Colleagues, Your Excellencies,
I see many friends in the audience. The tradition endures, and the Primakov Readings are becoming more popular with each passing year. This serves as a tribute to the memory of our teacher, Yevgeny Primakov, and showcases the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)’s efforts to uphold his legacy and to promote the principles that he championed in international relations that are more pertinent today than ever.
Collaborative intellectual work is what we need today. Yevgeny Primakov initiated situational analyses, which were vastly popular among scholars and NGOs. These analyses were used to develop numerous proposals that were subsequently applied in practical diplomacy.
Global events are unfolding dynamically. To say so is an understatement. Many erstwhile “international relations constants,” including major trends that are shaping the multipolar order, are being tested for strength and adequacy in the face of new realities. This process is intricate and all-encompassing. It did not begin yesterday and will take some time, even by historical standards. The outlines of a polycentric architecture have already begun to take shape.
We have frequently discussed the emergence of new global development centres, primarily in Asia and Eurasia, the increasing autonomy and self-awareness of many developing countries, and their refusal to blindly follow former colonial powers, which are gradually, but objectively, losing their power and influence. Everything Yevgeny Primakov wrote and spoke about insightfully many years ago is unfolding before our eyes.
From a historical perspective, multipolar systems are not new. They have existed in one form or another, such as during the Concert of Europe in the 19th century or between the two World Wars of the 20th century. Clearly, there were not many independent players on the world stage back then compared to today. Therefore, what could be considered the embryonic stages of multipolarity formed in a much narrower circle than the number of sovereign states we have today. After the Great Victory, the founders laid the foundation for multipolarity. The five most powerful nations became permanent members of the UN Security Council, reflecting the global balance of power and interests in 1945. In addition to the special position of the Big Five, the UN Charter embodies the principle of equal rights for all countries regardless of their size or the specifics of their history. Today, this is the cornerstone principle around which universal multipolarity will be built. The UN has fulfilled its primary role by preventing a new global war, but the noble idea of universal cooperation, equality, and prosperity did not come to pass. Cold War logic swiftly pushed the world toward division into opposing camps and ensuing opposition.
The key difference of the current edition of multipolarity is the chance to acquire genuinely global proportions, relying on the fundamental principle of the UN Charter: the sovereign equality of states. Previously, decisions of global importance were driven by a small group of countries with the predominant voice coming from the Western community, for obvious reasons. Today, new players representing the Global South and Global East have stepped onto the international political stage. Their numbers are growing. We rightfully call them the Global Majority. They are strengthening their sovereignty in addressing pressing issues, demonstrating independence, and prioritising their national interests rather than someone else’s whims. To back this up, I will cite my Indian colleague, Minister for External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar who said that the world is much more than just Europe. Clearly, this statement means that the world is much more than the West. Russia consistently advocates the democratisation of relations between countries and a fairer distribution of global benefits.
There are many examples of how the trend towards multipolarity can be seen today, especially in the context of regional crises. This trend is prompting countries in different regions of the world to show solidarity. The current outbreak in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become a catalyst for this solidarity as can be seen in the united actions of the Arab-Muslim world. Just last week, on November 21, an Arab League and an OIC delegation at the level of foreign ministers visited the capitals of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Moscow. At our meeting, we confirmed the need for an early and fair settlement of this conflict based on the two-state concept. This was the main signal sent by this joint delegation of the Arab League and the OIC to the capitals of the ‘Five’ and other UN member countries. Overall, the consensus in favour of the regional-solutions-to-regional-problems approach is increasingly gaining ground in the Middle East, Africa, the South Caucasus, Central Asia and Eurasia. The countries in the regions in question expect comprehensive support from outside players, not the imposition of foreign recipes. If a country wants to be helpful it should support the approaches drafted in a given region where those countries know much better how best to overcome various differences.
I will repeat it – the geopolitical ambitions of the new global players are buttressed by their economic potential. As President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said at the G20 extraordinary summit on November 22 this year, a “significant portion of global investment, trade and consumer activity is shifting to the Asian, African and Latin American regions, which are home to the majority of the world’s population.” Since 2014, China has been the world’s first economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) for the population. The aggregate GDP of the BRICS countries has exceeded that of the G7, and also in PPP, since last year. When the new members join BRICS and start fully participate in the activities of the association on January 1, 2024, this advantage over the G7 will become much greater.
In 2022, Russia was ranked fifth in the world in PPP, surpassing Germany despite the sanctions (or probably thanks to them).
The world is changing, and multilateral diplomacy reflects this. BRICS cooperation is one of the best examples of this. In this framework, countries representing different civilisations, religions and macro-regions are effectively developing ties in the most diverse areas – from politics and security to the economy, finances, healthcare, sports and culture. Proceeding from the principles of equality and mutual respect, they are reaching a balance of interests via consensus. Nobody is imposing anything on anybody, nobody is blackmailing anyone and nobody forces anyone to make the choice: “it’s either us or them,” “either you’re with us or against us.” It’s no surprise that dozens of states want to get closer to BRICS. The summit in Johannesburg took the first step on this path. The number of BRICS members will actually double. Another 20 states have made similar inquiries or would like to establish special, privileged relations with this association. Next year, Russia will be chairing BRICS which will no longer be the ‘Five.’ We will do everything we can for BRICS to strengthen its stature in the international arena and to continue playing an increasingly greater role in creating a fair world arrangement.
The influence of BRICS members and like-minded nations within the G20 is on the rise. Recent G20 summits have reaffirmed the determination of the global majority countries not to let the West turn this forum, aimed at considering global financial and economic issues, into a tool to promote the narrow geopolitical objectives of the United States and its allies, as witnessed during the previous G20 summit, where they tried to focus exclusively on Ukraine. Similar attempts were made at the G20 summit in India, but failed. The summit focused on the core issues pursued by the G20 such as global economic and financial concerns, which dominated the resolutions adopted during the summit.
The SCO is also contributing to the emergence of a multipolar world. It aims to play a unifying role in shaping the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which is designed to harmonise diverse integration projects on the continent and remain open to all countries and organisations in Eurasia, including the EAEU, ASEAN, and others. This philosophy was put forward by President Vladimir Putin in 2015 at the first Russia-ASEAN summit and is gaining increasing recognition. Many countries wish to either become full members or obtain observer or partner status with the SCO and with BRICS.
Western politicians, albeit unwillingly, are beginning to acknowledge and absorb the new reality and are becoming aware of the end of unipolarity. Addressing the annual meeting of French ambassadors in late August, President of France Emmanuel Macron stated that the geopolitical balance of power is shifting away from the West. He presented this as a danger. In other words, the expansion of the aggressive NATO bloc is a “good” thing while the expansion of peaceable BRICS is viewed as a “threat.” Clearly, this kind of a mindset runs deep, and one cannot rid oneself of these instincts overnight. We see the West making every effort to retain the remnants of its dominance, resorting to overtly neo-colonial methods that are met by the Global Majority with rejection. The goal of the West is simple and at the same time cynical. It is to continue reaping the benefits of global politics, the economy, and trade and live off of other nations’ resources. Like the overwhelming majority of other countries, Russia will not accept these plans.
In chasing their goals, the United States and its European allies employ a versatile geopolitical “engineering” toolset, including the provoking of conflicts (as seen along the entire perimeter of Russia’s borders), conducting information and psychological warfare, and initiating trade and economic wars. The actions of the Western powers have led to blocking the activities of the World Trade Organisation, primarily its dispute resolution mechanisms. Fundamental legal foundations of global economic relations, such as free competition and the inviolability of property rights, have been undermined. The dollar has long been used as a weapon, and economic interdependence is being “weaponised” as well.
The destructive actions of the Western minority have largely beaten their purpose, as they foster multipolar principles in international affairs. There is a growing understanding that no one is immune to the aggressive actions of Washington and Brussels.
Not just Russia but many other states are consistently reducing their dependence on Western currencies, transitioning to alternative mechanisms for conducting foreign trade transactions and working towards building new international transport corridors and value chains.
The unbalanced and unfair model of globalisation, where the golden billion enjoyed most of the benefits, is becoming a thing of the past. The participants in the Forum of the Opponents of Modern Neo-Colonial Practices will discuss concrete goals for democratising the global economic order. The forum, hosted by the United Russia party, is scheduled for early 2024.
This is just one of the many initiatives our country will promote to advance the principles of the Foreign Policy Concept, which was substantively revised in March to reflect the new geopolitical reality. The emerging polycentric architecture should be inclusive and cooperative, rather than confrontational and should serve as a safeguard against dangerous conflicts between global powers.
The idea of creating a global concept based on universally recognised principles and norms of international law, as well as respect for the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world and the right of nations to determine their own development paths, is shared by all countries.
This work does not need to start from scratch. The foundation for a just and sustainable world already exists − the UN Charter. Its provisions should be fully and comprehensively adhered to, rather than selectively chosen, as some of our Western colleagues do when they pick and choose Charter principles to suit their immediate agendas. Undoubtedly, the United Nations should be carefully adapted to modern realities, with the reform of the Security Council being a top priority. It is important to address historical injustices that have arisen after the completion of the decolonisation process and the emergence of numerous young and modern states. These realities should be reflected in the membership of the UN Security Council. New members should come from developing regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. They should hold authority in their respective parts of the world and in global organisations such as the Non-Aligned Movement, or the Group of 77.
International associations of a new type, which address all issues based on a balance of interests and consensus, play a crucial role in creating multipolarity. Along with BRICS, the SCO, and the EAEU, this includes the CSTO, the CIS, as well as ASEAN, the African Union, CELAC, the GCC, the LAS, and the OIC.Unfortunately, I have a pessimistic view regarding the future of alliances led by the United States and their allies – NATO, the EU, the Group of 77, and even the Council of Europe and the OSCE. The latter two were originally created as platforms for an inclusive and respectful pan-European dialogue. However, they are now being forced to serve the European Union and NATO and have become insignificant structures used by the West for self-serving political agendas.
There is still a slim chance for the OSCE to be saved, but I must admit that the odds are not in its favour. In his remarks at the annual meeting of the Valdai Club on October 5, President Putin outlined several key principles for a more just and democratic order. These principles include openness and connectivity without communication barriers, respect for diversity as a foundation for collaborative development, broad representation in global governance, universal security based on a balance of interests, fair access to the benefits of progress, and equality for all − rejecting the dominance of the rich and powerful. I am confident that these approaches resonate with sensible individuals who have a stake or interest in international issues.
With this understanding of multipolarity, we will continue to fight for truth and justice. We believe the voice of every country, regardless of its size, political structure, or level of economic development, must be heard. . In essence, we will uphold the values enshrined in the UN Charter in 1945. We will maintain close coordination with our allies and like-minded partners in the Global South and Global East. We will not close the door or window (President Putin made this clear recently) or shut out those in the historical West who are becoming aware of the realities and objective challenges of multipolarity, as articulated by Yevgeny Primakov some time ago.
In the realm of diplomacy, our focus will be to ensure a consistent interpretation and practical application of all principles outlined in the UN Charter − a crucial aspect of our policy.
Furthermore, we will continue to work on expanding the membership of the New York-based Group of Friends in Defence of the UN Charter, initiated by Venezuela, which is a promising alliance. This group currently consists of 20 states, and more countries are interested in joining its ranks.
We will work consistently to strengthen other associations which contribute to the democratisation of international relations. For this, we always remain open to a candid and serious dialogue with anyone who values their national interests and is ready to reciprocate.
Question: Every system of international relations (Versailles, Yalta-Potsdam) has emerged after a major war. Unipolarity emerged after the Cold War. Is it possible to shape a future international order without tragic events?
Sergey Lavrov: How is the current situation any better and safer than it was during the Cold War era?
Question: Are you suggesting that we are currently living in the midst of a second Cold War?
Sergey Lavrov: It needs to be called something different. During the Cold War, there were checks and balances. The two superpowers and their respective blocs (United States − Soviet Union, NATO − Warsaw Pact) were committed to keeping rivalry between themselves within the political and diplomatic framework. The dialogue on arms control with specific practical results was established and rapidly developed during that time. This provided a sense of security. At least, the United States, the Soviet Union, the countries of the socialist bloc, NATO, or the EU did not express concern about ongoing events and did not voice serious apprehensions about their physical future.
Today, these fears are widespread and voiced by many politicians and NGOs. This is a different situation that did not arise only because the US-led West decided to declare a hybrid war on us in the literal sense of the word. Listen to what they say when they talk about the situation surrounding Ukraine.
Ukraine has been chosen as a tool to inflict a strategic defeat on us. This is their stated goal. They scare voters by saying that this is just the beginning. They claim that Russia has more voracious appetites. It is clear with the Baltic States, Poland, and other conduits of US policy in Europe, including in the interest of weakening the European Union. However, the head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, has stated multiple times, including recently during Congress hearings, that if the West fails to support Ukraine, Russia will emerge victorious and not stop there. Allegedly, the next targets will include the Baltic States, Poland, and other neighbouring countries.
These statements are made by someone in a position of trust. He must receive expert assessments, including from Pentagon analysts who evaluate the state of affairs between Moscow and Washington. There’s no doubt that they understand what is at stake in Ukraine and that Russia has no aggressive plans, has never had them, and cannot have them. I won’t delve into details about the reasons for the special military operation. The main reason is that the neo-Nazi regime, which originated from the unconstitutional February 2014 coup and has been openly encouraged by the West, has taken a course towards the legislative extermination (and in some cases physical extermination) of everything that is Russian in the lands that have been settled and developed by Russians for centuries. At the same time, this neo-Nazi regime has become a tool for inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield in the interest of the West. If this is not a direct threat to our interests, security, and the people who for generations considered themselves Russians, then there are no clearly thinking analysts or people with conscience in the West.
Long before the special military operation began, Ukrainian President Zelensky was asked what he thought about the people in Donbass who lived under the auspices of the Minsk Agreements. He made a (racist remark) stating that there are humans and there are species. He told the people who live in Ukraine and have a connection to Russian culture to “make off to Russia” for the sake of their children and grandchildren. This statement was met with dead silence from the civilised and enlightened West.
Following up on the current situation, I’m not sure how historians will describe this period. However, it’s a fact that the actions of the United States have led to the destruction of almost all arms control agreements. Hundreds of pages have been written about this. I would approach the current period in world history with the utmost responsibility.
Question: What are the prospects for Russia-Europe trade and economic relations? Considering that Russia is a supplier of almost one-third of hydrocarbons consumed in Europe, and Europe is likely to be looking for alternative suppliers. How does Moscow see the future of these relations?
Sergey Lavrov: I won’t even try to guess what Europe is going to do. I think they (except for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck) are aware of the situation they are in now.
Look at the statistics to see how many times the United States’ economic growth exceeds that of Europe. France, it seems, will show zero growth. Former driving engines of the European economy (Germany and the United Kingdom) will show negative growth. After a series of laws passed by the Americans to combat inflation and other issues, energy prices in the United States are 4 to 5 times lower than in Europe, which is haunted by deindustrialisation.
Businesses concerned about their future are relocating to the United States. I’m certain that this is not a coincidence, but a calculated policy pursued by Washington because Europe is a competitor that the United States does not need. They need a group of unremarkable people who will do what they are told. I don’t want to offend Europeans, but current political elites are acting exactly that way. Let’s look at the statistics. It’s important to be aware of what’s going on. However, at this stage, we don’t need to think about ways to restore relations with Europe. Right now, we need to focus on remaining independent from the quirks in European policy (especially in trade, economics, and investments) that they are implementing under Washington’s influence. We must secure ourselves in all key sectors of our economy (including security and everyday life in general) on which the future of the country depends. We must produce everything we need for security, economic growth, addressing social issues, and implementing modern technologies independently (another AI event was recently held), so that we are not affected by their whims and potential imposition of more sanctions on us.
The restrictions haven’t disappeared. The West wants to bring things to a close without anyone noticing. They want to freeze things and buy time (as was the case with the Minsk Agreements), rearm the Nazi regime in Kiev, and continue their hybrid (or non-hybrid) aggression against the Russian Federation. But even when everything is over, most of the sanctions will remain.
We need to live by our own wits. If and when they come to their senses and come up with their offers, we will think twice before we act and weigh whether their proposals meet our interests and assess the reliability of our European colleagues. They have seriously undermined their ability to negotiate and their reputation. Perhaps not all hope is lost yet.
Question: We have been publishing the Russia Today newspaper for about 30 years, and China Today for 15 years. Our group extensively covers the progress in relations between Russia, India, and China, as well as the unprecedented expansion of BRICS. The world centered around America is facing its end before our eyes, but it is still resisting.
We see the North Atlantic alliance expanding to the east, in the Asia Pacific region (there is even talk about a Pacific NATO). This poses a threat to global security. What will be the response from Russia, China, BRICS, and all organisations that oppose such aggressive behavior?
Sergey Lavrov: We are witnessing neo-colonial instincts in the West. There is a desire to continue living at the expense of others, as they have been doing for over 500 years. It is clear to everyone that this epoch is coming to an end. They are aware of that. Some people refer to the current Western attempts to preserve its hegemony as the agony of that epoch. This comparison has a right to exist, but the epoch will last long. It is not as if you wake up and see new fair rules in the world economy.
The USA remains a powerful nation with a huge economy. The European Union has not lost its weight yet, although the process is underway and will accelerate. Due to certain circumstances, Russia has not been deeply involved in the globalisation model advanced and offered for everyone by the Americans, who literally say: “Use it!” Allegedly, all that was not done for them alone, and the dollar is a currency for everyone. Plus, all the other principles: property, presumption of innocence, and international law, which should be universally acceptable and applicable.
All of that has been trampled upon and dumped instantaneously the moment they decided to “punish” the Russian Federation. The plan is to turn Ukraine into a direct threat to Russia, including the destruction and elimination of anything Russian in that country. The US and the UK planned to build naval bases on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The plan failed, and we responded the way we did. And it didn’t happen overnight. We had been warning them for over eight years. We proposed treaties on European security that would provide stability on the continent without any expansion of military-political blocs. We were ready not to expand the CSTO. This has been going on since 2009.
In December 2021, at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s instruction, we handed over new and final proposals to the US, which were rejected. We were told, “What sort of security do you want?” Allegedly, legally guaranteed security can only be provided within NATO. The same answer was repeated when we reminded them that at the OSCE meeting in Astana in 2010, they had put their signature under the principle of indivisible security, according to which no organisation is entitled to dominate. This is exactly what they are doing.We asked why they were unwilling to provide legally binding guarantees to everyone, given that all OSCE members were in favor of it. Some junior diplomats in Brussels and Washington told us that they don’t care a dime about what presidents and prime ministers, including their own, decided on indivisible security at OSCE summits – legal security guarantees are only available for NATO members. Therefore, they are trying to make the alliance more appealing and attract new members, despite their earlier promises.
Russia was not deeply integrated into that model of globalisation. Our trade turnover with the US was insignificant. It was significant with the EU, but this is a story that began back in Soviet times. They tried to obstruct our cooperation, but it prevailed and became the foundation for Europe’s prosperity and a solution to its socioeconomic problems at an unprecedented level.
We worked with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but we were not as deeply involved in those systems as China or India, for example. Now they realise that they need to stand up for their independence. There are no doubts about that. We discuss this topic within BRICS and the SCO. Alternative payment platforms are being introduced, and the transition to national currency is progressing rapidly. However, New Delhi and Beijing are concerned about their interests and they see that their economies would suffer if they leave that system and start building new structures.
There has been a gradual shift away from dependence on the dollar, payment systems, and supply chains that the West is creating. Nobody knows what will happen with the new US president in five or six years, which agreements he will withdraw from and which new ones he will advocate for. They have abandoned universal trade agreements in Asia and begun creating their own without China.
India and China have understood this message and are starting to move towards reducing their dependence on the lawlessness of the creators of this model of globalisation, who still play a major role in it. This will not happen quickly and abruptly, as was the case with us. We were forced to act decisively and on a large scale in response to over 11,000 sanctions aimed at suffocating the Russian economy and worsening the living conditions of the people, with the hopes that they would rise up and revolt. They openly say that this is exactly what they want. If we look at the statistics on China’s dollar reserves from three years ago and now, the situation speaks for itself. I believe our Indian friends are considering similar approaches. Nobody wants to become another hostage to a geopolitical nervous breakdown.We are not pressuring anyone. There are the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS, and other structures. There are relations between the EAEU and the SCO, ASEAN, and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Sustainable forms of cooperation and servicing our economies are being discussed naturally, without being forced, at a grassroots level. The process is ongoing, but it will be a lasting one.
Question: The possibility of introducing of a common currency within BRICS was extensively discussed at the BRICS summit this year. With Russia presiding over BRICS in 2024, will it raise this issue again? Are there any similar plans within the SCO?
Sergey Lavrov: It was one of the most discussed issues at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg. President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva paid a great deal of attention to it. It did not surprise anyone, because when he became president again, before the summit, he called for working on the creation if not of a common currency, then at least a mechanism where national currencies would play a decisive role. He suggested doing it within CELAC and BRICS.
As a result of these discussions, the association heads of state adopted a Declaration in Johannesburg, instructing finance ministers and central bank governors to prepare recommendations on alternative payment systems. We anticipate that these recommendations will be presented in 2024, and as Russia assumes the BRICS chairmanship, we will organise its thorough review with a focus on decision-making. In the SCO, there have been discussions on common payment platforms, but concrete instructions have not been developed yet.
National currencies are increasingly replacing the dollar in our settlements with the People’s Republic of China (up to 90 percent of payments are conducted in roubles and yuan). With India, it is either close to or slightly above 50 percent. The same figures hold true for all the other members of these associations.
Question (retranslated): There are many phenomena, including state actors and movements, globalisation, and the understanding that the world is one and closely connected at the level of people. How do you think will these non-state actors and members of the movements participate in this complex multipolar world that you are currently shaping?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t like the word “actors.” There is a better word for it – “players.”
It’s a serious question. Part of the philosophy that the Americans promoted worldwide as part of their globalisation model (offering it persistently to some, and imposing it on others) is about the role of non-governmental organisations and civil society. Americans have created thousands of NGOs. Hundreds of them operate in the post-Soviet space, especially in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. They are being actively introduced into other Central Asian countries as well. Ukraine is definitely one such country. There were also some in Belarus. But when the events of August 2020 clearly showed the role these NGOs play in destabilising the situation in Belarus, their number was sharply decreased.
Calling them “non-governmental” is a stretch. Look at all the key entities in the United States, all their foundations – the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (many are no longer connected to these leading US parties). Practically 90 percent of the funding for these “NGOs” comes from the US budget, including from USAID, and these NGOs are part of the US bureaucracy. These are budgetary funds. Funding may come through other channels which are also connected to budget financing. They pursue the “party line” regardless of which party (Democratic or Republican) rules the roost in Washington. The policy is to directly influence processes in the countries where these NGOs are active.
Claiming that civil society should be more broadly represented is another prevarication. We are aware of what those who make such calls have in mind. Take the (close to optimal) position of NGOs in global affairs. There is the Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations of the UN Economic and Social Council. There is a procedure governing cooperation with public entities. Applicants vying to get the status with the Economic and Social Council or the UN Department of Public Information must apply to this committee. They fill out a form and a background check is run on them. They go to a hearing and take questions. The committee members make sure this organisation truly represents civil society and is not a tool operated by a foreign government. Of course, mistakes happen. You can’t foresee and detect everything, but overall, it is a normal, transparent, and honest process. However, there is also the OSCE with its three “baskets.” The military-political basket is based on agreements on arms control and confidence-building measures, which the Americans dismantled. There is the economic basket, which also collapsed due to the breakdown of Russia’s ties with Europe. And there’s the humanitarian basket, represented by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media. None of these OSCE institutions are governed by rules similar to the ones I mentioned. When the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place (usually in the autumn), anyone “from the street” can come and claim they are advocating for the rights of the poor, someone else can claim they advocate for the rights of transgender people, and still others claim they uphold the rights of those fighting communism. That seals the deal: a person would take office and give speeches enjoying the same rights as government officials.
We put an end to this practice. Now, there is at least some kind of a procedure in place. We put an end to it a simple manner. After the reunification of Crimea with Russia, NGOs from the Republic of Crimea started going there. Can you imagine the reaction? If they don’t let some in, we won’t let others in either. But this still leaves things unregulated. There are still no rules in place. The OSCE exists without a charter. There was a time when everyone was excited and welcomed the expanded participation of civil society, transnational corporations, and business in general on an equal footing with public authorities. During the conferences that the West held on climate, the environment, and many other issues, the participants insisted on businesses and NGOs joining in on an equal footing with governments. Now, many are against it. The enthusiasm has greatly diminished. It has become clear how they treat weak states. I don’t think this situation will happen again within our lifetimes.
Question: On the one hand, we are disengaging from the West. On the other hand, the West is an extremely active subject. We did not expect it to act like this, that it would support a blatantly Nazi regime in Ukraine, and that the US elections were evidently rigged, for the first time in history. Were we wrong to take a positive view of the West? Or is it degenerating? It looks like a horror story, like in the movies Alien or Freaks, where a group of people turn into monsters. I think that this is how many people see the West now. You have a wealth of experience in dealing with these “colleagues.” What is happening there? What can we expect from them? Have they turned into monsters or are they only halfway to it? Or will they reverse the steps and reunite with humanity and the UN? What should we expect, and what is the nature of this process?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding a potential transformation of the West, I happen to have a quote with me: “It has long been possible to foresee that this rabid hatred against Russia, which has been kindled in the West for 30 years, more and more with each passing year, would explode someday. This moment is upon us. Russia has simply been offered suicide, the renunciation of the very foundations of its being, a solemn recognition that it is nothing more in this world than a wild and ugly phenomenon, like an evil that needs to be corrected. There is no need to deceive ourselves any longer: Russia will in all likelihood have to get to grips with the whole of Europe.” Fyodor Tyutchev, 1854. I have cited verbatim three excerpts from his letters. He wrote on this subject many times.
So much for the degeneration or transformation of the West. I cannot say that this is the ultimate truth, but it is a fact that Russia was never much liked, and that it was only used for situational coalitions (with France, Britain, Germany and Austro-Hungary).
We have with us today a person who lives at this difficult time in a wonderful country, Bulgaria. Could anyone imagine that the situation would change so dramatically in a matter of two or three years, and that monuments would be dismantled, priests denounced, and property confiscated? I have been told that Tyutchev was right. There have been many examples like that in the nearly 200 years since he wrote this.
After 1991, they decided that they had us in their pocket, that it was the end of history. Liberal ideology has taken priority in the economy and politics, and everyone must listen to Big Brother who has decided everything. They adopted finely worded OSCE declarations for the sake of appearances. Read the Charter of Paris for a New Europe adopted in 1990. France was so proud to promote its adoption. Look at it now and compare its precepts to what France is doing, President Emmanuel Macron included.
The 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul approved the principle of indivisible security. The 2010 OSCE summit in Astana proclaimed the indivisibility of Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security. They started using this “forward-looking” term back then. But it all came to nothing, it has been thrown down the drain. Everyone has been ordered to toe the line. The current task is to punish Russia for daring to stop the Americans from behaving dangerously on our border and in our historical territory.
I would like to point out again that we issued warnings many times, at least since the 2007 Munich speech of President Putin. That was the first warning. Those who had ears to hear should have heard it. Donbass rose in protest, and Crimea returned to its historical homeland. For eight years, nobody looked at what was taking place on our border. The Americans decided in 2003 that Saddam Hussein had created a nuclear reactor or some kind of dirty bomb. Did they warn anybody about that possibility for the previous eight years? And then, when it was suggested that the Security Council should address the matter, they said they would do it themselves. What happened to Iraq after that?
Just look at the hue and cry there is every time we explain that we only attack military targets hidden in civilian neighbourhoods or at civilian facilities in the course of the special military operation. Former prime minister and foreign minister of Israel Yair Lapid said that it was bordering on genocide. And what is happening in Gaza now? It is the tragedy of the war. And now, compare the images.
Take Syria. They decided that, since the country was already in tumult, they might as well strip Bashar Assad of part of his eastern regions, where all the Syrian oil and grain is. So what did they do? The city of Mosul in Iraq was razed to the ground. Just like Raqqa in Syria. Hundreds of bodies were not removed for weeks. This has all been documented. “They have a license to do this.” This threat did not emerge at the border with Mexico. Those were just refugees, that’s all. But they are going to build a wall now. That’s it. Now, the ‘super pigs’ in Canada. A population of these tenacious and elusive animals is threatening to “breach” the US border. This was reported yesterday. So much for threats.
Yugoslavia was bombed. This was another “existential threat” to the US, 10,000-plus miles across the ocean. They never warned anyone. They just decided and went for it. That is the problem with Western mentality, those instincts they have.
I have many friends in the West, including in the US. Probably even more in Europe. I have worked with them at the UN, many of them are ministers. We were friends. We spent time together in an informal setting. When all this happened, some of them called me. I called them when they left “messages.” Almost all of them have by now joined the ranks of those peddling the mainstream narrative. They are saying, how could you, why, “poor Ukraine.” We are telling them about Nazism, and they are telling us, what? Do you remember what the Israeli Ambassador in Kiev said when he was asked how he could visit a country that glorifies Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevich? Has he stopped considering them Nazi criminals? He said no, they were still Nazi criminals. But Ukraine had “its own history.” They were struggling.
Now, when we attend events, they avoid eye contact as they walk down the hallway, or they cross to the other side of the street. But there are others who (I won’t give names, lest they be ostracised back home) come up and say hello. In 2022, Antony Blinken asked me to talk to him at the G20 summit. We talked, we said hello and shook hands goodbye. We didn’t say anything important. But at least it was some kind of communication. If anyone approaches us, we never turn away or hide.
Now Macedonia has invited us to the OSCE Ministerial Council. Bulgaria has apparently promised Macedonia to open its airspace. If this happens, we will be there. We will see how they greet us. We have received several requests for meetings, if we participate in the event, including from Western representatives. We will certainly meet with everyone.
This was a long answer, but it is an interesting subject. I would like to finish by telling a recent story. Apart from the OSCE or the Primakov Readings, there are many political meetings. One of them, the Sir Bani Yas International Forum on Peace and Security, is held annually in December in Abu Dhabi. I was there for the first time last year. As is traditional, two or three speakers there were active politicians, and dozens were former ones. The latter were the most interesting. During a break after a session, we went out into the hall where we were served coffee and tea. It was a crowd where everyone knew each other. Everyone wanted to talk in a friendly way, to express understanding. Judge for yourself. I guess that made sense. When you’re in an official capacity, you have to do what you’re told. Another thing is that the quality of the orders you get sometimes (and increasingly often) makes a normal person wants to resign. That’s how it shows.
I do not believe that the West has a mission to hate Russia. But how quickly they gave up those delicate phrases and assurances that we have a shared security system or economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and generally one space. How quickly the instincts of uniting Europe against Russia prevailed again: just as Napoleon and Hitler rallied Europe against Russia. The explanatory work is underway right now. Finland’s story is quite revealing. The country was Germany’s best friend and vigorously assisted it. We thought it would all go away. That after such wars, reconciliation would be sincere.
Do you know why we took so long? There are many proverbs and popular phrases [in Russian] that reflect the soul and character of our patient people, who would “endure everything” for the sake of some righteous and fair cause. Yet, one proverb says “God suffered a lot and willed that suffering should be our lot,” while another tells us to “measure [the cloth] seven times” and then cut. We have measured it for eight years.
Now they often show footage of German and other European prisoners being convoyed to Siberia in 1944-1945. As they were passing villages and towns, elderly women came outside to give them bread and water. “And called for mercy towards the fallen.” But it was also us who said this!
I will not claim that any nation is exceptional. This is something our American and English colleagues would do. But this quality, which all Russians and all our people have, is probably underestimated. Or do they think it will always be like this? That they will do nasty things to us, and we will give them bread and water again? We have to live with the neighbours we have.
Question: You have answered questions about Syria, Iraq, and even a desert. I would like to say something about the attributes of Russians. Russia is currently protecting culture and values. Russia’s soft power is characterised by the series by Mosfilm Studio, Russian literature… During the Soviet era, there was obvious progress. Many newspapers were translated into other languages. When will we see our soft power abroad again, counteracting the values promoted by the West, Hollywood for instance? Because they are unacceptable for humankind.
Sergey Lavrov: We will never catch up with the Americans in terms of the number of carriers of this soft power in the shape of NGOs (which we have already talked about), or the number of military bases abroad. And we will not try to do that. As I said, their soft power is an extension of the state. Maybe that is how it has to be. The state encourages soft power to make sure people know the truth about their country, so that they treat it well and do not speak against it and fight provocations if there is an effort to recruit someone against Russia.
The officially appointed sanctions delegates from America, the European Union and England openly travel across Central Asia and publicly say that the countries, despite their membership in the CSTO, EAEU, CIS and the SCO, should participate in the Western sanctions. It is both insolence and stupidity. I understand that they want to make it happen. But they could have behaved in a slightly more crafty way, a bit more respectfully. Instead, they are disparaging these countries. They even demand that China join in too, as if it must obey them.
[The then] Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said publicly a year ago that the West should explain to India its own national interests. No comments here. We do not need such soft power.
We have long since ceased referring in our doctrines to the work to create a positive image of Russia abroad. We write objectively, and we know our faults. There is no need to hide them. To a large extent, they can be explained by history, some inertia that we had, especially before the sanctions, the hybrid war.
We want others to know the objective truth about us. We do not have the same financial capacities as those who print dollars until their national debt reaches $34 trillion. Nobody knows how they will deal with it. The only way is to continue printing dollars and make sure that everyone continues to use them. But this is hardly likely. It is their problem, let them engage in their propaganda.
Our financing its much more modest. At the same time, we are expanding the network of embassies, restoring our diplomatic missions in Africa, and opening new consulates in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The network of Russian centres of culture and science, the so-called Russian Houses, is actively growing and improving in quality.
We have developed the Concept of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Area of International Development Assistance, according to which all assistance provided by us to foreign countries free of charge or on preferential terms, such as food, the construction of schools, healthcare facilities, and so on, is consolidated and there is division of labour, so that we can see what projects are being implemented and where. Until recently, these functions were divided between several agencies.
The Russian language, a great wonder, is a very strong soft power for Russia. We are significantly increasing the number of foreign students and maintaining ties with graduates from Russian universities. In many countries, associations of Russian university graduates were created. It is a useful, open and positive kind of soft power. We launch Russian language courses in friendly states. In Central Asia and other countries, including Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russian schools have been created, including some that teach the curricula of the Russian Ministry of Education. Branches of Russian universities are also opening. We will promote this soft power as opposed to the underhand dealings when, so to speak, an employee of a research and production association purchases a 6-person boat and blows up the Nord Stream pipelines.
Question: In times of crisis, we look for things that unite us. So, I have a question about space. Cooperation in space exploration largely depends on the international legal framework. What path do you think the development of international law in general and space law in particular will take? Will universal treaties continue to be concluded on the basis of the UN (Outer Space Treaty, Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) or will there be a transition to bilateral and multilateral treaties within blocs, such as the Artemis Agreement? Or will there be a complete abandonment of legally binding documents in favour of “soft law”? What do you think?
Sergey Lavrov: Cooperation in space was the most striking example of selfish or simply national interests being structured in a way to direct joint efforts toward the exploration of outer space. Do you remember Soyuz-Apollo?
No one – neither the United States, nor the Soviet Union, nor Russia today – has sacrificed or is sacrificing their national interests. On the contrary, the national interest was manifested in the fact that by joining forces in this area, one can learn more and quickly understand how this can be used in practical life, not only in space, but also on Earth.
There is the International Space Station. Our cosmonaut goes to the US to train to fly a SpaceX ship, and the Americans come to train with us in Star City and then fly to the ISS using our carrier. Today it is difficult to imagine any other field of activity. Perhaps this is the responsibility of scientists on both sides. They understand that this experiment (which is far from an experiment, but rather hard though very useful work day after day) is important for science and the future technological development of the world. God bless everyone involved in this.
Life goes on. The service life of the International Space Station has already been extended a couple of times. It is not eternal. Now we are creating our own station, and the Chinese have created theirs. We and the Chinese have joint plans.
The NASA leadership seems inclined to continue cooperation after the ISS has reached its end, but we are not hearing about this at the political level.
The current Western political elite is guided by the principles that they still need Russians. So they are using them while building their own station. However, the NASA leadership has other views.
The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies remains in force. According to our legal assessment, it also covers the status of the Moon. The American document developed several years ago (they are starting to selectively invite some countries to join it) will contradict the correct and fair interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty. The document also has paragraphs about the Moon and other celestial bodies.
Another area of legal development in this sphere concerns military aspects. For a long time now we, together with the People’s Republic of China, have been promoting a draft treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space and an initiative on the non-placement of weapons in outer space at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The United States categorically disagrees with this. We have taken a tactical step back and propose, first, to consider the individual commitments of each country not to be the first to place weapons in space. Many countries have joined. We will continue this work.
The Americans are putting forward an opposing initiative. They say they have the right to deploy weapons in space and they will not sign an obligation not to do this. And we, together with the Chinese, are allegedly preparing anti-satellite weapons to destroy American reconnaissance satellites that have “economic” importance. There is a conversation continuing around this now.
In the geopolitical atmosphere that has developed since the start of the hybrid war against Russia, it is very difficult to carry on this kind of discussion. The Americans are waging their campaign frantically (I cannot find another word), twisting everyone’s arms, trying to either exclude Russia from many UN bodies dealing with practical important things, or restrict our country’s participation in them. “And the battle continues.”
BY Andrei Balitskil