conference just now, accepted no responsibility for any misbehavior.  Your predecessor opted not to demand that Putin stop these disruptions.  So what is something concrete, sir, that you achieved today to prevent that from happening again?  And what were the consequences you threatened?

THE PRESIDENT:  Whether I stopped it from happening again — he knows I will take action, like we did when — this last time out.  What happened was: We, in fact, made it clear that we were not going to continue to allow this to go on.  The end result was we ended up withdrawing — they went withdrawing ambassadors, and we closed down some of their facilities in the United States, et cetera.  And he knows there are consequences.

Now, look, one of the consequences that I know — I don’t know; I shouldn’t say this; it’s unfair of me — I suspect you may all think doesn’t matter, but I’m confidence it matters to him — confident it matter to him and other world leaders of big nations: his credibility worldwide shrinks.

Let’s get this straight: How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries, and everybody knew it?  What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he is engaged in?  It diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power.

And so it’s not just what I do; it’s what the actions that other countries take — in this case, Russia — that are contrary to international norms.  It’s the price they pay.  They are not — they are not able to dictate what happens in the world.  There are other nations of significant consequence — i.e. the United States of America being one of them.

Q    Mr. President, just a quick follow on the same theme of consequences.  You said, just now, that you spoke to him a lot about human rights.  What did you say would happen if opposition leader Aleksey Navalny dies?

THE PRESIDENT:  I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.

I’ll go back to the same point: What do you think happens when he’s saying, “It’s not about hurting Navalny,” this — you know, all the stuff he says to rationalize the treatment of Navalny — and then he dies in prison?

I pointed out to him that it matters a great deal when a country, in fact — and they asked me why I thought that it was important to continue to have problems with the President of Syria.  I said, “Because he’s in violation of an international norm.  It’s called a Chemical Weapons Treaty.  Can’t be trusted.”

It’s about trust.  It’s about their ability to influence other nations in a positive way.

Look, would you like to trade our economy for Russia’s economy?  Would you like to trade?  And, by the way, we talked about trade.  I don’t have any problem with doing business with Russia, as long as they do it based upon international norms. It’s in our interest to see the Russian people do well economically.  I don’t have a problem with that.

But if they do not act according to international norms, then guess what?  That will not — that only won’t it happen with us, it will not happen with other nations.  And he kind of talked about that — didn’t he, today? — about how the need to reach out to other countries to invest in Russia.  They won’t as long as they are convinced that, in fact, the violations —

For example, the American businessman who was in house arrest.  And I pointed out, “You want to get American business to invest?  Let him go.  Change the dynamic.”  Because American businessmen, they’re not — they’re not ready to show up.  They don’t want to hang around in Moscow.

I mean, I — look, guys, I know we make foreign policy out to be this great, great skill that somehow is, sort of, like a secret code.  Pract- — all foreign policy is, is a logical extension of personal relationships.  It’s the way human nature functions.

And understand, when you run a country that does not abide by international norms, and yet you need those international norms to be somehow managed so that you can participate in the benefits that flow from them, it hurts you.  That’s not a satisfying answer: “Biden said he’d invade Russia.”  You know, it is not — you know.  By the way, that was a joke.  That’s not true.

But my generic point is, it is — it is more complicated than that.

David Sanger.  I thought I saw David.  There he is.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  In the run-up to this discussion, there’s been a lot of talk about the two countries spilling down into a Cold War.  And I’m wondering if there was anything that you emerged from in the discussion that made you think that he —

THE PRESIDENT:  With your permission, I’m going to take my coat off.  The sun is hot.

Q    — anything that would make you think that Mr. Putin has decided to move away from his fundamental role as a disrupter, particularly a disrupter of NATO and the United States?

And if I could also just follow up on your description of how you gave him a list of critical infrastructure in the United States.  Did you lay out very clearly what it was that the penalty would be for interfering in that critical infrastructure?  Did you leave that vague?  Did he respond in any way to it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me answer your first — well, I’ll second question, first.

I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability.  And he knows it.  He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it’s significant.  And if, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.  He knows.

Q    In the cyber way.

THE PRESIDENT:  In the cyber way.

Number two, I — I think that the last thing he wants now is a Cold War.  Without quoting him — which I don’t think is appropriate — let me ask a rhetorical question: You got a multi-thousand-mile border with China.  China is moving ahead, hellbent on election, as they say, seeking to be the most powerful economy in the world and the largest and the most powerful military in the world.

You’re in a situation where your economy is struggling, you need to move it in a more aggressive way, in terms of growing it.  And you — I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War with the United States.

I don’t think it’s about a — as I said to him, I said, “Your generation and mine are about 10 years apart.  This is not a ‘kumbaya’ moment, as you used to say back in the ’60s in the United States, like, ‘Let’s hug and love each other.’  But it’s clearly not in anybody’s interest — your country’s or mine — for us to be in a situation where we’re in a new Cold War.”  And I truly believe he thinks that — he understands that.

But that does not mean he’s ready to, quote, figuratively speaking, “lay down his arms,” and say, “Come on.”  He still, I believe, is concerned about being, quote, “encircled.”  He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down, et cetera.  He still has those concerns, but I don’t think they are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.

Jennifer.  Jennifer Jacobs.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Is there a particular reason why the summit lasted only about three hours?  We know you had maybe allotted four to five hours.  Was there any reason it ran shorter?

Also, did — President Putin said that there were no threats or scare tactics issued.  Do you agree with that assessment, that there were no threats or scare tactics?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    And also, did you touch on Afghanistan and the safe withdrawal of troops?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  Yes, yes, and yes.  Let me go back to the first part.

The reason it didn’t go longer is: When is the last time two heads of state have spent over two hours in direct conversation across a table, going into excruciating detail?  You may know of a time; I don’t.  I can’t think of one.

So we didn’t need, as we got through, when we brought in the larger group — our defense, our intelligence, and our foreign — well, our — my foreign minister — wasn’t the foreign minister — my Secretary of State was with me the whole time — our ambassador, et cetera.  We brought everybody in.  We had covered so much.

And so there was a summary done by him and by me of what we covered.  Lavrov and Blinken talked about what we had covered.  We raised things that required more amplification or made sure we didn’t have any misunderstandings.  And — and so it was — it was — kind of, after two hours there, we looked at each other like, “Okay, what next?”

What is going to happen next is we’re going to be able to look back — look ahead in three to six months, and say, “Did the things we agreed to sit down and try to work out, did it work?  Do we — are we closer to a major strategic stability talks and progress?  Are we further along in terms of…” — and go down the line.  That’s going to be the test.

I’m not sitting here saying because the President and I agreed that we would do these things, that all of a sudden, it’s going to work.  I’m not saying that.  What I’m saying is I think there’s a genuine prospect to significantly improve relations between our two countries without us giving up a single, solitary thing based on principle and/or values.

Q    There were no threats issued?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no.  No.  There were no threats.  There were — as a matter of fact, I heard he quoted my mom and quoted other people today.  There was — it was very, as we say — which will shock you, coming from me — somewhat colloquial.  And we talked about basic, basic, fundamental things.  There was a — it was — and you know how I am: I explain things based on personal basis.  “What happens if,” for example.

And so, there are no threats, just simple assertions made.  And no “Well, if you do that, then we’ll do this” — wasn’t anything I said.  It was just letting him know where I stood; what I thought we could accomplish together; and what, in fact — if it was — if there were violations of American sovereignty, what would we do.

Q    Can you share what you asked him about Afghanistan?  What was your particular request for Afghanistan and the U.S. troops?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, he asked us about Afghanistan.  He said that he hopes that we’re able to maintain some peace and security, and I said, “That has a lot to do with you.”  He indicated that he was prepared to, quote, “help” on Afghanistan — I won’t go into detail now; and help on — on Iran; and help on — and, in return, we told him what we wanted to do relative to bringing some stability and economic security or physical security to the people of Syria and Libya.

So, we had those discussions.

Yamiche.

Q    Thanks so much, Mr. President.  Did you — you say that you didn’t issue any threats.  Were there any ultimatums made when it comes to ransomware?  And how will you measure success, especially when it comes to these working groups on Russian meddling and on cybersecurity?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s going to be real easy.  They either — for example, on cybersecurity, are we going to work out where they take action against ransomware criminals on Russian territory?  They didn’t do it.  I don’t think they planned it, in this case.  And they — are they going to act?  We’ll find out.

Will we commit — what can we commit to act in terms of anything affecting violating international norms that negatively affects Russia?  What are we going to agree to do?

And so, I think we have real opportunities to — to move.  And I think that one of the things that I noticed when we had the larger meeting is that people who are very, very well-informed started thinking, “You know, this could be a real problem.”  What happens if that ransomware outfit were sitting in Florida or Maine and took action, as I said, on their — their single lifeline to their economy: oil?  That would be devastating.  And they’re like — you could see them kind of go, “Oh, we do that,” but like, “Whoa.”

So it’s in — it’s in everybody’s interest that these things be acted on.  We’ll see, though, what happens from these groups we put together.

Q    Can I ask a quick follow-up question?

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughs.)  The third one, yes.  Go ahead.

Q    Mr. President, when President Putin was questioned today about human rights, he said the reason why he’s cracking down on opposition leaders is because he doesn’t want something like January 6th to happen in Russia.  And he also said he doesn’t want to see groups formed like Black Lives Matter.  What’s your response to that, please?

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughs.)  My response is kind of what I communicated — that I think that’s a — that’s a ridiculous comparison.  It’s one thing for literally criminals to break through cordon, go into the Capitol, kill a police officer, and be held unaccountable than it is for people objecting and marching on the Capitol and saying, “You are not allowing me to speak freely.  You are not allowing me to do A, B, C, or D.”

And so, they’re very different criteria.

Steve.  Steve Holland, Reuters.

Q    President — sorry — President Putin said he was satisfied with the answer about your comment about him being a “killer.”  Could you give us your side on this?  What did you tell him?

THE PRESIDENT:  He’s satisfied.  Why would I bring it up again?  (Laughs.)

Q    And now that you’ve talked to him, do you believe you can trust him?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, this is not about trust; this is about self-interest and verification of self-interest.  That’s what it’s about.  So, I — virtually almost — almost anyone that I would work out an agreement with that affected the American people’s interests, I don’t say, “Well, I trust you.  No problem.”  Let’s see what happens.

You know, as that old expression goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  We’re going to know shortly.

Igor, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Q    Hello, Mr. President.  Hello, Mr. President —

THE PRESIDENT:  You want to go on the shade?  You can’t — can you see?

Q    Thank you.  Yeah.  Yeah, yeah.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.

Q    Yeah.  So, I think you know attacks in civil society and the free — free press continue inside Russia.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    For example, Radio Free Europe —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    — Radio Liberty; Voice of America; Current Time TV channel, where I work, are branded foreign agents — and several other independent media.  So, we are essentially being forced out in Russia 30 years after President Yeltsin invited us in.

My question is: After your talks with President Putin, how interested do you think he is in improving the media climate in Russia?

THE PRESIDENT:  I wouldn’t put it that way, in terms of improving the climate.  I would, in fact, put it in terms of how much interest does he have in burnishing Russia’s reputation that is not — is viewed as not being contrary to democratic principles and free speech.

That’s a judgment I cannot make.  I don’t know.  But it’s not because I think he — he is interested in changing the nature of a closed society or closed government’s actions relative to what he thinks is the right of government to do what it does; it’s a very different approach.

And, you know, there’s a couple of really good biogra- — I told him I read a couple — I read most everything he’s written and the speeches he’s made.  And — and I’ve read a couple of very good biographies, which many of you have as well.

And I think I pointed out to him that Russia had an opportunity — that brief shining moment after Gorbachev and after things began to change drastically — to actually generate a democratic government.  But what happened was it failed and there was a great, great race among Russian intellectuals to determine what form of government would they choose and how would they choose it.

And based on what I believe, Mr. Putin decided was that Russia has always been a major international power when it’s been totally united as a Russian state, not based on ideology — whether it was going back to Tsar and Commissar, straight through to the — the revolution — the Russian Revolution, and to where they are today.

And I think that it’s clear to me — and I’ve said it — that I think he decided that the way for Russia to be able to sustain itself as a great — quote, “great power” is to in fact unite the Russian people on just the strength of the government — the government controls — not necessarily ideologically, but the government.

And I think that’s the — that’s the choice that was made.  I think it — I — I’m not going to second guess whether it could have been fundamentally different.  But I do think it does not lend itself to Russia maintaining itself as one of the great powers in the world.

Q    Sir, one more question —

Q    One more on COVID — on COVID-19, Mr. President —

Q    Sir, could we ask you one more question, please, sir?  Thank you, sir.  Did military response ever come up in this conversation today?  Did you — in terms of the red lines that you laid down, is military response an option for a ransomware attack?

And President Putin had called you, in his press conference, an “experienced person.”  You famously told him he didn’t have a soul.  Do you now have a deeper understanding of him after this meeting?

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

Q    Mr. President —

Q    But on the military — military response, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, we didn’t talk about military response.

Q    In the spirit, Mr. President, of you saying that there is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue, and also with what you said at NATO that the biggest problems right now are Russia and China — you’ve spoken many times about how you have spent perhaps more time with President Xi than any other world leader.

So is there going to become a time where you might call him, old friend to old friend, and ask him to open up China to the World Health Organization investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of COVID-19?

THE PRESIDENT:  Let’s get something straight.  We know each other well; we’re not old friends.  It’s just pure business.

Q    So, I guess, my question would be that you’ve said that you were going to press China.  You signed on to the G7 communiqué that said you — the G7 were calling on China to open up to let the investigators in.  But China basically says they don’t want to be interfered with anymore.  So, what happens now?

THE PRESIDENT:  The impact — the world’s attitude toward China as it develops.  China is trying very hard to project itself as a responsible and — and a very, very forthcoming nation; that they are trying very hard to talk about how they’re taking and helping the world in terms of COVID-19 and vaccines.  And they’re trying very hard.

Look, certain things you don’t have to explain to the people of the world.  They see the results.  Is China really actually trying to get to the bottom of this?

One thing we did discuss, as I told you, in the EU and at the G7 and with NATO: What we should be doing and what I’m going to make an effort to do is rally the world to work on what is going to be the physical mechanism available to detect, early on, the next pandemic and have a mechanism by which we can respond to it and respond to it early.  It’s going to happen.  It’s going to happen.  And we need to do that.

Thank you.

Q    Any progress on the detained Americans, sir?

Q    What did Putin say about Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed?

Q    Sir, what do you say to the families of the detained Americans?

Q    President Biden, why are you so confident Russia —

THE PRESIDENT:  The families of the detained Americans, I have hope for.

Q    Say it again; we can’t hear you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I said the families of the detained Americans came up and we discussed it.  We’re going to follow through with that discussion.  I am — I am not going to walk away on that issue.

Q    Why are you so confident he’ll change his behavior, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior.  Where the hell — what do you do all the time?  When did I say I was confident?  I said —

Q    You said in the next six months you’ll be able to determine —

THE PRESIDENT:  I said — what I said was — let’s get it straight.  I said: What will change their behavior is if the rest of world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world.  I’m not confident of anything; I’m just stating a fact.

Q    But given his past behavior has not changed and, in that press conference, after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks; he downplayed human rights abuses; he even refused to say Aleksey Navalny’s name.  So how does that account to a constructive meeting, as President — President Putin framed it?

THE PRESIDENT:  If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.

Thank you.

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.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s video address to the Sixth International Conference Russia and China: Cooperation in a New Era, Moscow, June 1, 2021

June 01, 2021

Source

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s video address to the Sixth International Conference Russia and China: Cooperation in a New Era, Moscow, June 1, 2021
https://thesaker.is/foreign-minister-sergey-lavrovs-video-address-to-the-sixth-international-conference-russia-and-china-cooperation-in-a-new-era-moscow-june-1-2021/

https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4759576

Mr Wang Yi,

Mr Ivanov,

Colleagues, friends,

The further development of strategic partnership with China is one of our  top priorities. It is stipulated in the Foreign Policy Concept, which President of Russia Vladimir Putin approved in November 2016. We are grateful to our colleagues from the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) for organising a regular, sixth joint conference. We regard it as an opportunity to review the current state and development outlook of our bilateral cooperation and its increasing influence on global developments.

This is a special year for us: 20 years ago on July 16, 2001, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Jiang Zemin met in Moscow to sign the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. By turning this new page in their relations, the parties demonstrated their resolve to pass their friendship down through the generations. The treaty formalised the previously applied political definition of bilateral relations as “a partnership of (…) equality and trust and strategic collaboration.” In other words, this truly historical international document has put on record the development of a new model of our interstate relations and their progress to a fundamentally new stage.

I would like to note that the Treaty is based on the universally recognised norms of international law, first of all the goals and principles of the UN Charter. It seals the parties’ agreement on mutual support in the defence of the national unity and territorial integrity, as well as their commitment not to be the first to use nuclear weapons against each other and not to target strategic nuclear missiles on each other. The document also formulated the principle of “respecting each other’s choice of the course of political, economic, social and cultural development.” The parties pledged to immediately contact and consult each other in the event of the threat of aggression and not to allow their territory to be used by third countries to the detriment of the national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other party. In this way, Russia and China provided a legal framework for the closest possible collaboration on strategic matters bearing on their fundamental interests without creating a formal military-political alliance. In fact, a comprehensive Russian-Chinese partnership is more than just a classical military-political union.

Another vital provision mentions the absence of any territorial claims to each other and the parties’ resolve “to make the border between them into one where everlasting peace and friendship prevail from generation to generation.” The incorporation of this principle promoted the final settlement of the so-called border dispute and greatly strengthened mutual trust.

Colleagues,

The Treaty played a huge role in boosting mutual trade and economic interaction.  We can report positive results to the public. During the past 20 years, our mutual trade increased more than thirteen times, from $8 billion to $104 billion in 2020. Work is underway within the framework of the Intergovernmental Russian-Chinese Commission on Investment Cooperation on 70 projects worth in total more than $120 billion.

Our energy partnership has acquired a strategic dimension. A Russian-Chinese oil pipeline has been functioning for nearly 10 years now, and the Power of Siberia gas pipeline was launched in late 2019. China is taking part in large-scale LNG projects in the Russian Arctic zone. Just a few days ago, on May 19, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping launched the construction of four new Russian-designed power units for the Tianwan and Xudapu nuclear power stations in China.

Our industrial and agricultural cooperation is developing constantly. Our interaction in science and innovation is especially important in light of the continued Western attempts to contain our countries’ technological progress. It is for this reason that we are holding the Years of Science, Technology and Innovation in 2020-2021 as part of the successful practice of themed cross-years.

The Treaty also has a great role to play in promoting cultural and humanitarian ties. These activities are helping to maintain the relations of good-neighbourliness and reinforce the social basis of strategic partnership between Russia and China.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impaired contacts between our citizens. I am sure that, as the epidemiological situation becomes normalised, we will be able to quickly restore and expand them. In our opinion, efforts to promote Russian language studies in China and Chinese language studies in Russia should become an unconditional priority. The same concerns dialogue with young people, who will soon carry on efforts to develop and expand the traditions of Russian-Chinese friendship.

The Treaty, which is ahead of its time in some respects, is not limited to bilateral ties. Its provisions help expand our foreign policy cooperation. Bilateral dialogue is becoming particularly important on the international scene today, when some Western states are trying to demolish the UN-centric system of international law and to replace it with their own rules-based order. Moscow and Beijing consistently advocate the creation of a more equitable, democratic and therefore stable polycentric international order. This system should reflect the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world and the natural striving of nations to independently determine their development path. The very fact of the Russian-Chinese accord on this issue serves to stabilise and balance the entire system of international relations. It opens up broad opportunities for truly equitable and free cooperation between large and small countries jointly shaping their historical destiny.

I am satisfied to note the coinciding or largely similar approaches of Moscow and Beijing towards an absolute majority of challenges facing the world today, including efforts to maintain global strategic stability, arms control and counterterrorism operations. We cooperate successfully and fruitfully at such multilateral venues as the UN, the SCO, BRICS, RIC, the G20, APEC and the EAS. We coordinate our steps during the Syrian and Afghan peace processes, the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and on the Iranian nuclear programme. Russia and China advocate the peaceful development of the Asia Pacific region and the creation of reliable regional mechanisms for ensuring equal and indivisible security there based on non-bloc approaches.

Today, the Eurasian region is implementing a number of innovative integration projects, including the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Work to combine their potentials has good prospects. Notably, it lays a solid foundation for establishing a new geo-strategic contour of peace, stability and economic prosperity based on principles of international law and transparency on our shared continent from Lisbon to Jakarta. This contour would be open for all countries, including members of the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, ASEAN and, in the future, the EU. The initiative of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on establishing a Greater Eurasian Partnership aims to accomplish this truly historic task. We highly value cooperation with our Chinese friends on its well-coordinated implementation together with the Belt and Road Initiative.

Colleagues,

The Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, whose 20th anniversary we are going to mark in July 2021, is an unshakeable foundation of Russian-Chinese relations. We are convinced that it remains a living and working document that makes it possible to expand, finetune and adjust our strategic cooperation in line with the changing realities of the new epoch. This epoch demands that all of us, including experts, diplomats and politicians, always pay attention to new challenges and opportunities, trends and forecasts. Your conference is a good platform for a calm, detailed and professional exchange of opinions and ideas, without which is it is hard to chart the road forward and to determine a joint algorithm of subsequent actions.

Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to wish you fruitful discussions and intellectual insights and revelations for the benefit of strengthening neighbourly relations and friendship between Russia and China.

Thank you.

A little less conversation, a little more action

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, Reykjavik, May 19, 2021
A little less conversation, a little more action

May 20, 2021

by Pepe Escobar and first posted at Asia Times

So Sergey Lavrov and Tony Blinken met for nearly two hours at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, on the sidelines of the ministerial session of the Arctic Council.

Frosty? Not really. Even if the get together may not have been a throwback to a Reagan-Gorbachev funfest in the good old Cold War days. After all, there was a NATO warship parked right outside the windows of Harpa Hall – like a prop in a Marvel blockbuster.

Self-described “amateur guitarist” Blinken may have been relatively swayed by the charms of the 1968 Elvis stunner A Little Less Conversation.

Well, at least there was some conversation. As for “a little more action”, as Elvis sang it, it remains to be seen. A good sign is that they addressed each other as “Sergey” and “Tony”. Blinken even attempted a “Spasiba”.

Let’s start with Lavrov – who routinely dwells in the Valhalla of diplomacy, unlike average apparatchik Blinken.

We agreed to continue our joint actions, which are developing quite successfully, on regional conflicts where the interests of the United States and Russia coincide. This is the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula, and the situation with efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. This is Afghanistan, where the expanded troika consisting of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan is actively working. We discussed how at this stage we can make all our joint actions more effective.

So there was “a very useful conversation” (Lavrov again) on what they do coincide (revival of the JCPOA), don’t coincide (Afghanistan) and hardly coincide (North Korea).

More than useful, actually: “constructive”. Lavrov again: “There is an understanding of the need to overcome the unhealthy situation that developed between Moscow and Washington in previous years.”

Lavrov made it very clear what we are at a stage of mere “proposal” to “start a dialogue, considering all aspects, all factors affecting strategic stability: nuclear, non-nuclear, offensive, defensive. I have not seen a rejection of such a concept, but experts still have to work on it.”

So Blinken did not reject it. The devil is how the “experts” will “work on it”.

Those pesky “laws of diplomacy”

It’s quite useful to compare what they said to each other – at least according to what was leaked.

Lavrov stressed discussions must be “honest, factual and with mutual respect”. Most important area of cooperation is “strategic stability”. He crucially invoked the “laws of diplomacy” – something that the Hegemon has not exactly been fond of lately: they “call for reciprocity, especially when it comes to responding to any kind of unfriendly action.” Implied is Moscow’s willingness to solve problems “inherited from previous US administrations.”

Blinken said the US wants a predictable and stable relationship: “It’s our view that if the leaders of Russia and the United States can work together cooperatively, our people, the world can be a safer and more secure place.” Areas where interests “intersect and overlap” include battling Covid-19 and climate change, apart from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

“Russian aggression” though could not simply be thrown into the Arctic Sea: “If Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, our allies, we will respond… not for purposes of escalation, not to seek conflict, but to defend our interests.”

So “experts” will have a field day – actually, days, weeks and months – figuring out how which brands of “Russian aggression” attack “our interests.”

As it stands, it looks like the bilateral Putin-Biden summit next month in a “European diplomatic capital” – as rumors swirl in Brussels – may be a go. To hope that it would take place, for instance, in Nursultan – the diplomatic capital of Eurasia – is a long shot.

Lavrov: “We will prepare proposals for our presidents both on these issues [the work of diplomatic missions] and the matters related to our dialogue on strategic stability.”

It’s quite enlightening to consider two parallel developments to Reykjavik.

The State Dept. confirmed it will waive sanctions against the Swiss-based company overseeing the construction of Nord Stream 2. And SWIFT confirmed to the Russian Central Bank that business continues as usual, and Moscow won’t be cut off from the system.

These may be interpreted as goodwill gestures ahead of the possible June summit. Afterwards, no one knows.

It’s also enlightening to note what Lavrov and Blinken did not discuss: vaccine diplomacy.

Sergey Naryshkin, the director of the SVR foreign intel, is now on the record saying that the registration of Sputnik V vaccine at the EU is being stalled by “signals from the corridors of power” in Brussels – something I confirmed weeks ago with relatively independent diplomats. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) still sustains that the vaccine may be registered before the end of the month.

And then there are glaring cases like Brazil, the target of tremendous pressure by Washington to prevent Sputnik V’s approval. Sputnik V has been registered by 61 nations, overwhelmingly in the Global South.

Let’s assume that Cold War 2.0, in theory, may have been put on hold. Now it’s time then for a “little more action”. Will it come to the point that Sergey and Tony will agree on “a little less fight, a little more spark” and dance to the rhythm of “all this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me”?

Related

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

May 07, 2021

Source

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Remarks at the meeting of the UN Security Council, “Maintenance of international peace and security: Upholding multilateralism and the United Nations-centred international system,” held via videoconference, Moscow, May 7, 2021

First of all, let me thank Mr Wang Yi, State Councillor and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, for organising today’s debates. Maintaining multilateralism and the UN-centred international system is as topical as ever and demands the UN Security Council’s constant attention.

Today the world finds itself in a critical stage of development. The coronavirus pandemic has posed a grave challenge to everyone without exception. Normal life has been completely upended. It is difficult to predict the long-term or deferred consequences of the crisis, although we can see some positive trends thanks to the massive deployment of coronavirus vaccines.

The pandemic broke out in a world that was already far from perfect. In recent years, we have seen growing international tensions, as well as escalating regional conflicts and cross-border challenges and threats. The entire architecture of global governance created after the Second World War is being tested.

It is clear that the prospects of the international community’s sustainable and predictable development are directly connected with our ability to find effective solutions to common problems and our readiness to exercise collective leadership in order for true multilateralism to prevail.

Russia, like the majority of countries, is convinced that such work must be carried out solely on the basis of universally recognised norms of international law. The United Nations must serve as the key platform for coordinating efforts: it is the backbone of the modern global order, where all independent states are represented. Today, its unique legitimacy and unique capabilities are especially needed.

The core tenets of international law enshrined in the UN Charter have withstood the test of time. Russia calls on all states to unconditionally follow the purposes and principles of the Charter as they chart their foreign policies, respecting the sovereign equality of states, not interfering in their internal affairs, settling disputes by political and diplomatic means, and renouncing the threat or use of force. This is especially important at the current stage in the difficult process of forming an international multipolar system. At a time when new centres of economic growth, financial and political influence are gaining strength, it is necessary to preserve the internationally recognised legal basis for building a stable balance of interests that meets the new realities.

Unfortunately, not all of our partners are driven by the imperative to work in good faith to promote comprehensive multilateral cooperation. Realising that it is impossible to impose their unilateral or bloc priorities on other states within the framework of the UN, the leading Western countries have tried to reverse the process of forming a polycentric world and slow down the course of history.

Toward this end, the concept of the rules-based order is advanced as a substitute for international law. It should be noted that international law already is a body of rules, but rules agreed at universal platforms and reflecting consensus or broad agreement. The West’s goal is to oppose the collective efforts of all members of the world community with other rules developed in closed, non-inclusive formats, and then imposed on everyone else. We only see harm in such actions that bypass the UN and seek to usurp the only decision-making process that can claim global relevance.

The well-known idea to convene a Summit for Democracy proposed by the US Administration is in the same vein. The establishment of a new club based on interests, with a clearly ideological nature, has the potential to further inflame international tensions and deepen dividing lines in a world that needs a unifying agenda more than ever. Of course, the list of democracies to be invited to the summit will be determined by the United States.

Another initiative with the goal of global leadership that bypasses the UN is the French and German idea to create an Alliance for Multilateralism. What could be more natural then discussing the tasks of strengthening multilateralism at the UN? However, Berlin and Paris think differently and issue joint documents declaring that “the European Union is the cornerstone of the multilateral international system” and promote the conclusions of the Council of the European Union under the title “The central role of the European Union and European institutions in promoting multilateralism.” Presumptuous, you might say. The EU does not think so and declares its own exceptionalism despite all its invocations of equality and brotherhood.

By the way, as soon as we suggest discussing the current state of democracy not just within states but on the international stage with our Western colleagues, they lose interest in the conversation.

New ambitious initiatives to create narrow partnerships are emerging all the time within the Alliance for Multilateralism, on issues that are already being discussed at the UN or its specialised agencies, for example, on cyber security (with 65 member countries), respect for the international humanitarian law (43 member countries), the Information and Democracy Partnership (over 30 countries), etc.

This also reveals the West’s true attitude toward multilateralism and the UN, which they do not regard as a universal format for developing solutions acceptable to everyone, but in the context of their claims to superiority over everyone else, who must accept what is required of them.

Another example of the dictatorial methods introduced by the West is the practice of imposing unilateral sanctions without any international and legal grounds, with the sole purpose of punishing “undesirable regimes” or sidelining competitors. During the pandemic, such restrictions have limited the capacity of a whole range of developing countries to counter the spread of the infection. Despite UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call to suspend such unilateral sanctions during the pandemic, we mostly see them becoming harsher.

We believe such efforts to impose totalitarianism in global affairs to be unacceptable, yet we see it more and more from our Western colleagues, above all the United States, the European Union and other allies, who reject all principles of democracy and multilateralism on the global stage. As if to say, either it’s our way, or there will be repercussions.

It is striking that Western leaders, while openly undermining international law, do not hesitate to argue that the main task of world politics should be to counter the attempts of Russia and China to “change the rules-based order.” Such statements were made the other day following the G7 ministerial meeting in London. In other words, there has already been a substitution of concepts: the West is no longer concerned with the norms of international law and now requires everyone to follow its rules and observe its order. What’s more, US representatives freely admit that the USA and Great Britain have had the biggest hand in shaping these rules.

I am not saying all of this to ratchet up the confrontational rhetoric or advance an accusatory agenda. I am simply stating facts. But if we all support multilateralism in word, let us honestly search for ways to ensure that there is fairness in deed, without attempts to prove one’s superiority or infringe on another’s rights. I hope that this approach to maintaining multilateralism and the UN-centred system will guide the activities of the UN Secretary-General and his team.

I am convinced that the time has come to do away with medieval and colonial habits and recognise the reality of today’s interconnected and interdependent world. Honest and mutually respectful cooperation based on equal partnership between all states, guided by pragmatism and devoid of any ideology or politicisation, is what is needed now. It is the only way to improve the atmosphere in the world and ensure predictability in the advancement of the human race. That is especially true of such global challenges as the threat of terrorism and the proliferation of WMDs, climate change, new infectious diseases, and protecting human rights, starting with the most important one – the right to life.

I agree with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who stressed recently that no country can overcome such global threats to the lives of our citizens alone, not even the United States.

The permanent members of the UN Security Council are called on to play a key role in fostering open and direct dialogue about the most pressing problems of our time. According to the UN Charter, they bear special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed convening a summit with the leaders of the five permanent members. We hope to make this idea a reality once the epidemiological situation in the world stabilises.

In conclusion I would like to emphasise that the UN, as the main multilateral platform, must keep pace with changes on the global stage. The organisation must constantly adapt to ever-changing conditions, while continuing to fully respect the division of labour between the main UN Charter bodies and maintaining the support of all the member states. At every stage of change, our actions must be measured by the improvements made to the United Nations’ real-world effectiveness.

Russia stands ready to continue working constructively with all partners who share these approaches in order to bolster the authority and fully unlock the potential of the UN as the true centre of multilateralism.

Thank you for your attention.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Director General of Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency Dmitry Kiselev Moscow, April 28, 2021

April 28, 2021

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Director General of Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency Dmitry Kiselev Moscow, April 28, 2021

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

We have available video in Russian and transcript in English.

Transcript:

Dmitry Kiselev: Our relations with the United States are really “hell”. Personally, I don’t recall them being at such a low ebb ever before. This is even worse than the Cold War times, in my opinion. Ambassadors have returned back to their home countries. What’s going to happen next? What is the possible scenario?

Sergey Lavrov: If it depended on us alone, we would gladly resume normal relations. The first possible step towards this, which I regard as obvious, is to zero out the measures restricting the work of Russian diplomats in the United States. It was as a response measure that we restricted the operations of American diplomats in Russia.

We proposed this to the Biden administration as soon as it had taken the oath and assumed office. I have mentioned the idea to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. I did not try to press it; I just said that an obvious way to normalise our relations would be to zero out the measures initiated by Barack Obama. Several weeks before leaving office, he was so annoyed he virtually slammed the door by seizing Russian property in violation of all the Vienna conventions and throwing Russian diplomats out. This has caused a chain reaction.

We patiently sat back for a long time, until the summer of 2017, before taking any response measures. The Trump administration asked us to disregard the excessive measures taken by the outgoing Obama administration. However, Donald Trump’s team failed to normalise the situation, and so we had to take reciprocal measures. But the Americans have not stopped there.

We can see that the Biden administration continues to go downhill, although US President Biden said during his conversation with President of Russia Vladimir Putin soon after his inauguration, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told me that they are thoroughly reviewing their relations with Russia, hoping that this would clarify many things. However, instead they adopted new sanctions, which triggered not simply a mirror response on our part. Our response was asymmetrical, just as we had warned them on numerous occasions. It has to do, in part, with a considerable disparity in the number of diplomats and other personnel of the US diplomatic missions in Russia, which is way above the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.

As for the strategic picture of our relations, I hope that Washington is aware, just as Moscow is, of our responsibility for global stability. There are not only the problems of Russia and the United States, which are complicating our citizens’ lives and their contacts, communications, businesses and humanitarian projects, but also differences that are posing a serious risk to international security in the broadest possible meaning of the word.

You remember how we responded to the outrage that took place during Joe Biden’s interview with ABC. You are also aware of how President Putin reacted to President Biden’s proposal of a meeting. We have taken a positive view of this, but we would like to understand all aspects of this initiative, which we are currently analysing.

Nothing good will come out of this, unless the United States stops acting as a sovereign, as President Putin said during his Address to the Federal Assembly, accepts the futility of any attempts to revive the unipolar world or to create an architecture where all Western countries would be subordinate to the United States and the Western camp would work together to “rally” other countries across the world against China and Russia, admits that it was for a purpose that the UN Charter sealed such principles as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and sovereign equality of states, and simply honours its commitments and starts talking with us, just as with any other country, on the basis of respect for each other and for a balance of interests, which must be established. President Putin said this clearly in his Address, pointing out that Russia is always open to broad international agreements if they suit our interests. But we will harshly respond to any attempts to cross the red line, which we ourselves will determine.

Dmitry Kiselev: Would it be realistic to expect them to become aware of this and stop acting as a sovereign? Hope is fine, but the reality is completely different.

Sergey Lavrov: I have not expressed any hope. I just mentioned the conditions on the basis of which we will be ready to talk.

Dmitry Kiselev: And what if they refuse?

Sergey Lavrov: It will be their choice. This means that we will be living in conditions of a Cold War, or even worse, as you have already mentioned. In my opinion, tension did run high during the Cold War and there were numerous high-risk conflict situations, but there was also mutual respect. I believe that this is lacking now.

There have been some schizophrenic notes in the statements made by some of the Washington officials. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said just a while ago that sanctions against Russia would be continued, that they are producing, by and large, a desired effect, and that their objective is not to “escalate” with Russia. Even I am at a loss about how to comment on this. I hope anyone can see that such statements are doing no credit to those who are upholding and promoting this policy.

Dmitry Kiselev: I had a chance to hear an opinion – perhaps even a commonplace opinion, to some extent, in certain circles – to the effect that diplomats are doing a poor job, that we are constantly digging in our heels, that our position is inflexible and non-elastic, and this is the reason why our relations are poor.

Sergey Lavrov: Are you alluding to circles inside this country?

Dmitry Kiselev: Yes, inside this country.

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, I also read these things. Thankfully, this country protects freedom of speech much better than many Western countries, including the United States. I read the opposition’s online resources and newspapers, and I think that perhaps these people have a right to express their point of view that consists in the following: “If we refrained from disputing with the West, we’d have Parmesan cheese and lots more things that we are sincerely missing; but for some reason, they have cut short food purchases in the West [they do not even explain that this was done in response], they have stopped buying food and gone into import substitution, thus increasing the price of food.”

You know, this is a narrow, lopsided view taken entirely from the standpoint of creature comforts, a choice between a television set and a fridge. If they think it essential to accept US values, I would like to remind them about what US President John Kennedy, the greatest US President to my mind, once said: “Don’t think what your country can do for you. Think what you can do for your country.” This is a radical distinction from today’s liberal views, where personal wellbeing and personal feelings alone are the things that matter.

The promoters of these philosophical approaches, as I see it, are not just unaware of what our genetic code is all about, but are trying in every way to undermine it. For, apart from the desire to live well, to be well-fed, to be confident that one’s children, friends and relatives are well too, a feeling of national pride always played an equally important role in what we did throughout our one thousand years’ history. If someone thinks that these values are of no importance for him or her, as it is [politically] correct to say now, it is their choice, but I am certain that the overwhelming majority of our people have a different opinion.

Dmitry Kiselev: Are you counting on a meeting with Antony Blinken? When can this meeting be held, and will it take place at all in the foreseeable future?

Sergey Lavrov: When we were talking over the phone, I congratulated him in keeping with the diplomatic etiquette. We exchanged a few appraisals of the [current] situation. The talk was, I feel, well-meaning, calm and pragmatic. When our US colleagues have completed staffing their Department of State, we will be prepared to resume contacts – naturally, on the understanding that we will engage in a search for mutually acceptable arrangements on many problems, starting from the functioning of the diplomatic missions and ending with strategic stability and many other things. US and Russian business communities are concerned with expanding their cooperation, something that the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce has recently told us. We have concluded by stating that there will be some joint multilateral events, on whose sidelines we will be able, as chance offers, to talk. But no signals have come from the US so far. Speaking about the schedule of events, Russia will be taking over the Arctic Council chairmanship from Iceland three weeks from now. An Arctic Council ministerial meeting is scheduled to take place in Reykjavík on May 20-21. If Secretary Blinken leads the US delegation, I will, of course, be prepared to talk with him, if he is interested.  Given that we will chair the Arctic Council for the next two years, I have informed our Iceland colleagues that I will attend this ministerial meeting.

Dmitry Kiselev: Is there any certainty as to who will definitely join the list of unfriendly states?

Sergey Lavrov: The Government of Russia is attending to this on instructions from President of Russia Vladimir Putin. We are participating in this work, as are other respective agencies.  I would not like to jump the gun right now.  We are reluctant to be indiscriminate and put on that list just any country that will say somewhere “something wrong” about Russia. Our decision will be based, of course, on a deep-going analysis of the situation and on whether we see opportunities to have a dialogue with that country in a different way. If we come to the conclusion that there is no chance of this, then, I think, the list will, of course, be periodically extended. But this is not a “dead” paper. As is only natural, it will be revised in tune with how our relations develop with this or that state.

Dmitry Kiselev: When will the public be able to read this list?

Sergey Lavrov: Soon, I think. The Russian Government has concrete assignments. We understand the criteria that are guiding us in this work. So, I think, the wait will not be very long now.

Dmitry Kiselev: Will the unfriendly states be banned from hiring local workforce?

Sergey Lavrov: There will be a ban on hiring any physical persons whether Russian or foreign.

Dmitry Kiselev: Is this the only measure with regard to unfriendly states or some others are in the offing?

Sergey Lavrov: At this stage, this is the concrete aim set in the executive order signed by President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Dmitry Kiselev: Donbass is another subject. Tensions have continued to escalate there since early 2021, and it appears that they have subsided a little since US President Joe Biden called President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. In my show News of the Week, I noted that US military guarantees to Ukraine had turned out to be a bluff. Nevertheless, shootouts continue, and they are using banned large-calibre weapons. It seems like this peace is not very different from war, and that the balance is highly unstable. Over 500,000 Russian citizens now live in Donbass. Will there be a war?

Sergey Lavrov: War can and should be avoided, if this depends on us and on the self-defence fighters, as far as we understand their principled approaches. I cannot speak and make guesses on behalf of the Ukrainian party and President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky because, by all indications, his main goal is to stay in power. He is ready to pay any price, such as pandering to neo-Nazis and ultra-radicals who continue to brand the Donbass self-defence fighters as terrorists. Our Western colleagues should reassess the developments that have taken place since February 2014.  None of these districts attacked the rest of Ukraine. They were branded as terrorists, and an anti-terrorist operation was launched against them and then another operation involving “joint forces.”. But we do know for sure that they have no desire to make war on representatives of the Kiev regime.

I have repeatedly told our Western colleagues, who are totally biased in their assessment of current developments, and who unconditionally defend Kiev’s actions, that Russian journalists and war correspondents working on the other side of the demarcation line show an objective picture. They work in trenches there almost without respite, and they provide daily news reports. These reports show the feelings of the people living in these territories that are cut off from the rest of Ukraine by an economic blockade, where children and civilians are being regularly killed, and where the civilian infrastructure, schools and kindergartens are being destroyed. I asked our Western colleagues why they don’t encourage their media outlets to organise the same work on the left side of the demarcation line, so that the scale of damage there can be assessed and to see which facilities have been the hardest hit.

As for the recent developments, when we openly announced the military exercises in the Southern and Western military districts – we made no secret of that, you remember the shouts about the alleged Russian build-up on the border with Ukraine. Just take a look at the terms used: we speak about drills in the Southern and Western military districts, while they say that Russia is amassing troops on the Ukrainian border. And when the drills ended and we made the relevant announcement, the West claimed maliciously that Russia had to back off, to withdraw. This is an example of wishful thinking.

This is reminiscent of the situation with the G7: every time they meet they announce that Russia will not be invited to the group. We have stated on numerous occasions that we will never re-join it, that there will not be any G8, and that this is a thing of the past. However, continued references to this subject, as well as claims that Russia has “rolled back” and has ordered its troops to “return to their barracks” shows, of course, that in this instance the West wants above all to take advantage of this situation to prove that it has the last word and the dominant place in modern international relations. This is regrettable.

The subject of a settlement in Ukraine has been discussed by President Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The other day President Putin spoke about it with President of France Emmanuel Macron. The issue was also raised during a recent conversation with US President Joe Biden. The situation is clear, as I see it. The patrons of President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky and his team refuse to make him honour the Minsk Agreements, even though they are aware of the futility of trying to use military force; they have heard the signals sent from Donetsk and Lugansk about their readiness to defend their land, their homes and their people who refuse to live by the laws being enforced by neo-Nazis.

President Putin has said clearly that we will never abandon the people of Donbass, who are standing up to the openly radical neo-Nazi regime. President Zelensky keeps saying in his interviews that there are no problems with the Russian language or the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, and that he is willing to discuss all these subjects with President Putin. It is a shame perhaps that a person I have always regarded as clever says that the Russian language and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have no problems in Ukraine. I have no doubt that he is very well aware of the situation. Maybe nothing at all is being reported to him, but in that case he is living in a dream world. But the West has definitely sent its signals to Zelensky.

As you have mentioned, it would be senseless to pin hopes on US military assistance. This has always been clear to everyone. If anyone entertained such illusions, such advisers are good for nothing in any government, including the government of Mr Zelensky. Regrettably, the West continues to try to convince us that the Minsk Agreements should be mitigated and the sequence of the actions set out in them changed. Zelensky says he likes the agreements, but only if it is all the other way round, that they first take full control of these territories, including the border with Russia, and only then deal with the elections, amnesty and a special status for these territories. It is clear that if they did this, if they were allowed to do this, there would be a massacre. The West is unable or unwilling to force Zelensky to comply with the Minsk Agreements strictly in accordance with the sequence set out in them, which does not permit any double interpretation and has been formulated unambiguously from the first to the last step. Control of the border is the very last step to be taken after these territories receive a special status, which must be sealed in the Constitution of Ukraine, after free elections are held there and their results are recognised as such by the OSCE.

Of course, there must also be total amnesty. Not in the way envisaged by the Poroshenko government or the current regime, which only want to approve an  amnesty on an individual basis for those who are proved to have committed no crime. This is yet another misinterpretation. The Minsk Agreements stipulate an amnesty for those who took part in fighting on both sides, without any transitional justice process, which our Western colleagues are now beginning to discuss.

I believe that the brunt of responsibility lies with the West, because only the West can make President Zelensky honour the commitments which his predecessor signed and he himself signed in Paris in December 2019 when he, the presidents of Russia and France and the Chancellor of Germany reaffirmed the absence of any alternative to the strict observance of the Minsk Agreements, and he pledged to amend the legislation and the Ukrainian Constitution to formalise the special status of Donbass on a permanent basis.

Dmitry Kiselev: Many people are wondering why Russia fails to recognise Donbass. It did recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is an inner “lobby” in Russia, even among my fellow journalists, who are demanding that we recognise Donbass – the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. Why are we failing in this?

Sergey Lavrov: You are right that there is an analogy with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But there is just one exception: no agreements similar to the Minsk Package of Measures were signed in those countries, when Saakashvili’s aggression against Tskhinval and the positions of peacekeepers, including Russian peacekeepers, occurred. The Medvedev-Sarkozy document was discussed there, and it implied a number of steps. But it was not signed by Georgia. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, after reaching an agreement with us in Moscow, took a plane to Tbilisi to ensure Saakashvili’s support for the document. Saakashvili signed it, but he deleted all the key provisions.  Mr Sarkozy attempted to represent this as a compromise, but everyone understood everything. It had a preamble saying that the Russian Federation and the French Republic, desirous of normalising the situation in South Caucasus, propose to Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia the following:  a ceasefire. Saakashvili crossed out the heading, leaving just the first and subsequent items. Since then, the West has been demanding that we comply with these agreements. This is just an example.

In the case of Donbass, the situation was different. The 17-hour long negotiations in Minsk involving the Normandy format leaders (President Franсois  Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Petr Poroshenko of Ukraine, and President of Russia Vladimir Putin) produced a result, which was endorsed, two days later, by the UN Security Council without any amendments or doubts that it should be implemented.

Today, the moral and international legal truth is on our side and on the side of the Donbass militias.  I think that we must not let Mr Zelensky and his entire team “off the hook,” writhing as they might. Mr Zelensky’s statement is a fine specimen (made when he had all but given up hope of turning the Minsk Agreements upside down) to the effect that they are no good, albeit necessary, because the saving of the Minsk Agreements guarantees that the sanctions against Moscow will be preserved as well. We asked the West, what they think about this. They just look aside shamefacedly and say nothing.  I think it is a shame and a disgrace, when an international legal document is held up to mockery in this manner.  The West, which has co-authored this document and supported it at the UN Security Council, is demonstrating absolute helplessness.

Dmitry Kiselev: President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky cannot get a call through to President of Russia Vladimir Putin, who is not picking up the receiver. Your Ukrainian counterpart, Dmitry Kuleba, cannot get a call through to you. What does this mean? Why is this?

Sergey Lavrov: This means that they are seeking to revise the Minsk Agreements and represent Russia as a party to the conflict even in this area of their activities.

Requests that came in until recently both from my counterpart Kuleba and President Zelensky dealt with the topic of settlement in Donbass. We replied that this [topic] should be discussed not with us, but with Donetsk and Lugansk, as you agreed under the Minsk Agreements.   The agreements say in black and white that the key stages of settlement should be the subject of consultations and coordination with Donetsk and Lugansk. When they say that a “nasty situation is looming large” at the line of contact and want to talk to Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, they are barking up the wrong tree. Meeting with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in the Kremlin the other day, President Putin made it amply clear that if they wanted to talk about this, the address should be different.  If our colleagues, including President Zelensky, want to discuss how to normalise bilateral relations, they are welcome. We are always ready to talk about this.

Dmitry Kiselev: There is no reply or acceptance so far, is there?

Sergey Lavrov: I heard that Mr Zelensky instructed the chief of his office, Andrey Yermak, to come to terms on the timeframes. The location is of no importance, because each day of delay means new deaths.

Incidentally, let us take the fact that people are dying and what is happening at the line of contact. Over the last couple of weeks, Kiev has been insisting quite aggressively on the need to reaffirm the ceasefire. All of its Western patrons have also been urging us to influence Donbass so that the ceasefire takes hold in earnest. Speaking on the phone with President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, President Putin reminded them of the facts. And the facts are as follows: In July 2020, the Contact Group reached what was perhaps the most serious and effective ceasefire agreement, because it contained a verification mechanism.  It implied a sequence of actions, primarily each side’s commitment not to return fire immediately on the spot but report the violation to the top command and wait for its order on how to act, to wit, whether to respond in kind or to negotiate an arrangement under the mechanisms created for commander-to-commander liaison on the ground.   This agreement, as it was implied, was translated into military orders issued by the DPR and the LPR. These orders were published. Kiev pledged to do the same, but did nothing. Instead it started fiddling with words again. Instead of performing the obligation to report each shelling attack to the top command and get orders from them, they began replacing this clear-cut arrangement with confused formulas, although they were blamed for this by Donetsk and Lugansk at all subsequent meetings, and Russian representatives in the Contact Group, too, repeatedly said as much. The same happened in the Normandy Format.  This is what Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak has been doing all these months in contacts with his French and German colleagues. The head of President Zelensky’s Office, Andrey Yermak, was representing Ukraine. I read transcripts of their talks. It was like talking to a brick wall. They were at cross purposes: the Ukrainian leaders had obviously decided that it was necessary to revive the ceasefire story. It was shameful and unseemly.

It was a great pleasure to watch the Servant of the People series, when no one suspected that its main character would follow this path in real life. But he took the wrong path. If Mr Zelensky watched the series again today and tried to fathom the convictions of the person he had impersonated so well on screen, and later compared those convictions with what he is doing now, he would, perhaps, have achieved one of the most effective transformations.  I do not know when he was himself and when he underwent a transformation. But the contrast is striking.

Dmitry Kiselev: Another subject is the Czech Republic. What was it? How are we to understand it?

Sergey Lavrov: I cannot speculate on this because I do not understand intellectually what they wanted. One can watch it like a not too elegant television series.

This story is full of schizophrenic components. Czech president Milos Zeman says it should be sorted out, not denying the possibility of a subversive act by foreign agents, but suggesting taking into account the story told by the Czech leadership, including the incumbent Prime Minister Andrej Babis (the then Minister of Finance, in 2014), that it was the result of negligence by the depot owners. President Zeman only suggested that consideration should be given to the case that has never been disproven over the seven years. He is accused of high treason now. President of the Senate Milos Vystrcil said that by stating the need to investigate all the leads President Zeman had disclosed a state secret. Is this not schizophrenia? A pure case, I think.

There needs to be an investigation into what was stored in the depot. The German media said that they kept antipersonnel mines prohibited by the convention signed, inter alia, by the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. A lot of questions remain.

Dmitry Kiselev: Indeed, how could it happen that a certain Bulgarian citizen supplying antipersonnel mines (by all appearances they were found there), controlled a depot in the Czech Republic which was not then under the control of the government?

Sergey Lavrov: It so happens.

Dmitry Kiselev: Maybe the Czechs would be better to start with themselves?

Sergey Lavrov: Probably. Or follow the example of Ukraine where too a vast number of armed people, weapons and ammunition are controlled not by the Ukrainian armed forces, but by “volunteer battalions.” It is a trend where the state proves its inability to ensure, if you like, its monopoly over the use of force.

Dmitry Kiselev: Ukraine is one thing but the Czech Republic is a member of the EU. It is bound by other international commitments than those of Ukraine and presents itself differently.

Sergey Lavrov: Above all, in addition to the aforementioned conventions (Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the so-called Arms Trade Treaty, they are all parties to it), the EU has its own quite strict rules that do not encourage but rather prohibit any actions like supplies and sending forces to regions where there are conflicts.

Dmitry Kiselev: What do you think about the so-called British files? This looks like an orchestrated information campaign against Russia.

Sergey Lavrov: As before, the British continue to play a very active, serious and subversive role in relations between Russia and Europe. Britain has withdrawn from the EU but it has not slackened its activities there. On the contrary, it has been trying to exert maximum influence on the EU countries’ positions towards Moscow. This is not surprising at all.

You don’t even need to go very far back in history. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium. The inquest began in one way, and then the process was classified because it was necessary to analyse the materials of intelligence services. And then they announced the verdict, but the materials involved in the case have never been made public. As Arnold Schwarzenegger used to say, “Trust me.” I would rather side with Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify.” But they don’t allow us to verify; they only demand that we trust them.

In 2014, the Malaysian Boeing was downed. They formed a team comprising a narrow group of four countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Ukraine. They did not even invite Malaysia, the country that lost the plane. These four countries have agreed, as it has since transpired, that any information would only be revealed on the basis of consensus. Ukraine, where the disaster took place, was given the right of veto, while Malaysia was invited to join the group only six months later. The black boxes, which the self-defence forces provided to Malaysia, were analysed in London. I don’t recall them making the information public.

In 2018, there were the Skripals and the “highly likely.” Nobody knows to this day how the Skripals survived the alleged poisoning, why the police officer who worked with them did not display any symptoms of poisoning, and why the woman involved died while her partner did not get sick. There are very many questions.

In 2020, we had the case of Alexey Navalny. He was flying from Tomsk to Moscow, but the plane landed in Omsk. Nobody on board the plane or in the Omsk hospital got sick. A bottle of water [from his hotel room] was taken by Maria Pevchikh to Germany on the plane that transported Navalny – nobody knows anything. Doctors at the Charité hospital did not find any traces of poison, but they were found at the Bundeswehr. German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer demanded transparency in connection with our recent military drills in the southern and western regions of Russia. But we announced the drills beforehand, whereas the Bundeswehr, whose experts allegedly found traces of Navalny’s poisoning, is keeping information from us. Our request for the results of tests and biomaterials has been denied.

After that there was a long story involving the OPCW. It allegedly took part in collecting samples from Navalny. According to the remarkable information from Berlin, German experts were present during the collection of the samples, but OPCW experts are not mentioned at all. We are trying to sort this information out. Nobody wants to explain anything. Germany is directing us to the OPCW, which says that the request came from Germany and so we should ask them. It is a conspiracy of silence. We have seen this happen in crime movies about bandit groups operating all over the country after the war. This is regrettable.

Getting back to Britain, we can see that London is continuing its anti-Russia policy. Chief of the UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Richard Moore said a few days ago that Russia is “a declining power” whose allegedly “reckless behaviour” needs to be dealt with. This is inherent arrogance and a belief that they continue to rule the world. They are sending “signals” to us and propose establishing ties. In other words, they are not against communicating with us, but they are trying to discourage others from doing the same. This could be an aspiration for a monopoly of contacts and a desire to prove that they are superior to others.

Dmitry Kiselev: Speaking about decline, Britain is a perfect example of a declining empire “on which the sun never sets,” a small island in the North Sea with clouded prospects. To return to the Czech Republic, opinions within the country on the latest developments are totally inconsistent. There is no consensus, and nothing has yet been proven, but diplomats have been expelled. There has already been a result.

Sergey Lavrov: They claim that this is not the reason why our diplomats were expelled.  Two statements were made on the same day. They appeared to be interconnected. Prague is now trying to prove that there is no connection between them. They have announced that the explosions were organised by Petrov and Boshirov, the ubiquitous Russian suspects. It’s like blaming them for the sinking of the Titanic. The same day it was announced that 18 diplomats would have to leave the country. The majority of people accepted this as “punishment” for the 2014 explosions. After that, the Czech authorities said they would track down Petrov and Boshirov and issue an arrest warrant for them. As for the 18 diplomats, they identified them as spies. They expelled them because they turned out to be intelligence agents. No proof that any of these 18 diplomats are guilty of illegal activities has been provided. It is not surprising that former Czech President Vaclav Klaus said that the country’s authorities were like a tiny pooch barking at a huge dog, hoping that the big boys (the United States and Britain) would throw their weight behind them. Do you remember a time from your childhood when local bullies waited until dusk to demand 15 kopeks from a smaller kid, and if he refused they summoned the “big boys.” The logic is very similar. This is regrettable.

We never schemed against our Czech colleagues. Why would we need to blow up that warehouse? Some people say that the Russians were angry that the Bulgarian planned to send munitions to Ukraine. This is a completely schizophrenic view of the situation. This is impossible to imagine. But the machinery has been set in motion. I hope our Czech colleagues will come to their senses after all and will take a look at what they have done. If reason prevails, we will be ready to gradually rebuild the conditions for our diplomatic missions to function normally.  If not, we will make do. We know how we will be working. We don’t have to ingratiate ourselves with anyone.

Dmitry Kiselev: Working on what?

Sergey Lavrov: We know how we will be working in the Czech Republic and other countries. Pinpoint attacks are being made against Russia in the Baltics, Poland and, recently, Romania. Bucharest has added, though, that its decision was in no way connected to the EU’s position. This came as a surprise. They just decided to send that Russian diplomat back home. Why? They have not explained.

Dmitry Kiselev: It is notable that Germany has not supported the Czech Republic.

Sergey Lavrov: I have read the relevant statement by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He spoke like a responsible politician. It is not always that the German Foreign Ministry takes such a balanced and astute position. Many of its other statements have indiscriminately supported injustice, for example when Ukraine adopted sanctions against the Opposition Platform – For Life political party, its leader Viktor Medvedchuk and several of his associates, all of them Ukrainian citizens.  The German Foreign Ministry expressed its approval, saying that this was fully in keeping with OSCE principles. This is absurd.

Therefore, what Heiko Maas said the other day is a responsible political statement. It has not smoothed over differences but pointed out the importance of maintaining dialogue and looking for agreements, since we live side by side.

Dmitry Kiselev: Recently in China, you said we needed to look for alternatives to the SWIFT international payment system, and Russia was preparing for this. Is there a specific timeframe, and what stage of the preparations are we at?

Sergey Lavrov: Many have already spoken about this. This is happening because in recent years, the West has been looking for more ways of infringing on Russia’s legitimate interests. Now they are openly mentioning the possibility of disconnecting our country from SWIFT. Responsible politicians just have to think of ways to play it safe.

In addition to these statements, the United States is increasingly abusing the role of the dollar in the international monetary system, using certain countries’ dependence on dollar settlements to limit their competitive opportunities – China and other states they dislike. China, Russia, and Turkey are now looking for opportunities to reduce their dependence on the dollar by switching to alternative currencies, or even better – by making settlements in their national currencies. The responsible agencies, including in our country, are thinking about how to prevent damage to the economy and the financial system if some hotheads actually disconnect us from SWIFT. Russia launched a national payment card system a few years ago; MIR cards have been in use in Russia since then. The system is already developing ties with its foreign counterparts, as similar cards are being issued in China and Japan. It is also building ties with the internationally accepted payment card Maestro.

As regards the SWIFT system, specifically, the Central Bank of Russia recently introduced and continued to develop a system for the transfer of financial messages. It is quite popular. I think we need to support and strengthen this in every possible way to ensure we do not depend on anyone. Let me emphasise that we are not trying to self-isolate. We want to be part of the international community. Part of a community where justice and democracy work. We have discussed the problems of democracy with the West. But once they are asked to come to an agreement, to declare that democracy should triumph in international relations, too, they lose their enthusiasm. They are full of lectures on internal democratic processes, but when it comes to the international arena, we get raised eyebrows. Here, allegedly, there are established ‘practices’ that ‘Russia and China are trying to implement’ (it’s about this). But in reality, Moscow and Beijing only want to preserve the principles of the UN Charter, according to which everyone is equal and must seek agreement.

One needs to have a safety net in terms of payment systems and transfer of financial messages. We have one. I hope it will grow stronger and be able to provide a guarantee if suddenly, contrary to our desire to cooperate with everyone, the West discriminates against Russia, abusing its current position in the international economic and monetary systems, in this situation, we really cannot afford to depend on anyone.

Dmitry Kiselev: So the Central Bank’s system for transfer of financial messages is the budding alternative to SWIFT?

Sergey Lavrov: I am not an expert. I don’t know how reliably and effectively it provides a full warranty. But the groundwork is already there. I am confident that the Government and the Central Bank must do everything to make it reliable and guarantee us complete independence and protection from more damage that might be inflicted on us.

Dmitry Kiselev: In a conversation with your Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, you proposed an initiative to create a coalition of countries affected by illegal sanctions. To what extent has this project progressed? What countries could join it?

Sergey Lavrov: I would not put it like that. We have been working at the UN for a long time to end the practice of unilateral illegitimate sanctions such as embargoes, blockades and other restrictions. We have been working for a number of decades to lift the embargo the United States declared on Cuba. The respective resolution is supported by more than 190 votes annually, with only the United States and one small island nation voting against it.

However, since this practice of unilateral restrictions began to be widely used (started by Barack Obama, expanded by Donald Trump, and applied to this day), a large group of countries voted in the UN to establish the position of Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights and their impact on the civilian population and the socioeconomic situation in a particular country. Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan is a citizen of Belarus. This institution, created by the UN General Assembly, is working and circulating reports. I think it is a very useful step.

Another specific course of action is now being developed in New York to the same end, as you mentioned, to counter illegal unilateral measures. It is a group in support of the UN Charter. Nothing revolutionary – just in response to our Western colleagues forming flagrantly non-universal groups.

US President Joe Biden has put forth the idea of ​​holding a Summit for Democracy. Naturally, the Americans will recruit the participants and will judge who is worthy to be called a democracy and who is not.

Also, in recent years, our French and German colleagues have being making calls to ensure freedom of the media through the Alliance for Multilateralism, a group they announced outside the framework of universal institutions. They rallied more than thirty states under its banners even though there is UNESCO, where the same topic is discussed by everyone.

Or, there was an appeal in support of international humanitarian law. Law is universal. It is the responsibility of the UN bodies. But again, they recruited about 50 states.

Such appeals have nothing to do with universal bodies, but they cover the agenda that is discussed at a universal level. They place that agenda into a framework where they are more comfortable negotiating with those who obey, and then they present it as the ultimate truth.

This movement against illegitimate unilateral actions is much broader than just sanctions.

Dmitry Kiselev: Can this movement be formalised by membership?

Sergey Lavrov: The membership is in the UN. This is the difference: we are not creating anything against anyone. In the Asia-Pacific region, we would like to leave everything as it is. ASEAN has its partners, while anyone else can join security discussions. The logic of the West acts against this. They are implementing the Indo-Pacific Strategy with its declared goal of containing China and isolating Russia.

The same is happening at the UN. They create various partnerships on topics that need to be discussed as part of the UN agenda. We insist that everyone must fulfil their obligations under the UN Charter, not scatter the global agenda across their compartments, only to present it later as the international community’s opinion.

Dmitry Kiselev: A recent update: the Americans confirmed they had made efforts to prevent Brazil from buying the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Brazil indeed refused, even though the coronavirus situation in that country is simply awful. What is your assessment?

Sergey Lavrov: This does not surprise me. The Americans are not even embarrassed to do things like that; they are not hiding it.

When former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled to Africa, he openly and publicly called on his colleagues at a press conference to cut off trade with Russia and China because these countries pursue selfish goals. Right, the United States trades with African states for the sole benefit of their peoples, of course.

As for the vaccine issue, a protest movement kicked off in Brazil against that decision. If the Americans have admitted they were behind it, that means they are true to their logic and believe everything is possible and permitted, and they can now openly dictate their will.

Not so long ago, French President Emmanuel Macron warned of a new type of world war, and that Russia and China were using vaccines as a weapon and means of propaganda. That rhetoric is now receding. Germany, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, is already seriously talking about the possibility of using the Russian vaccine.

We are not going to force anyone. I think life itself will set things straight. Vladimir Vysotsky said: “I always try to find the good in people. They will show the bad themselves.”

Dmitry Kiselev: A year ago, in an interview with our agency in the midst of the pandemic, you said you missed football. Are you back to sport yet?

Sergey Lavrov: In fact, I am. I did miss playing for a couple of weeks. We took a break and kept it low-key. But later, when we realised what precautions we could take, the games resumed. We play every Sunday.

U.S. Joins Past Empires in Afghan Graveyard

President Biden announced a removal of all U.S. troops by September 11, but he failed to include some important details.

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

Global Research, April 16, 2021

All Global Research articles can be read in 51 languages by activating the “Translate Website” drop down menu on the top banner of our home page (Desktop version).

***

An Afghan taxi-driver in Vancouver told one of us a decade ago that this day would come. “We defeated the Persian Empire in the eighteenth century, the British in the nineteenth, the Soviets in the twentieth. Now, with NATO, we’re fighting twenty-eight countries, but we’ll defeat them, too,” said the taxi-driver, surely not a member of the Taliban, but quietly proud of his country’s empire-killing credentials. 

Now, after nearly twenty years of a war that has been as bloody and futile as all those previous invasions and occupations, the last 3,500 U.S. troops and their NATO brothers-in-arms will be coming home from Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden tried to spin this as the United States leaving because it has achieved its objectives, bringing the terrorists responsible for 9/11 to justice and ensuring that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for a future attack on the United States. “We achieved those objectives,” Biden said. “Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is degraded. It’s time to end the forever war.”

What Biden did not admit is that the United States and its allies, with all their money and firepower, were unable to vanquish the Taliban, who currently control about half of Afghanistan and are positioned to control even more in the coming months without a ceasefire. Nor did Biden admit that, in two decades, the United States and its allies have been unable to build up a stable, democratic, popular government or a competent military in the country.

Like the U.S.S.R., the U.S. is leaving in defeat, having squandered the lives of countless Afghans, 2,488 U.S. troops and personnel, and trillions of dollars.

A U.S. withdrawal—especially one not based on conditions on the ground—is, nevertheless, a bold move for Biden. He is going against the advice of the U.S. intelligence community and top Pentagon officials, including the head of the U.S.-Afghan Forces and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Biden is also coming under attack from Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Senator Mitch McConnell artfully slammed Biden’s decision, accusing him of helping U.S. enemies “ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by gift-wrapping the country and handing it right back to them.” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the withdrawal “undermines our commitment to the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women.”U.S. Joins “Rules-Based World” on Afghanistan

But while Biden is being pilloried by some for pulling out too soon, the truth is that he is violating a May 1 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal that was painstakingly negotiated under the Trump Administration.

Ironically, Biden acknowledged in his speech on Wednesday that the withdrawal agreement the United States signed with the Taliban in February 2020 was a solemn commitment, but then he said U.S. forces would begin their withdrawal on May 1 and complete it by September 11, which is not what was agreed to.

After it was clear that the United States was going to break the May 1 withdrawal agreement, Mohammad Naeem, the Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, issued a statement that the Taliban would now not take part in the ten days of U.N.-led peace talks scheduled to begin in Istanbul on April 24, nor would it take part in any further peace negotiations until the last foreign soldiers leave Afghanistan.

This is a reversion to the Taliban’s long-standing position that it would not negotiate with a government backed by foreign occupation forces.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent years of his life negotiating with the Taliban to arrive at the 2020 withdrawal agreement. Secretary Blinken took a potentially historic step back from U.S. unilateralism when he invited the United Nations to lead a new Afghan peace process. And Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov set the stage for a ceasefire and a peaceful transition of power by bringing the two Afghan warring parties together in Moscow in March, where they agreed to keep talking.

By reneging on the May 1 deadline, President Biden has squandered much of the hard-won goodwill and trust that was painstakingly built up through these diplomatic efforts. It was not impossible to meet the May 1 deadline. The Trump Administration was steadily withdrawing troops, Biden’s transition began in November, and he’s been President since late January.

It is also unclear whether the United States will continue the war by providing airpower for the Afghan military and carrying out covert operations. Throughout these two decades, the United States has dropped more than 80,000 bombs on Afghanistan and waged a secret war with special forces, CIA operatives, mercenaries, and paramilitary units. Ending U.S. airstrikes and covert operations is as vital to peace as withdrawing U.S. troops.

It’s true that a U.S. withdrawal may lead to setbacks in the gains made by Afghan women and girls. But those gains have been mainly in the capital city of Kabul. Two thirds of girls in Afghanistan still receive no primary education, and Afghan women will never achieve significant advances while their country remains at war.

The United States and NATO military presence has made an end to violence impossible for twenty years, as the Taliban have long made clear that they will keep fighting as long as their country is under foreign occupation. And as long as the U.S. continues to prop up a weak, corrupt government in Kabul, instability and political fragmentation is inevitable.

Ending the fighting and investing a small fraction of U.S. war spending in education and health care would do far more to improve the lives of Afghan women and girls.

The United Nations, even with the full support and cooperation of the United States, will have its work cut out to convince the Taliban to rejoin talks. If the U.N. fails to negotiate a lasting ceasefire before the occupation forces withdraw, the U.S. and its NATO allies will be leaving a country still at war with the Taliban, the Afghan government, and various warlords vying for power.

We must hope that, in the coming months, the U.N. will find a way to bring the warring parties in Afghanistan together and craft a ceasefire and a workable peace process based on power sharing. After so many decades of war and intense suffering, much of it perpetrated by the United States and its allies, the Afghan people desperately need—and deserve—an end to this war.

*

Note to readers: please click the share buttons above or below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

This article was originally published on The Progressive.

Medea Benjamin is co-director of the peace group CODEPINK. Her latest book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of “Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.” He is a researcher for CODEPINK: Women for Peace, and a freelance writer.

Iran & Russia set to sign comprehensive strategic agreement – Al Mayadeen TV report

April 16, 2021

Original link: http://middleeastobserver.net/iran-russia-set-to-sign-comprehensive-strategic-agreement-tv-report/

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B6J1X8sjsk

Description: According to a recent Al Mayadeen TV report, the purpose behind Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent visit to Tehran was to pave the way for the signing of a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement between his country and Iran.This comes after Iran and China signed a 25-year comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement of their own late last month.

Source: Al Mayadeen TV (YouTube) : Date: April 13, 2021(Please help MEO keep producing independent translations for you by contributing a sustainable monthly amount https://www.patreon.com/MiddleEastObserver?fan_landing=true)

Transcript :

Reporter:

Sergey Lavrov is in Tehran. Iranians see the visit of the Russian foreign minister as important both in timing and content. The two parties signed two MOUs in preparation for the signing of a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement similar to (Iran’s recent) agreement with China. This significant development in the relations between the two countries is accompanied by similar political stances in many areas.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister: 

The United States must understand that (imposing) sanctions is not the (right) approach for dealing with Iran. In addition, the European Union has proven, in its submission to the extremists in the US and the Zionist entity, that it no longer has a place in the international community.

Reporter:

In the same manner, the Russian guest condemned the policies of the US and Europe as well.

Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister: 

We condemn any attempt to disrupt the nuclear negotiations, and we demand that Washington implements the nuclear agreement in full. We are surprised by the European Union’s decision to impose sanctions on some Iranian officials. We consider this a mistake worse than a crime, (a mistake) deliberately committed in the midst of the negotiations in Vienna.

Reporter:

The sudden European escalation that coincides with the Natanz incident may cast a shadow over the second round of the Vienna meetings, and cause tensions on multiple levels.

Iran realizes that it is difficult to cope with the accumulated crises, whether regarding its nuclear program and economic sanctions, or its (troubled) relations with the West and its conflict with Israel. However, (Iran) also realizes that its ties with Russia and China have become stronger than ever before and that this is sufficient to reduce American and European pressures placed upon it.

Ahmad Al-Bahrani – Tehran – Al-Mayadeen

To read transcript: http://middleeastobserver.net/iran-russia-set-to-sign-comprehensive-strategic-agreement-tv-report/

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Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation

Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation

April 15, 2021

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) (NEA), section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (8 U.S.C. 1182(f)), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,
I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, find that specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation — in particular, efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners; to engage in and facilitate malicious cyber-enabled activities against the United States and its allies and partners; to foster and use transnational corruption to influence foreign governments; to pursue extraterritorial activities targeting dissidents or journalists; to undermine security in countries and regions important to United States national security; and to violate well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states — constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.  I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.
Accordingly, I hereby order:
Section 1.  All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in:
(a)  any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, and, with respect to subsection (a)(ii) of this section, in consultation with the Attorney General, or by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, and, with respect to subsection (a)(ii) of this section, in consultation with the Attorney General:
(i)    to operate or have operated in the technology sector or the defense and related materiel sector of the Russian Federation economy, or any other sector of the Russian Federation economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State;
(ii)   to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged or attempted to engage in, any of the following for or on behalf of, or for the benefit of, directly or indirectly, the Government of the Russian Federation:
(A)  malicious cyber-enabled activities;
(B)  interference in a United States or other foreign government election;
(C)  actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the United States or abroad;
(D)  transnational corruption;
(E)  assassination, murder, or other unlawful killing of, or infliction of other bodily harm against, a United States person or a citizen or national of a United States ally or partner;
(F)  activities that undermine the peace, security, political stability, or territorial integrity of the United States, its allies, or its partners; or
(G)  deceptive or structured transactions or dealings to circumvent any United States sanctions, including through the use of digital currencies or assets or the use of physical assets;
(iii)  to be or have been a leader, official, senior executive officer, or member of the board of directors of:
(A)  the Government of the Russian Federation;
(B)  an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in any activity described in subsection (a)(ii) of this section; or
(C)  an entity whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order;
(iv)   to be a political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality of the Government of the Russian Federation;
(v)    to be a spouse or adult child of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to subsection (a)(ii) or (iii) of this section;
(vi)   to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of:
(A)  any activity described in subsection (a)(ii) of this section; or
(B)  any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or
(vii)  to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Government of the Russian Federation or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.
(b)  any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, a government whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to chapter V of title 31 of the Code of Federal Regulations or another Executive Order, and to be:
(i)    a citizen or national of the Russian Federation;
(ii)   an entity organized under the laws of the Russian Federation or any jurisdiction within the Russian Federation (including foreign branches); or
(iii)  a person ordinarily resident in the Russian Federation.
(c)  any person determined by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in or attempted to engage in, cutting or disrupting gas or energy supplies to Europe, the Caucasus, or Asia, and to be:
(i)   an individual who is a citizen or national of the Russian Federation; or
(ii)  an entity organized under the laws of the Russian Federation or any jurisdiction within the Russian Federation (including foreign branches).
(d)  The prohibitions in subsections (a), (b), and (c) of this section apply except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted before the date of this order.
Sec. 2.  The prohibitions in section 1 of this order include:
(a)  the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; and
(b)  the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
Sec. 3.  (a)  The unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of noncitizens determined to meet one or more of the criteria in section 1 of this order would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and the entry of such persons into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, is hereby suspended, except when the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security, as appropriate, determines that the person’s entry would not be contrary to the interests of the United States, including when the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Homeland Security, as appropriate, so determines, based on a recommendation of the Attorney General, that the person’s entry would further important United States law enforcement objectives.
(b)  The Secretary of State shall implement this authority as it applies to visas pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, may establish.
(c)  The Secretary of Homeland Security shall implement this order as it applies to the entry of noncitizens pursuant to such procedures as the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may establish.
(d)  Such persons shall be treated by this section in the same manner as persons covered by section 1 of Proclamation 8693 of July 24, 2011 (Suspension of Entry of Aliens Subject to United Nations Security Council Travel Bans and International Emergency Economic Powers Act Sanctions).
Sec. 4.  (a)  Any transaction that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, causes a violation of, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
(b)  Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited.
Sec. 5.  I hereby determine that the making of donations of the types of articles specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in this order, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 1 of this order.
Sec. 6.  For the purposes of this order:
(a)  the term “entity” means a partnership, association, trust, joint venture, corporation, group, subgroup, or other organization;
(b)  the term “Government of the Russian Federation” means the Government of the Russian Federation, any political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, and any person owned, controlled, or directed by, or acting for or on behalf of, the Government of the Russian Federation;
(c)  the term “noncitizen” means any person who is not a citizen or noncitizen national of the United States;
(d)  the term “person” means an individual or entity; and
(e)  the term “United States person” means any United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (including foreign branches), or any person in the United States.
Sec. 7.  For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render those measures ineffectual.  I therefore determine that for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in this order, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1 of this order.
Sec. 8.  The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA, as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this order.  The Secretary of the Treasury may, consistent with applicable law, redelegate any of these functions within the Department of the Treasury.  All departments and agencies of the United States shall take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of this order.
Sec. 9.  Nothing in this order shall prohibit transactions for the conduct of the official business of the Federal Government or the United Nations (including its specialized agencies, programs, funds, and related organizations) by employees, grantees, and contractors thereof.
Sec. 10.  The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to submit recurring and final reports to the Congress on the national emergency declared in this order, consistent with section 401(c) of the NEA (50 U.S.C. 1641(c)) and section 204(c) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1703(c)).
Sec. 11.  (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii)  the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

THE WHITE HOUSE,
April 15, 2021.


Russia ‘would really not want’ Cold War 2.0

Russia ‘would really not want’ Cold War 2.0

April 09, 2021

The Triple Yoda, Nikolai Patrushev, hopes cooler heads can avoid sanctions such as the SWIFT ‘nuclear option’

By Pepe Escobar posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

The Beltway was always fond of describing the late Andrew Marshall – who identified emerging or future threats for the Pentagon and whose proteges included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – as Yoda.

Well, if that’s the case, then Chinese national security supremo Yang Jiechi – who recently made shark fin’s soup out of Tony Blinken in Alaska – is Double Yoda. And Nikolai Patrushev – Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation – is Triple Yoda.

Amid current ice-cold US-Russia relations – plunged into their worst state since the end of the Cold War – Triple Yoda, discreet, diplomatic and always sharp as a dagger, remains a soothing voice of reason, as demonstrated in a stunning interview by Kommersant daily.

Patrushev, born in 1951, is an army general who worked for KGB counter-intel in Leningrad, during the USSR days. Starting in 1994 he was the head of quite a few FSB departments. From 1999 to 2008 he was the FSB director, and led counter-terror ops in the North Caucasus from 2001 to 2003. Since May 2008 he is Russia’s top security advisor.

Patrushev rarely talks to the media. Thus the importance, for global public opinion, of highlighting some of his key insights. Let us hope the Beltway will be listening.

Patrushev clearly states that Russia does not want Cold War 2.0: “We would really not want that.” And he hopes that “common sense will prevail in Washington.”

Patrushev speaks

On Biden declaring Putin a “killer”: “I would not like to draw parallels, but exactly 75 years ago, in March 1946, Churchill delivered the famous Fulton speech in the presence of President Truman, in which he declared our country, his recent ally in the anti-Hitler coalition, an enemy. This marked the beginning of the Cold War.”

On Ukraine and Donbass: “I am convinced that this is a consequence of serious internal problems in Ukraine, from which the authorities are trying to divert attention in this way. They solve their problems at the expense of Donbass, while capital from the country has been flowing abroad for a long time … and Kiev is selling to foreigners – as they say now, at democratic prices – those remnants of industry that were able to stay afloat.”

On the first order of business for the US and Russia: It’s “the sphere of strategic stability and arms control. There is already a positive example here. It is our common decision to extend the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms, which was certainly not easy for the US administration.”

On possible areas of cooperation: “There is a certain potential for joint work on such issues as the fight against international terrorism and extremism … as well as Syria, the Middle East settlement, the nuclear problem of the Korean peninsula, the JCPOA with Iran … It is long overdue to discuss cyber-security issues, especially in view of Russia’s concerns and the accusations that have been brought forward to us for several years now.”

On contacts with Washington: “They continue. At the end of March, I had a telephone conversation with the assistant to the president of the United States for national security, Mr Sullivan .… By the way, it was held in a calm, business-like atmosphere, and we communicated quite thoroughly and constructively.”

On having no illusions about US apologies: “The United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan completely unnecessarily – although they knew perfectly well that the Red Army was starting hostilities against the Japanese grouping in Manchuria; they knew that Tokyo was ready to surrender. And the Japanese, and indeed the whole world, have been told for three quarters of a century that atomic strikes were inevitable … a kind of punishment from above. Remember what Obama said in his speech at the Hiroshima mourning event? ‘Death fell from heaven.’ And he did not want to say that this death fell from an American plane on the orders of the American president.”

On improvement of relations: “Given the unprecedentedly difficult nature of the internal situation in the United States today, the prospects for the further development of relations can hardly be called encouraging.”

On the US seeing Russia as a “threat,” and whether it is reciprocal: “We now see the main threat in a pandemic. For the United States, by the way, it turned out to be the moment of truth. The problems that American politicians were hiding from their fellow citizens became obvious, including by diverting their attention to the legends of ‘aggressive Russia.’”

On US bio-labs: “I suggest that you pay attention to the fact that numbers of biological laboratories under US control are growing by leaps and bounds across the world. And – by a strange coincidence – mainly at the Russian and Chinese borders … Of course, we and our Chinese partners have questions. We are told that there are peaceful sanitary and epidemiological stations near our borders, but for some reason they are more reminiscent of Fort Detrick in Maryland, where Americans have been working in the field of military biology for decades. By the way, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that outbreaks of diseases uncharacteristic of these regions are recorded in the adjacent areas.”

On US accusations that Russia uses chemical weapons: “There is zero evidence, there is no argumentation either; some speculation does not even withstand an elementary test … When chemical incidents occurred in Syria, conclusions were drawn instantly and based on the information of the notorious ‘White Helmets.’ The organization worked so ‘well’ that it sometimes published its reports even before the incidents themselves.”

On NATO: “The question arises: who is holding back whom? Are Washington and Brussels holding back Russia, or is it their task to hold back the development of Germany, France, Italy and other European states? On the whole, NATO can hardly be called a military-political bloc. Remember how in the days of feudalism the vassals were obliged to appear to the master with their armies at his first  request? Only today they still have to buy weapons from the patron, regardless of their financial situation; otherwise questions about their loyalty will arise.”

On Europe: “Engaging with Europe is important. But being together with Europe at any cost is not a fix for Russian geopolitics. Nevertheless we keep the doors open, because we understand perfectly well that there is a momentary situation that Western politicians are guided by, and at the same time there are historical ties that have been developing between Russians and Europeans for centuries.”

On multipolarity: “There are a number of problems in the world today that, in principle, cannot be resolved without normal cooperation between the world’s leading players – Russia, the USA, the EU, China and India.”

The SWIFT ‘nuclear option’

Patrushev’s insights are particularly relevant as the Russia-China strategic partnership is solidifying by the minute; Foreign Minister Lavrov, in Pakistan, has called for literally everyone, “including the European Union,” to join Russia’s vision of a Greater Eurasia; and everyone is waiting for a face-off in the Donbass.

Patrushev’s diplomatic finesse still cannot erase the uneasy feeling in chancelleries across Eurasia about the distinct possibility of an incoming flare-up in the Donbass – with some extremely worrying consequences.

Dangerous scenarios are being openly discussed in Brussels corridors, especially one that sees the US/NATO combo expecting a de facto partition after a short hot war – with Novorossiya absorbing even Odessa.

If that is established as a fact on the ground, a new harsh round of US sanctions will follow. Iron Curtain 2.0 would be in effect; pressure for cancelation of Nord Stream 2 would reach fever pitch; and even the expulsion of Russia from SWIFT would be considered.

Dmitri Medvedev, currently Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, once called the latter “the nuclear option.” Patrushev was diplomatic enough not to address its volcanic consequences.

Russia Tells Hezbollah: We Want You to Stay in Syria روسيا لحزب الله: نريدكم ان تبقوا في سوريا


Russia Tells Hezbollah: We Want You to Stay in Syria

Russia Tells Hezbollah: We Want You to Stay in Syria

Al-Ahed Translations

5 hours ago

By al-Akhbar Newspaper, Translated by Staff

Over the past years, media outlets hostile to the Syrian regime and its allies [individually and collectively] have published a lot of reports and “information” about actions and measures that Russia has begun to implement to get Hezbollah and Iran out of Syria, or at least reduce their presence there. These reports were based on an assessment that Russia does not want a partner in influence in the Levant, especially the Iranian influence. In the field, it was the opposite that governed the relationship between the parties, there was cooperation on more than one level, and sharing roles sometimes. And when something was not agreed upon, the issue was resolved by regulating the disagreement.

The visit of Hezbollah’s delegation, led by MP Mohammad Raad [a member of Hezbollah’s Shura Council and head of the Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc], to Moscow, in the middle of last month, was an occasion in which the Russian leadership clarified its position on the party’s presence in Syria. In Moscow, Hezbollah’s military performance is highly appreciated on the level of professionalism, discipline and the superior ability of its fighters to achieve their battle goals. At the same time, Moscow admires Hezbollah’s “pragmatism.” In the latter regard, it seems concerned with everything that contributes to the protection of the Syrian state, in particular the internal settlements with armed groups in many regions, especially in the south, and the major understandings with Turkey. In either way, the party was committed to everything that could be done to make these settlements and understandings successful.

In Moscow, the military and politicians consider Hezbollah’s presence in Syria more necessary than ever. Any gap left by Hezbollah and Iran in any Syrian province will be filled by the Americans, neither the Russians nor the Syrians. Moreover, some settlement groups, including those who are strengthened with the understanding with the Russians, see no deterrent to their extension except for Hezbollah and the Iranians.

In this spirit, Russian officials have been keen to convey a clear message to Hezbollah’s leadership: Your presence in Syria is as necessary in politics as in the military. We count on future cooperation in both fields.

The Russians do not consider Hezbollah as a Lebanese organization, but rather as a side who has presence in many States of the region. In the meetings with Russian officials, specifically Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his deputy Mikhail Bogdanov, and officials in the parliament, the situations in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and others were discussed. The parties stressed the need to strengthen their communication and to adopt direct channels of communication between Hezbollah and Moscow, while studying the possibility of establishing a representative office for the party in the Russian capital.

The visit, that was based on a Russian invitation, appeared to be a message from Moscow to Washington that “the ongoing attempts to entrap us up with Iran or Hezbollah will not work. We will not only coordinate with Iran; we want to coordinate directly with Hezbollah.” The Russians have already informed all Western, Arab and regional States and powers that they communicate with about Lebanon that “Hezbollah is a major force, a real and significant case, that should be dealt with on this basis, and that no settlement can be achieved without consulting and agreeing with it.”

Another message Moscow wanted to deliver to Tel Aviv is that it is true that Russia seeks “an understanding with everyone” considering Syria, and there is an understanding between it and ‘Israel,’ but this understanding does not mean “we are helping ‘Israel’ in its strikes. On the contrary, we condemn these strikes, especially those passing through the Lebanese airspace. We remain committed to preventing ‘Israeli’ aircraft from penetrating Syrian airspace.” On one hand, Moscow confirms, based on its intelligence information, that the ‘Israeli’ strikes on arms convoys transported to Lebanon did not achieve their goals and did not prevent Hezbollah from achieving their goals. On the other hand, it does not object to the establishment of a deterrent equation that would prevent ‘Israel’ from attacking the Syrian territories. In the coming months, there is a trilogy that Moscow is seeking to secure the factors for its success in Damascus: the political process linked to the presidential election station, reconstruction, and the return of refugees.

In Lebanon, the Russians insist on not to interfere as other countries do. They do not interfere in the formation of the government, they do not participate in the composition process, and they do not demand shares. It is true that they are interested in the reconstruction of the port, for example, just as they are interested in energy projects, whether those in which they are involved in [oil and gas exploration in the sea, fuel tanks at Beddawi] or those in which they aspire to participate in in the future, such as the reconstruction and operation of the Tripoli refinery. Here, the Russian interest in the sea gas seems remarkable, as estimates in some Moscow-based jurisdictions talk about a huge amount of gas in the Syrian and Lebanese seas. And if those estimates are correct, it is not unlikely that Russia will implement a gas pipeline project in the eastern Mediterranean competing with the “Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum” project [involving Egypt, ‘Israel,’ Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, France and Italy], to transport gas to Europe via Turkey.

Considering Yemen, Moscow seems interested in finding a settlement that saves the Saudi prestige. While for Hezbollah, the key to the solution is to stop the aggression and lift the siege simultaneously, and Ansarullah are keen not to antagonize anyone, except those who take the initiative to start a fight.


روسيا لحزب الله: نريدكم ان تبقوا في سوريا

الأخبار

الثلاثاء 6 نيسان 2021

على مدى السنوات الماضية، نُشر في الإعلام المعادي للنظام السوري وحلفائه (فرادى ومجتمعين) الكثير من التقارير و«المعلومات» التي تتحدّث عن أعمال وإجراءات بدأت روسيا بتنفيذها، لإخراج حزب الله، وإيران، من سوريا، أو على الأقل، الحد من وجودهما. تلك التقارير مبنية على تقدير أن روسيا لا تريد شريكاً لها في النفوذ في الشام، وخاصة النفوذ الإيراني. في الميدان، كان العكس هو ما يحكم العلاقة بين الطرفين. تعاون على أكثر من صعيد، وتقاسم للأدوار أحياناً. وعندما لا يُتفق على أمر ما، كانت القضية تُحل بتنظيم الاختلاف.

الزيارة التي قام بها وفد من حزب الله، برئاسة النائب محمد رعد (عضو شورى القرار في الحزب ورئيس كتلته النيابية)، إلى موسكو، منتصف الشهر الماضي، كانت مناسبة أوضحت فيها القيادة الروسية موقفها من وجود الحزب في سوريا. في موسكو، تقدير عالٍ لأداء حزب الله العسكري: حرفية مقاتليه، وانضباطهم، وقدرتهم الفائقة على تحقيق أهدافهم في المعارك. وفي الوقت عينه، تبدي موسكو إعجابها بـ«براغماتية» حزب الله. في الشأن الأخير، تبدو معنية بكل ما يسهم في حماية الدولة السورية: التسويات الداخلية مع مجموعات مسلحة في كثير من المناطق، خصوصاً في الجنوب، والتفاهمات الكبرى مع تركيا. وفي الحالتين، كان الحزب ملتزماً بكل ما يمكن القيام به لإنجاح هذه التسويات والتفاهمات.
وفي موسكو، يرى العسكر والسياسيون أن وجود حزب الله في سوريا ضروري أكثر من أي وقت مضى. فأي فراغ يتركه الحزب وإيران في أي محافظة سورية، سيملأه الاميركيون، لا الروس ولا السوريون. كما أن بعض مجموعات التسويات، ومنها تلك التي تستقوي بالتفاهم مع الروس، لا ترى رادعاً يحول دون تمددها سوى الحزب والإيرانيين.
من هذا المنطلق، حرص المسؤولون الروس على إيصال الرسالة واضحة لقيادة حزب الله: وجودكم في سوريا ضروري، في السياسة، كما في العسكر. ونعوّل على التعاون معكم مستقبلاً في المجالين.
لا ينظر الروس إلى حزب الله بصفته تنظيماً لبنانياً، بل هو جهة لها حضورها في كثير من دول الإقليم. في اللقاءات مع المسؤولين الروس، وتحديداً وزير الخارجية سيرغي لافروف ونائبه ميخائيل بوغدانوف ومسؤولين في مجلس النواب، جرى التطرق إلى الأوضاع في اليمن والعراق وسوريا وفلسطين وغيرها. وشدّد الطرفان على ضرورة تعزيز سبل التواصل بينهما، واعتماد قنوات اتصال مباشرة بين الحزب وموسكو، مع درس احتمال إقامة مكتب تمثيل للحزب في العاصمة الروسية.

في موسكو، يرى العسكر والسياسيون أن وجود حزب الله في سوريا ضروري أكثر من أي وقت مضى


الزيارة التي تمّت بناءً على دعوة روسية، بدت في جانب منها رسالة من موسكو إلى واشنطن مفادها أن «المحاولات القائمة للإيقاع بيننا وبين إيران أو حزب الله لن تنفع. ونحن لن نكتفي بالتنسيق مع إيران، بل نريد أن ننسّق مباشرة مع حزب الله». وسبق للروس أن أبلغوا جميع الدول الغربية والعربية والإقليمية والقوى التي يتواصلون معها بشأن لبنان، أن «حزب الله قوة رئيسية، ويمثل حالة حقيقية وكبيرة، وينبغي التعامل معه على هذا الأساس، ولا يمكن إنجاز أي تسوية من دون التشاور معه والاتفاق معه».
رسالة أخرى أرادت موسكو إيصالها إلى تل أبيب. صحيح أن روسيا تسعى إلى «التفاهم مع الجميع» بشأن سوريا، وثمة تفاهم بينها وبين «إسرائيل»، لكن هذا التفاهم لا يعني «أننا نساعد إسرائيل في ضرباتها. على العكس من ذلك، نحن ندين هذه الضربات، خصوصاً تلك التي تأتي من الأجواء اللبنانية. وما زلنا ملتزمين بمنع الطائرات الإسرائيلية من اختراق الأجواء السورية». من جهة، تؤكد موسكو، بناءً على معلوماتها الاستخبارية، أن الضربات الإسرائيلية على قوافل الأسلحة التي تُنقل إلى لبنان لم تحقق أهدافها، ولم تمنع حزب الله من إنجاز ما يريد إنجازه. ومن جهة أخرى، لا تمانع قيام معادلة ردع تؤدي إلى منع «إسرائيل» من الاعتداء على الأراضي السورية. وفي الأشهر المقبلة، ثمة ثلاثية تسعى موسكو إلى تأمين عوامل نجاحها في دمشق: العملية السياسية ربطاً بمحطة الانتخابات الرئاسية، وإعادة الإعمار، وعودة النازحين.
في لبنان، يُصرّ الروس على عدم التدخّل بالصورة التي تقوم بها دول أخرى. لا يتدخلون في تأليف الحكومة، ولا يشاركون في عملية التأليف، ولا يطالبون بحصص. صحيح أنهم مهتمون بإعادة إعمار المرفأ، على سبيل المثال، تماماً كاهتمامهم بمشاريع الطاقة، سواء تلك التي يشاركون فيها (التنقيب عن النفط والغاز في البحر، وخزانات الوقود في البداوي)، أو تلك التي يطمحون إلى المشاركة فيها مستقبلاً، كإعادة بناء مصفاة التكرير في طرابلس وتشغيلها. وهنا، يبدو لافتاً الاهتمام الروسي بالغاز في البحر، إذ إن التقديرات في بعض الأوساط المختصة في موسكو تتحدّث عن كميات هائلة من الغاز في البحرين السوري واللبناني. وفي حال صحّت تلك التقديرات، فمن غير المستبعد أن تنفّذ روسيا مشروعاً لإقامة أنابيب للغاز في شرق المتوسط، ينافس مشروع «منتدى غاز شرق المتوسط» (تشارك فيه مصر و«إسرائيل» وقبرص واليونان والأردن وفرنسا وإيطاليا)، لنقل الغاز إلى أوروبا عبر تركيا.
يمنياً، تبدو موسكو مهتمة بإيجاد تسوية تحفظ ماء وجه السعودية. في نظر حزب الله، مفتاح الحل هو وقف العدوان ورفع الحصار في آن واحد، و«أنصار الله» حريصون على عدم معاداة أحد، إلا متى بادر إلى قتالهم.

Crucial interview of Foreign Minister Lavrov (MUST READ!)

Crucial interview of Foreign Minister Lavrov (MUST READ!)

Source

April 02, 2021

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

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

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

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

Sergey Lavrov: He was invited for consultations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vyacheslav Nikonov: When will Ambassador Antonov return to Washington?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our level of cooperation continues to grow qualitatively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sergey Lavrov: I am referring to our historical roots.

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

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

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

Sergey Lavrov: Why past tense?

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

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

Dimitri Simes: Both options are available.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sergey Lavrov: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dimitri Simes: Have you changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relations with Washington Have ’Hit the Bottom’ – Lavrov

Relations with Washington Have ’Hit the Bottom’ - Lavrov

By Staff, Agencies

Moscow’s relations with Washington have “hit the bottom” and no decision has been taken so far to send back the country’s envoy to the US, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday.

Relations between the two long-time adversaries have worsened in recent weeks following the US President Joe Biden’s remarks in a television interview, calling his Russian counterpart a “killer.”

Lavrov termed Biden’s remarks “appalling,” which he said has forced Moscow to review its relationship with Washington.

The top Russian diplomat also decried Washington’s refusal to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer of holding direct public call with Biden in an attempt to diffuse simmering tensions.

“The confrontation has hit the bottom,” Lavrov said in televised remarks. “But on the other hand, there is a hope that they are all grown-up people who realize the risks linked with inciting more tensions. I hope that common sense will prevail.”

Without specifying the date for the return of Russian envoy to the US, Lavrov said it is up to President Putin to take a call on it.

The envoy had been called back to Moscow for consultations following Biden’s recent remarks, and to ensure bilateral ties “did not degrade irreparably.”

While relations between the two countries remained affected during the tenure of Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, under the new US administration, the two sides appear to have moved further apart.

Biden recently said the days of the US “rolling over” to Putin are done, as his administration moves to adopt a more confrontational approach toward the Kremlin, something Trump had avoided.

The Biden administration has warned that Moscow would face sanctions over the massive SolarWinds hacks and alleged attempts to influence last year’s US presidential vote to help keep Trump in power. Moscow has rejected the accusation.

Lavrov, however, dismissed the threats and stressed that the US pressure on Russia “has absolutely no chance for success.”

He also castigated the European Union for breakdown in Russia-EU ties, denying that Moscow has ever tried to sow discord among the bloc’s member nations.

“We are interested in the EU being strong and independent,” he said, decrying what he described as the EU’s keenness to follow the US approach on Russia.

“We will always be ready to restore our relationship, to raise it from the ashes,” Lavrov said. “But we won’t knock on the closed door.”

ISIS VICIOUS CYCLE IN CENTRAL SYRIA

South Front

In a very busy month of March, the Russian Aerospace Forces, in support of the Damascus government, kept up a significant level of airstrike activity against ISIS every single day.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian warplanes carried out more than 1,380 airstrikes on ISIS cells in Central Syria.

These reportedly resulted in the death of 57 ISIS terrorists, and the injury of 25 others.

The airstrikes could potentially seem excessive, but there is no other effective way to contain the terrorist group. On March 28th-31st, 100 Syrian service members were wounded in attacks by ISIS or by explosive devices planted by the terrorists.

Despite all of this, security in central Syria is not as compromised as it appears. Roads are open for traffic, and some semblance of normality is present. Gas and oil fields are tightly guarded and operational, and all urban centers are secured from terrorist activity.

On March 31st, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that the United States used ISIS terrorists to hinder any potential political solution to the Syrian conflict.

In seeming proof of this statement, on the same day, the US reportedly transported 40 ISIS terrorists from al-Houl prison, east of Hasaka city, to its base in al-Shadadi city. Out of these forty terrorists, two are notably ISIS members who operated in Deir Ezzor.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on March 28th began a security operation at the notorious al-Hawl camp, which houses 62,000 people, mostly women and children of ISIS terrorists.

Around 6,000 troops from the SDF, Asayish security forces and the People’s Protection Units are taking part in the operation.

The SDF has already announced the arrest of 53 alleged ISIS members, including a Sharia Judge of ISIS, Abu Muhammad al-Jumaili, and five other officials of terrorist cells that were carrying out various operations inside the camp.

There is plentiful footage, including videos and photographs showcasing the operation.

The situation in the camp has steadily been ramping out of control, with frequent killings taking place there. In the first three months of 2021 alone, at least 47 people have been murdered by terrorist elements. The United Nations has repeatedly warned of the deteriorating security situation in the camp.

Central Syria is secure, but still a hotbed of ISIS terrorists. The security operations by the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian support are unlikely to stop anytime soon, especially if the accusations against the United States are true.

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Sitrep China : Xinjiang backlash market shock

March 30, 2021

Sitrep China : Xinjiang backlash market shock

Selections from Godfree Roberts’ extensive weekly newsletter : Here Comes China, plus editorial notes. You can get it here: https://www.herecomeschina.com/#subscribe


The last two weeks we’ve watched in awe the Chinese telling the US in Alaska that a more assertive China now is a reality as the empire has left it no choice.  Of course the Alaska meeting was spiked with sanctions poison minutes before the meetings started, to present a strongman ‘advantage’ (or so they thought) to empire.   This backfired spectacularly and lasted but 15 minutes of a blistering response by China, so perfectly translated by the Chinese translator that she immediately became a new sensation in the eyes of the Chinese people.   The Chinese response is continuing and the stance is now permanent.  I think it is fair to say that China will take no more empire so-called ‘rules-based’ international order.

We saw Mr.Biden calling President Putin a “killer with no soul”.  We saw Russia moving away from empire, in action and in (less than diplomatic) words, with Foreign Minister Lavrov completing a triumphant visit to China directly after the Alaska meeting, and in press conferences making it clear that the petrodollar is now oh so last century news.  New economic and financial mechanisms will put it in its place and we already see this.  Take a look:

China signed a currency swap agreement with Sri Lanka before $3.7 billion of its foreign debt matures this year. Sri Lanka is entitled to a $1.5 billion swap facility from the PBOC, valid for three years. More than 22% of the nation’s foreign purchases were from China last year. Read full article →.

And then these wild two weeks ended with China and Iran signing a 25-year comprehensive strategic partnership, of course, not using any last century petrodollars.

The US fought back fiercely, with nothing else but rumors and the rest of the west sanctioned everything that they could possibly think of.  The rumors and propaganda are about Xinjiang and included the bathwater and the baby, cold war style, threatening hot war style and seemingly quite out of step with developments in the rest of the world.  We will look at the market fall-out in some detail.

But why now? Why did both Russia and China stand up and declare that they are here to stay, while we were used to a more muted approach from both?

James W. Carden and Patrick Lawrence considers that it is a deep disappointment with discovering the “retrograde character of the Biden administration’s foreign policies”  “We thought too well of the United States” Mr Yang, Foreign Minister of China said.  They had hopes for Biden, in other words. Given his fading competence, we ought to add, we think these policies will be shaped and directed in large measure by Blinken and Sullivan, with an adjunct role for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. This will prove another competence problem.

https://thescrum.substack.com/p/our-cold-two-front-war

What has not had much media coverage, is foreign minister Wang Yi’s tour to the Middle East after the Iran agreement announcement.   He visited Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman, all Belt and Road member countries.   To cap off these two weeks of telling empire to become productive, take their rightful place in the world if they can, stop playing warmonger and policeman and economic hitman, the take-away statement from this tour is that Wang repeatedly said global powers should butt out of making the Middle East their arena for big-power rivalry.

(Imagine empire confusion while the penny drops that their empire is over.  Anyone hearing someone playing the fiddle or more accurately the lute?)


A short video from Professor Bill Brown at Xiamen University in southeast China’s Fujian province about the changes in China after spending 33 years there.

The empire struck back with an all-out attack against the province of Xinjiang.  The Xinjiang cotton industry was attacked with baseless rumors and propaganda about the Uyghur people and the propaganda and sanctions machines went into overdrive and we saw sanctions everywhere, mainly against anyone buying cotton from the region.  It is quite ludicrous to pretend to care for the Uyghurs if your sanctions are designed to deprive them of their major industry and their income, which is from cotton.  As fast as the western sanctions were announced, they were responded to with reciprocal sanctions.  Mr.Lavrov already mentioned that there will be a concerted effort throughout the world to do away with unilateral sanctions, so, it is almost as if they do not matter, as no country in the world can or should spare the resources to manage all the sanctions.

But China is striking back hard.  In addition, the cotton manufacturers out of Xinjiang are bringing legal action against Adrian Zenz, who stitched together the rumors of forced labor, labor camps, forced sterilization, and many others.  If you do not want to watch this video, just take a scroll through the comments though.

The Chinese people got angry and a major market kerfuffle commenced and is still ongoing.  For Australia with their thoughtless comments against China, their trade (excluding iron ore) has dropped by 40%.

H&M’s agony, Nike’s fear, the market strikes back. H&M craters after saying it would not source cotton from Xinjiang. All e-commerce platforms removed it from their websites. Searches for ‘H&M’ and ‘HM’ yielded no results, celebrities cut ties, and 200 million Weibo users boycotted H&M’s 450 stores. Nike and Adidas are under attack for using the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which stopped licensing farms in Xinjiang. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3126828/hm-under-fire-china-over-refusal-buy-xinjiang-cotton

A-list Uyghur stars Dilraba Dilmurat (Dílì Rèbā), an actress with a huge Han fan base, and Liú Yìfēi, who starred in Mulanended their business relationships with Adidas. Nike, Calvin Klein, and Converse have lost their Chinese brand ambassadors. https://supchina.com/2021/03/24/hm-faces-boycott-in-china-over-year-old-xinjiang-cotton-ban/

Japanese fashion retailer Muji, with 17% of its total sales from China, said its stores in China will continue carrying products made with Xinjiang cotton. The company has conducted due diligence on all companies in Xinjiang involved in its supply chain. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Retail/Muji-features-Xinjiang-cotton-as-Chinese-netizens-lash-its-rivals

“H&M, Nike, and others are now suffering heavy losses to their reputations in the Chinese market. Enormous investment in public relations has been destroyed instantly. They need to complain to Western society, because they know that, whether they are active or passive, they have indeed done something intolerable to Chinese consumers”. – Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times.  https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202103/1219413.shtml

Why this focus on the Chinese province Xinjian?  Is it really caring deeply about the Uyghurs?  Of course not.  This is not how empire conducts its business.

“The investments and the infrastructure development under the BRI will bring an explosion of growth in Xinjiang. It will not just become a wealthy region, it will become ‘Dubai wealthy,’ said engineer Robert Vannrox, “the West does not want this. The more Chinese investment pours into Xinjiang, the louder the anti-China propaganda becomes.”


Cover Image: Chinese archaeologists announced Saturday that some new major discoveries have been made at the legendary Sanxingdui Ruins site in southwest China, helping shed light on the unified, diverse origin of the Chinese civilization.  https://www.shine.cn/news/nation/2103206280/

This is but a fraction of what I gleaned from the Here Comes China newsletter.  If you want to learn about the Chinese world, get Godfree’s newsletter here: https://www.herecomeschina.com/#subscribe

Amarynth

Former colonial powers pushing China and Russia closer together

Biden has to be careful to not overdo the sloganeering and look like another, but different Trump

Former colonial powers pushing China and Russia closer together – Veterans  Today | Military Foreign Affairs Policy Journal for Clandestine Services

By Jim W. Dean, Managing Editor -March 25, 2021

…from PressTV, Tehran

[ Editor’s Note: This is a non-story in a way in that NATO’s ‘Long March’ to the Russian border, and the US Navy proclaiming it wants to threaten China from it surrounding waters, has been in play for years now.

Germany’s army said a couple of years ago that it would need at least five years for its troops to have two sets of boots. I am not kidding. I would never forget a line like that.

And despite having Russia as a major trading partner, because of Ukraine which mainly exported crime, it threw away the Russian relationship away for one with the hapless Kiev Kleptocrats.

Russia was spending a lot of it gas revenues from Germany to buy German imports. I don’t think that Ukraine has picked up much of the slack. And in a world stressed economy I don’t see much regret for economic gamesmanship failures that hurt the Europian originators of the shift.

Biden now talks about renewing America’s partnerships. Am I the only one that views that as a potential new unipolarism, where the gang of one will turn into the gang of many trying to impose its will on others?

The EU is on a tightrope. It wants Russian natural gas, but also wants to keep sanctioning Russia. NATO fully intends to gobbled up the rest of Eastern Europe until it has a defense in depth so that when the next war starts Eastern Europe and Western Russia will bare most of the initial fighting.

Along comes Biden who thinks he can stand against China with an EU who says it wants to maintain its major trade with China. So I have to ask who is playing who here? Or is it everybody playing everybody else, like in the Intel world?… Jim W. Dean]

Jim’s Editor’s Notes are solely crowdfunded via PayPal
Jim’s work includes research, field trips, Heritage TV Legacy archiving & more. Thanks for helping. Click to donate >>
Is gunboat diplomacy alive and well between the US and China?

First published … March 22, 2021

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying says Beijing would further advance comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia at deeper levels amid heightened tensions with the United States.

“China is ready to work with Russia to follow through on the consensus of the two heads of state, and take the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Good-neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation as an opportunity to carry forward the spirit of the treaty and advance China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era at greater scope, in wider areas and at deeper levels,” Hua said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Monday ahead of a planned two-day visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to China.

Speaking to media outlets in an online interview, Lavrov said the priority for Moscow and Beijing was to strengthen “high-level” coordination and jointly promoting the development of a multipolar world and coordination on regional integration.

He added that global situation is undergoing profound changes, with new centers of economic, financial and political influence growing stronger.

Lavrov said Washington and its Western allies are no longer capable of using classical diplomacy, so they resort to sanctions on the international arena, adding, “They are promoting their ideologized agenda aimed at maintaining their dominance by holding back the development of other countries.”

Lavrov emphasized that Russia and China need to work to further reduce their dependence on US dollar and switch to national currencies for trade in order to alleviate the risks of US sanctions.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “Lavrov’s remarks are right to the point. The more unstable the world is, the more China and Russia need to advance our cooperation.”

“For a long period, the US and the West wantonly interfered in other country’s domestic affairs by using democracy and human rights as an excuse. Such moves created troubles in the world and even became the source of instability and war,” the spokeswoman added.

She said both Beijing and Moscow have always stood together in close cooperation to resolutely oppose hegemony and bullying practice in the world and have become a major force for international peace and stability.

Pointing to “remarkable outcomes” achieved in the past year, under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, on comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination between the two countries, she said,

“In the face of once-in-a-century epidemic and changes, China and Russia stand in solidarity to fight the virus together, and advance cooperation in such areas as economy, trade and scientific innovation despite challenges.”

Hua said the two sides have firmly supported each other on issues concerning their core interests and jointly defended international fairness and justice.

Mutual relationship has stood the test of challenges and delivered more tangible results, and friendship has grown even stronger, she said.

The spokeswoman emphasized that Lavrov’s ongoing visit to China “will further cement the sound momentum of the high-level bilateral relations and bring the two countries closer in the strategic collaboration on international affairs.”

“The two sides will join hands in building a model of international relations featuring strategic trust, mutually beneficial cooperation, close people-to-people ties, fairness and justice. Together, the two sides can make greater contribution to upholding world peace and stability,” she pointed out.

In an interview with Xinhua news agency and other state media outlets in January, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed strong determination to continue strategic ties with Russia in the year ahead, saying Beijing sees “no limit” as to how far the cooperation between the two sides can reach.

BIOGRAPHY

Jim W. Dean, Managing Editor

Managing EditorJim W. Dean is Managing Editor of Veterans Today involved in operations, development, and writing, plus an active schedule of TV and radio interviews. 

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