I am very pleased to see you at the Foreign Ministry during the first BRICS Youth Summit in Moscow.
BRICS is a young association built on innovative approaches and principles that reflect the needs of the time and comport with the current state of world development. The world is changing. A search is underway for the best forms for a polycentric arrangement of international relations, with several growth points and centres of gravity, representing different models of civilisation and development. These principles underlie BRICS’ formation and activities. Its goal is to create favourable conditions, first and foremost, for the comprehensive development of our countries and prosperity of our citizens.
Russia holds the Presidency of BRICS this year and has an extensive programme that was supported by each of the five countries. It aims to make as much concrete progress as possible in the areas that our presidents have identified as BRICS priorities. We are coordinating approaches and already carrying out joint projects in several areas. Our practical activities are entering an important new stage. We are completing preparations for launching BRICS financial institutions – the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement. We are about to adopt a long-term strategy for diversified economic partnership. In general, we are striving to expand the range of our cooperation.
Apart from having a practical and pragmatic agenda, BRICS has already become an influential factor in world politics and the global economy. The leaders of our association are going to meet in Ufa next week. We hope that the decisions adopted there will give fresh impetus to the development of BRICS as a key element of the current system of global governance.
We are not teaming up against anyone. To the contrary, we are focusing on promoting a positive, unifying agenda in international relations. The common position of our countries is playing a major stabilising role in world affairs. This balanced position is promoting the search for and application of fair approaches to urgent issues on the agenda of the international community. The five BRICS countries stand for the supremacy of international law, the consolidation of the UN’s central role, peaceful settlement of conflicts and disputes, and the right of nations to determine their destinies themselves and preserve their traditions, values and culture. BRICS is making a large contribution to strengthening the global financial and economic architecture, and it is playing an active role in reforming the international monetary and financial system. These issues are being discussed by the G20, which includes all of the five BRICS countries. During discussions on reforming the international financial and monetary system, our countries do not act on their own. They have a solid group of support that includes Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others. Thus, BRICS is also a centre of gravity for those who think the same way and favour a more just system of international relations, including economic ties.
Naturally, the ambitious tasks facing the five partner countries cannot be resolved without a solid foundation of friendship and trust between our peoples, greater people-to-people contacts and constructive cooperation between civil society representatives.
We are paying special attention to cultural and academic cooperation in BRICS. The civil and academic forums have already been held, making a useful contribution to integrating the creative intellectual potential of the five states. Exchanges for young people are of special significance for such a young and future-oriented association as BRICS. You, young people, will soon assume responsibility for everything that is taking place at home, in foreign policy and in the world arena. We appreciate the significance of your current meeting and will provide comprehensive support for youth exchanges. I know that you have a busy programme both in Moscow and Kazan. I assume some of you will also come to Ufa. We will continue supporting your initiatives and youth-related projects, such as the BRICS Network University. A global university summit is scheduled to take place in Russia in autumn. If any of you are students, you are welcome to attend.
Now I’m ready to answer your questions.
Question: Thank you for agreeing to meet with us. It’s a great honour for us to be invited to the Russian Foreign Ministry for this meeting. I think that all the participants of the summit are interested in having the following question answered. Since we will be working on the Action Plan over the next few days, where we will focus on the issues that resonate with the agenda of the “adult” BRICS summit, we will try to find ways and approaches that will allow young people to make a difference and help resolve certain problems. If you were one of us and were a delegate to the BRICS Youth Summit, what issues, do you think, need to be considered and addressed first?
Sergey Lavrov: First, as you said yourself, there is an agenda for the “adult” summit, and it’s good and important that you want to focus on developing your own vision on the issues that the presidents are going to discuss. Second, we want you to take the initiative. If you believe that there are issues that should be included on the agenda, I strongly urge you to put forward these initiatives and submit them to the Foreign Ministry, the presidents and the prime ministers. You will have our support. We want to know what makes you tick, what your interests and concerns are and what your take is on the opportunities and prospects offered by cooperation among the five countries. Importantly, we want to have the sense of what you feel. If BRICS continues to shape numerous areas of the global politics for a long time to come (and we believe it should), it is essential that there is continuity from day one.
Question: What’s your take on the prospects for the development of the BRICS youth movement and what areas, other than academic exchanges, which you mentioned, will it include?
Sergey Lavrov: Academic exchanges are an obvious one. I think that the Civil BRICS Forum participants discuss issues that are relevant to the youth agenda. So, I think it would be nice to see if there are any forms of coordination between the agendas of the Civil Forum and the Youth Forum. Speaking of the substantive topics, as I mentioned in my answer to the first question, it is important to understand what you yourself deem important. I hope that these important issues include international affairs, because foreign policy is high on the list of our priorities. There are too many international crises and conflicts. For many years there have been campaigns that use human rights as a pretext to intervene in other nations’ domestic affairs, including militarily. None of these interventions helped improve the situation. On the contrary, in most countries where such interventions were carried out, the situation became catastrophic, and these countries are on the verge of collapse.
There is a lot of attention on the role of young people in shaping the national agenda, including through so-called peaceful protests that are increasingly becoming standard behaviour, at least from the perspective of some of our Western colleagues.
You are aware of how the colour revolutions and the Maidan protest in Ukraine started out. Also, many people are tempted to take advantage of the current developments in Armenia in order to ratchet up anti-government sentiment, although these events are of a purely economic nature. However, clearly, some people believe it makes sense to press ahead and give these processes a political slant. It would be good for you to discuss it, because, on the one hand, people, and especially young people, always have their own take on things, and there are invariably concerns about the socioeconomic situation.
Things don’t always work out well for everyone. Most importantly, regardless of the everyday side of the things, there’s also such a thing as youth social activity. I'm not here to urge you to be against something or for something. It would be interesting to see, though, what you think about this social activity; what you believe is necessary for yourselves as human beings who contemplate their future, earn graduate degrees, and start careers. Again, I’d be interested in hearing the honest thoughts of people who have already come of age but are still growing as people and professionals and, of course, as citizens. I’d like to know what these young citizens see as useful in their societies, and what they’d like to change. I will stop here, and leave all the details to you.
Question: It’s a great honour for me to be here and have an opportunity to ask a question. Should BRICS, as a new format, aspire to become a more traditional organisation with headquarters and a charter?
Sergey Lavrov: BRICS emerged organically. There was no artificial initiative. As is common knowledge, Goldman Sachs first put four countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – at the top of its rating of rapidly developing economies. Later, this trend evolved into contacts between these countries’ leaders.
The whole thing started as RIC – Russia, India, and China. The initiative for this cooperation project came from Yevgeny Primakov, our great statesman, diplomat, politician and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who passed away several days ago. He was the one who put forward the initiative to form the RIC trio.
In parallel, as I said, Brazil appeared in the ratings after showing quite impressive growth rates, along with our three countries. And so BRIC was formed at the level of economic indicators (statistics).
While attending a multilateral event, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation suggested that his counterparts from India, Brazil, and China meet and discuss how it came about that statistically we were moving in the same direction and whether some benefit could be derived from this fact. And they did. An important stage in the development of our association was the accession of South Africa, which ensured total harmony and that all developing regions were represented.
Originally, BRICS was developing as a forum for discussing and comparing economic and financial issues. It also served as a way to coordinate approaches in the G20, above all with respect to the problems of the international monetary system and possible reforms. In 2010, BRICS was instrumental at the G20 Summit in South Korea in passing a resolution to start the first stage of IMF quotas and voting reform. All parties to that agreement except the US have ratified this stage of reform. The upcoming G20 Summit scheduled for this autumn in Antalya is supposed to find ways to implement this stage of the IMF reform, which was coordinated five years ago, despite the absence of US ratification. BRICS and its partners are playing the leading role in this regard. There are many G20 countries that share our approaches.
A couple of years ago, our Indian partners suggested that the final declaration of the India summit reflect a number of international political issues, including the Syria crisis, Middle East settlement, and much else. There were no objections. The same happened in Fortaleza, where the Brazilian organisers also facilitated the approval of a declaration containing political assessments along with a financial and economic component. First, this is a reflection of our fundamental agreement on a majority of international issues and issues related to the international order in general. Second, this is a reflection of the fact that everyone seeks to be guided by real life and record agreement on issues that truly have an impact. I think this is the optimal way for our association to develop in future.
Announcing the establishment of an organisation with member-cards and a headquarters would mean bureaucratising the cooperation process that currently suits absolutely everyone. We do need organisational principles in order to feel more comfortable drafting documents and communicating with colleagues in the BRICS capitals. A so-called “virtual secretariat” is being created for this purpose on the same principle as the network university. This is an e-facility that will maintain communication between the principal agencies in the five countries. When the leaders and other participants in the BRICS process feel that they need a standing structure with a base somewhere, they will adopt the relevant decisions. For now, however, we have the optimal format for the development of BRICS.
Question: You said that the world is changing and BRICS member countries are trying to implement various ideas and projects. In which spheres should BRICS work harder to achieve the best results?
Sergey Lavrov: BRICS is a powerful structure. It is the largest association in the world by population, one of the world’s leaders by GDP, and a very serious factor in terms of its influence on international affairs. However, considering the ongoing conflicts, which are not fading, even such an organisation as BRICS cannot settle them effectively without the assistance of other actors. This is also true of all other countries or group of countries. Neither the United States, the European Union, NATO, nor anyone else can settle any conflict single-handedly without joining forces with others. No conflict can be resolved without the collaborative efforts of the West, East, South, and the associations of Western countries and the world’s leading economies, including BRICS.
As for what else we could do in addition to what we have been doing, the answer is simple – we must continue to urge even more actively a fair approach to international relations, democracy in international relations, and the primacy of law in international affairs. Our Western partners say that each country must ensure democracy and the primacy of law “at home,” but their enthusiasm wanes when we propose extending these principles, primarily democracy, to international relations.
But this will change, as a number of fundamental principles of international relations, primarily those sealed in the UN Charter, provide for guaranteeing the sovereign equality of states. The majority of problems that we have had lately are rooted in the fact that some of our Western colleagues have no regard for the principle of sovereign equality in their practical actions. We have seen interference in other countries contrary to the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act, disregard for UN Security Council resolutions and many other violations.
BRICS has a potent weapon – its moral prestige. First, we must use it, and second, we must ensure that BRICS upholds approaches that are in compliance with the UN Charter at international forums such as G20, if the issue concerns fair international economic relations, or at the UN, if we need to settle international or internal disputes. BRICS would do well to become directly involved in various negotiations. I’ll provide several examples. As you know, Russia and China are involved in the Iran nuclear talks alongside three European nations, the United States and Islamic Republic of Iran. We would like to see our Indian partners become more actively involved in formats that deal with Asian issues and our Brazilian colleagues in platforms on Latin American issues. South Africa, as a highly respected country, is doing much to help resolve various conflicts, which, unfortunately, plague the African continent.
Don’t expect miraculous solutions or initiatives. This is hard, daily work, which will continue for a long time, but as the saying goes, little strokes fell great oaks.
Essentially, we have been fighting for a just cause, for the principles that all countries in the world have accepted. We must work consistently and without any confrontation to implement these principles in each particular case. I’m sure that BRICS and its leaders have the political will and practical capabilities for this.
Question: There are 16 young Chinese business people from our delegation here. Could you say a few words about the typical aspects of doing business in Russia? Do you have any proposals for our young business people? What should they do to maximally benefit from the discussions held during this summit? And what do you expect from these discussions?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a pragmatic and absolutely correct approach. We must use any format, even a youth forum, for practical purposes. I wholeheartedly support this approach, as youth business is a very important factor. We are interested in consistency in business. This meeting is good for building rapport and agreeing to strengthen it. Russia and China probably have the largest mechanism of bilateral cooperation. In addition to annual summits, there are meetings between our heads of government and four working commissions in all sectors of business, trade and energy cooperation led by deputy prime ministers. I think that we could consider creating a youth subgroup if young Chinese business people suggest this. Russian-Chinese youth contacts have become systematic, including as part of the Youth Friendly Exchanges Year, which will end in November. You could propose ways for interstate and intergovernmental cooperation structures to take the interests of young business people into account.
Question: At the BRICS summit that will take place on July 8-9, we would like to ask the heads of state to allow young people to be represented in the New Development Bank. Could we, who represent young people, also participate in the Bank’s activities? Could young people from all five BRICS countries become members of the Board of Directors so that the Bank would also serve their interests, especially those who are in business? We know that the principal challenge facing young people with ideas is the lack of capital and money to pursue them. The same goes for the BRICS Business Council. Could Russia provide young entrepreneurs from BRICS countries an opportunity to work within the framework of the BRICS Business Council where Russia currently holds the presidency? I am lobbying for the interests of Russians, among others. We would like to propose one paragraph (for the final document of the Ufa summit). Should we young people become involved in BRICS processes? We cannot stay on the sidelines of these processes and we want to be a “young” part of this Forum. We want to be involved in all aspects of BRICS cooperation. Could we have young representatives from all five BRICS countries on the Board of Directors or somewhere else?
Sergey Lavrov: You certainly are a good lobbyist. I personally believe that young people should be given a role in all the processes related to the development of BRICS. Regarding the specific ideas that you have submitted for our consideration, particularly the inclusion of young representatives from each country in the Bank’s Board of Directors and the BRICS Business Council, you see, this is a little awkward, because these proposals should be considered by me or the Russian representation. It is important for us to receive an official request from the South African government, because your government representatives participated in all talks on drafting the statutory documents of the New Development Bank and the Business Council.
I believe that there is absolutely no problem with the Business Council because it consists of representatives of the five countries. There are no limitations in terms of number or age. So, if South Africa sets an example and starts including young business people in the Business Council, I am sure that 16 young Chinese entrepreneurs will be delighted to endorse this initiative. You are welcome! At any rate, I will definitely recommend to the Russian government agencies responsible for the Business Council that young entrepreneurs be represented there.
The New Development Bank statute has been finalised. It provides a specific legal framework for its composition, among other things. If you want young people from South Africa to be represented there, then your quota should be used for a young man or woman. Other countries can also appoint their representatives to the Board of Directors.
On the whole, to reiterate, we are already doing a great deal to ensure that young people feel comfortable in BRICS and understand that their interests, aspirations and proposals are fully taken into consideration in various formats, including the present forum, and this is why they were established in the first place.
Question: Could you comment on the Russian initiative to establish BRICS University? How will it promote the interests of young people for development and in the name of the future?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe that over the next few days, as you work, you will have an interlocutor who is better informed about this project. Understandably, I only know the basic facts about the university. Representatives of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and other agencies will provide you with exhaustive information about this project. We consider it very important politically. It not only facilitates communication and student exchanges but also helps harmonise educational standards and reach agreements on the mutual recognition of educational qualifications. We have signed such agreements with some countries. In this case, the idea is not simply to organise exchanges of students, who will then simply return to their respective countries, but to provide an opportunity for testing yourself as an entrepreneur, a professional, in a neighbouring friendly country and see where the conditions are better and more interesting. This is a highly promising project, which ensures the interpenetration of our societies and cements our cooperation for our mutual benefit.
Question: Can BRICS countries discuss issues related to international maritime law and safety and security on the high seas? Currently, there are many high-seas issues, including piracy, drug trafficking and other illegal activity. Is it possible to review some issues related to safety on the high seas in this format?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is actively involved in a number of formats for discussing maritime safety and security. This includes the ASEAN Regional Forum, where Russia takes part in numerous discussions together with China, India and other countries. Maritime safety and security has many dimensions, including those seen as important by Southeast and South Asia and East Africa, piracy included. This was a headache not long ago, but we were able to organise well-coordinated naval operations involving many states, including China, India, Russia, NATO and EU countries, and these measures allowed us to make this issue less acute, although it has not yet been resolved completely.
Currently, we are facing the issue of illegal migration. This issue is mostly discussed in the context of illegal migrants infiltrating Europe from North Africa. East Asia also faces the same problem. And it is very important to ensure a balance of interests here. It is necessary to stop illegal migration and those who are earning illegal “dirty” money from these people seeking a better life. On the other hand, international law must not be violated while disrupting these schemes. These questions arise in connection with the proposed ideas of stopping ships suspected of carrying illegal migrants and inspecting them not only on the high seas, but also in territorial waters and on the territory of the concerned states. True, the idea is for this to be done with their consent. But, in the case of Libya, it is very hard to understand how this consent can be obtained at a time when the country has no central government. A government recognised by the UN has its headquarters in Tobruk. And a self-proclaimed government controls most of the country’s coastal area where these illegal “tours” originate.
I’m sure East Asia also faces similar issues. We should probably draft a legislative initiative for the UN that would touch upon these issues, and at least provide a framework of principles. If there are any experts in international law among delegates of your youth forum, if there are some ideas that you want to promote, and if you formulate such a motion, then we would be happy to adopt it together with other ideas being generated by this body, and we will promote it.
I hope you have interesting discussions and see many interesting things. Apart from meetings, you will probably attend cultural events. You will visit several Russian cities which have their own history and which are developing very rapidly. Work hard and have fun!
Moscow, July 2, 2015