Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Venezuelan state television, Moscow

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 14:19

Question: It is a pleasure to speak with you here today. Several years ago, you managed to successfully avert a nuclear crisis. Could we discuss this issue? Sergey Lavrov: It depends which crisis, country and region you are talking about. Question: Did such a crisis arise in any country or region? Sergey Lavrov: To be honest, we did not perceive any crisis that would bring the world to the brink of nuclear war or would create a nuclear threat in any region in the world. Thank God, there have been no such situations, and I hope that they will never arise. But in order to maintain global tranquility we must continue our efforts to ensure strict compliance with all international agreements, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We need to strengthen IAEA mechanisms ensuring compliance with all norms and principles of this highly important document, to make it universal, so that all countries join it, and to promote such an important tool as nuclear-free zones in various regions of the world. The Treaty of Tlatelolco stipulates a nuclear-free status for Latin American countries, and a similar treaty has been signed in South East Asia. Nuclear powers have recently signed a treaty for Central Asia and approved it by a protocol. We advocate the creation of a similar zone free from nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles for the Middle East. Unfortunately, this specific zone has not yet emerged, but we are continuing our efforts. Question: I have one more question. Russia and Venezuela are cooperating on a wide range of international issues. Which of them are more important? Sergey Lavrov: As you know, our relations are deep and diversified. Upon his election as president, Hugo Chavez has done a great deal to transform our cooperation into a truly strategic partnership. It’s gratifying that the incumbent president, Mr Nicolás Maduro, is continuing this policy. For our part, we remain committed to the policy that was outlined by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which is based on our nations’ shared world outlook and the principles of justice, and law and order. It should be said that relations between our countries began long before Venezuela gained independence. Your national hero, Francisco de Miranda, visited Russia in 1786-1787. He met with Empress Catherine the Great, who made him a colonel in the Russian army. It was the first contact between our countries. It’s logical that Francisco de Miranda was not only a national, but also a personal hero to President Chavez, who held him up as an example and praised de Miranda’s contribution to the liberation of the continent and to the development of a concept many elements of which have formed the basis for Latin America’s forward movement. We share this view. This year we marked 70 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. This happened in March 1945, at the time when Nazism was defeated and shortly before the end of World War II. As I said, Venezuela is now a country with which we are consistently developing strategic partnership. We have many common economic projects in the energy industry, high technology, culture and housing construction, and our defence cooperation is considerable and keeps growing. Cultural ties between our nations have become a tradition that is based on the deep mutual sympathy between Russians and Venezuelans. Russia and Venezuela are close allies on the international stage. We share the same attitude to the issues of world order such as respect for the standards and principles of the UN Charter, a peaceful settlement of conflicts and the inadmissibility of the threat or use of force, as well as the importance of collective action to resolve global issues. We also reject the policy of unilateral actions on issues of global significance. Venezuela was elected to serve on UN Security Council in 2015 and 2016, where we are closely coordinating our efforts. Venezuela co-authored the majority of our initiatives presented to the UN General Assembly. We are especially proud of our joint efforts to promote the principles of cooperation and confidence-building measures in outer space activities and to prevent the abuse of power in the sphere of information and telecommunications technology. I’d like to highlight our complete solidarity on the outcome of World War II. Russia and Venezuela were on the group of many countries that co-authored a resolution to combat the glorification of Nazism and the revival of xenophobia and related intolerance. I consider this a priority objective, in particular for raising the next generations and in light of the recent attempts that have also been made in Europe, I’m sorry to say, to rewrite history, to equate liberators and executioners, and to condone the results of the war and the verdict of the Nuremberg Trials. We must not allow this to happen. Russia and Venezuela also maintain close ties in the sphere of human rights. Russia, Venezuela, China and other countries have been working consistently at the UN Security Council to depoliticise this sphere and to ensure an equal and respectful dialogue on any concerns over human rights and liberties. Unfortunately, we have come across bias and double standards of our Western partners in this sphere. But as I said, we have created a strong group of associates that comprises Russia, Venezuela, China and several other countries. We are also cooperating in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF). The Forum has proved to be useful and has held several summit meeting. The next such meeting will be held in Tehran in November. We are preparing for it and coordinating our stands with other member countries, notably Venezuela. We want this Forum to become a full-fledged international organisation for exchanging opinions, holding consultations and possibly coordinating actions on global markets. We have pooled efforts with Venezuela and other partners to jointly monitor prices on the world’s oil and gas markets. It is a highly useful part of our cooperation. There are many more issues that connect Russia to Venezuela, including in the context of Russia’s relations with Latin America. Venezuela has been urging the signing of a memorandum on a permanent mechanism for consultations between Russia and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). We are grateful to it. It’s notable that the majority of Latin American countries share this view. We have long developed and are maintaining stable relations with the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) and other cooperation mechanisms in Latin America. We are now drafting a memorandum of cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and Mercosur. We are also in talks with our partners on the development of institutional ties between Russia and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which we think has great potential. Question: I have a personal question for you. What was the most challenging moment for you in all these years as Russian Foreign Minister, and what do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Sergey Lavrov: I can hardly point to any challenging moments for the simple reason that life isn’t easy for a diplomat these days, which makes one forget the difficulties and challenges. Highlighting achievements would also be immodest on my behalf. Let me briefly mention some instances that, in my opinion, can be viewed as examples of shared success. There are people who accuse Russia of being capricious and stubborn in its approaches. They agree that justice should be respected but real politics is all about concessions. Russia has never been capricious or stubborn, and was always willing to compromise. I believe that the greatest success for any diplomat is reaching a multilateral agreement. Bilateral arrangements also count, but it is much harder to reach multilateral accords. Here are some facts: during my tenure as Foreign Minister BRIC was created and expanded into BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) developed substantially with the decision to launch procedures for India’s and Pakistan’s accession at the latest summit in Ufa. This is a major geopolitical event that will enhance SCO’s influence, importance and profile. The fact that many other countries are asking to join this structure as members or observers is not a coincidence. Let me also remind you that the BRICS group was established as a mechanism for like-minded countries seeking above all to promote justice and equality in international economic relations. In this sense, all BRICS countries that are on the G20 assert their approaches and abide by earlier agreements regarding global monetary and financial reform. And BRICS countries are not alone in this endeavour. Many Latin American, Asian and African nations support the BRICS approaches within the G20. As for our global achievements, I can’t fail to mention the agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was supported by US President Barack Obama and the whole international community. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution to this effect, and the whole project was implemented in record time, within a single year. Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and proved to be an honest and proactive partner in all initiatives related to removing and destroying chemical arsenals. I can also point to the agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme between Russia, the United States, the EU, China and, naturally, Iran, as another example of collective success. This agreement is already being implemented. The UN Security Council has also adopted a resolution to this effect, and concrete steps are being taken pursuant to the joint plan of action to settle this situation. There are instances when we are ready to actively contribute to reaching similar compromises on extremely complex global issues, and it has to be said that the Iranian issue seemed to defy any kind of solution. However, our partners are sometimes unwilling to negotiate, which makes consensus hard to achieve. I can give you an example: the US plans to deploy a missile-defence system. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been raising this issue on numerous occasions since 2007, back when George W. Bush was President of the United States, proposing various options for working together to address any risks in terms of missile defence that may arise due to missile proliferation. We were told that they are ready to work with us on this issue. But in the end of the day, the Americans came up with a plan that raised serious misgivings among the Russian military, since it was detrimental to our security and threatened Russia’s nuclear deterrence system. We were told that this “plan addresses all the concerns you might have” and offered to use it as a blueprint for further cooperation. By all accounts, this was short of an ultimatum. Of course, we couldn’t work together, but not because we didn’t want to, but because the United States was not ready to balance the interests and insisted that its vision be accepted without any adjustments. There are similar developments in other areas. For instance, combatting terrorism, including the IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremists in the Middle East, is an issue we know all too well. Russia stands for creating a united front to fight this evil, which threatens everyone, through the UN Security Council, based on the international law and working together with the consent of all the countries that face terrorist threats in one way or another or are ready to contribute to overcoming these threats and risks. We’ll see what comes of it. So far, the United States has a coalition of its own, and it hasn’t asked the UN Security Council for a mandate. The United States simply announced it will deliver air strikes against terrorists in Iraq with Baghdad’s consent; while claiming that it does not need any agreement from Damascus should it decide to bomb terrorists in Syria. You see, this is a unilateral approach that doesn’t even imply any kind of discussion aimed at reaching a consensus to come up with common approaches and agreements. Let’s wait and see. There seem to be some changes recently, we are making ourselves heard. At least they are listening to what we have to say. Maybe they even hear us. The UN General Assembly will hold its session in the next few days, where all world leaders will make statements. I’m confident that this will be one of the main topics. In my opinion, the opportunity to bring together approaches and make them viable in terms of international law is still there. Question: Russia and Venezuela have shared positions on many issues. What about our cooperation at international organisations? What is the outlook for this cooperation? Sergey Lavrov: I have already mentioned the joint actions of Russia and Venezuela at the UN, including the Security Council, of which Venezuela has become a non-permanent member for two years. We share the basic approach to what the role of the UN should be, and on the need to be guided by all the provisions of the Charter, that is, key approaches to the problems of the world order and organisation of international relations. We share the approaches to specific problems proceeding from the principles and norms of the United Nations Charter. I have listed many of the inititives we are promoting jointly in the sphere of international security and the need to take into account the interests of all states in working out various decisions. Incidentally, we are currently considering, together with our Venezuelan friends and a large group of other countries, including our Chinese colleagues, the possibility of taking up the topic of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. This is one of the bedrock principles of the UN Charter. Unfortunately, it is not always complied with under vrious pretexts. Some time ago they coined the term "humanitarian intervention" which basically means that if human rights are violated one can interfere, including with the use of military force. Then they invented the term "responsibility to protect" meaning that if a humaniarian crisis occurs somewhere for whatever reason – due to natural reasons or an armed conflict, the global community has the right to intervene. All these questions have been clearly answered in the UN General Assembly resolutions which say that interference is only allowed with the consent of the UN Secuirty Council, i.e. the provision of the Charter has been confirmed. Considering the recurring attempts at loose interpretation of the non-interference principle, including in the context of the Syrian crisis, we want to discuss with all the member countries the possibility of passing a declartion that would expressly reaffirm the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states and the principle that is in effect in Latin America and Africa, whereby the countries in which power has been transferred in an unconstitutional manner, but through a government coup, cannot be normal members of the international community – such methods of regime change are unacceptable. This idea enjoys fairly broad support, but of course it is opposed by those who think they are not obliged to always comply with their commitments under the UN Charter. I have already said what is being achieved, what is not and why. In addition to the examples I have cited which illustrated on the one hand, the effectiveness of joint actions when all work together and on the other hand the failure of attempts to solve a problem because of refusal to abandon one-sided approaches and to work collectively. There is yet a third type of the products in international relations, i.e. agreements that are achieved but are not followed. The sense of achievement when agreements are reached only increases the disappointment when the other side does not fulfil the agreement. Unfortunately, our closest neighbour, Ukraine, is an example. The Geneva Communique of April 2014 highlighted the need to quickly start a constitutional reform involving all the regions and all the political forces in Ukraine. A year and a half has passed and nothing has been done. February 2015 saw the signing of the Minsk Agreements, which were universally welcomed and approved by the UN Security Council and which called for immediate steps to start a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk on preparing local elections and a similar dialogue on the coming into force of the law on the special status and reform of the Ukrainian constitution in accordance with the principles written into the Minsk accords personally by the French Foreign Minister and the Federal Chancellor of Germany. Nothing is being done. This is of course disappointing and makes one wonder how honest were the people who, first, agreed to voluntarily sign the negotiated text, and on the other hand how honest were the people who paid lip service to the Minsk accords but in reality – and examples can be cited daily – simply seek to support the Ukrainian authorities, which imitate their compliance with their obligations and resort to open lies in telling the world that they have fulfilled everything down to the last comma. We appreciate that our Venezuelan friends are showing full understanding of our position on Ukraine including the vote on the corresponding resolutions that seek to introduce an inflammatory element and involve the UN General Assembly in dubious games over the qualification of what has happened. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly and clearly stated that what happened was a government coup. The government coup took place the morning after the legitimate president of Ukraine signed an agreement on the settlement of the crisis with the opposition leaders, an agreement that bears the signatures of the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland. This, by the way, was another agreed document which was not just not fulfilled, but was simply torn up seveal hours after everybody hailed the accord. Question: Speaking of unfulfilled agreements, let me ask you about the situation with Mistral ships. The agreement was reached but not fulfilled. What was the reason? What is happening with the Mistrals right now? Sergey Lavrov: As far as we are concerned, the issue is closed. France referred to the Ukrainian crisis and used it as an excuse to withdraw from its contractual obligations. It was bizarre but, at any rate, it was France’s decision. We said we would not try to talk France out of it. We asked for a refund and received all the money back – both what we actually paid our French counterparts and a compensation for what we spent on building some parts of these helicopter carriers at our dockyards, and on training our personnel. So we are satisfied with how everything worked out. We don’t have any second thoughts about this. Perhaps in the future, somebody will see this example as a factor to consider from the viewpoint of securing negotiability when negotiating new deals. Question: Was France subject to so much pressure that it had to withdraw from a business agreement with Russia? Do you think somebody was twisting their arms on this issue? How is this even possible in the 21st century? Sergey Lavrov: You know, I would like to add that we don’t have any hard feelings or disappointments. We received good compensation, and it has come in handy in the present climate. I don’t know why it happened and what our French counterparts’ relationship was with any of the countries that insisted on terminating any military cooperation with Russia, without any clear arguments. Exterritoriality is one of the issues that has to do with illegitimate unilateral sanctions imposed without authorisation of the UN Security Council. These sanctions are knowingly intended to damage the economy, the quality of life and to incite negative feelings in people towards their own government. This directly undermines the goals of the United Nations – especially as it is holding a high-level meeting in two days on global development in the next 15 years. The meeting will take place ahead of the General Assembly’s session. Economic links, trade, exchange of technology – all these areas are key to development, while unilateral bans wreck the countries’ efforts to make decisions that could improve people’s lives. The United States is known for making its unilateral sanctions exterritorial by prohibiting its companies from doing business with the country involved and demanding the same from other countries. Otherwise the United States threatens with ceasing operations of their bank accounts or finds some other form of punishment. One or two French banks were punished with multibillion fines for assisting with commercial links with Iran, which was banned by the United States. This is an example. France did not prohibit its banks to do anything. But the United States accused them of breaching US laws. The banks had to compromise in order to remain in the dollar system. Naturally, this raises a lot of questions, including with respect to the principles of Bretton Woods institutions and the role of reserve currencies. We are opposed to any rush action. We would like all these problems to be resolved based on actual objective trends. The objective trends are that there is no more unipolar world in either politics or economy or finance. Powerful centres of economic growth and financial power are shaping outside the historical West – mainly in Asia and Latin America. The economic growth and financial power bring political influence. Therefore, the decision-making system must be reviewed, with votes and quotas redistributed, including in the International Monetary Fund, which was discussed ten years ago. We all did as we promised. However, the US Congress still refuses to ratify the reform that was approved five years ago as a first step towards more democratic monetary and financial system. There are many questions here. I understand that old habits die hard and one doesn’t want to part with the feeling of global domination. This process will be long and painful. But I believe that eventually, we will find a way to reallocate the responsibility in the world in all areas, including conflict resolution, economy, finance and trade. It is important that we do this based on the UN Charter without undermining the prerogatives of the Security Council, and incorporate all the processes resulting from the changes in the world into the fundamentals of the UN Charter. I think this is the key. Let me repeat, the process will be difficult and slow. The main thing is not to botch things up too much. Question: Here is another problem that I cannot help mentioning. Sukhoi aircraft are one of the main elements of our air force. We also have Mirage and F-16 planes. Not so long ago, an alarming incident took place on the Venezuela-Colombia border. Some time ago, Comandante Hugo Chávez stated clearly that we don’t want any US bases on our territory. However, six bases were established in Colombia without our consent. It appears that we are also facing a problem on our eastern flank. Venezuela, one of the largest oil-producing countries, has been virtually surrounded. What can you say on this score? Sergey Lavrov: There are several aspects. First, this concerns a state’s prerogatives in ensuring its security. Every state is sovereign and has the right to decide whether to allow foreign military bases on its territory or not. I repeat, this is the sovereign right of every country. However, in our modern world when everything is becoming interdependent, and when a tense situation shapes up in any specific region, foreign bases, of course, do not help stabilise the situation in any way. We are witnessing this in Europe, which is completely surrounded with US military bases, and the same is happening in the Middle East. These bases do not always play a peacemaking role. Second, we, of course, are interested in resolving conflicts between any states by peaceful means on the basis of talks, all the more so as this concerns our friends. Russia is a friend of Venezuela, and we also are on good terms with Colombia and your other neighbours. We are always advocating for the resolution of any conflicts through political-diplomatic means and through talks. I know that Latin American countries, representatives of CELAC and UNASUR, are ready to actively assist in the search for compromise solutions. We will only welcome these processes. We consider long-standing irritants to be abnormal, although we know that many problems in your region and those facing your neighbours are 100 years old and even older. All this dates to a time when Latin America was divided, not completely divided and re-divided. Today, all issues should be addressed in a civilised manner. We emphatically oppose any attempts to destabilise the regime. I have already noted that some of our partners on the international scene want to destabilise any regime they don’t like from inside and then say that something should be done about domestic unrest. I have noted this problem, while mentioning our intention to draft a declaration that would clearly reaffirm the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs and the impermissibility of coups, all the more so with foreign involvement, for ousting regimes. Latin America has such a document that formalises the common stance of this region’s countries on this issue. I’m confident that they will be committed to these principles just like they were committed to solidarity with Venezuela several months ago when problems arose in connection with unclear and rather strange US statements that Venezuela has become a threat to US national security. I recall the then statements of UNASUR and CELAC members, and I hope very much that everyone will hear the common voice of the region. Question: A Venezuelan constitutional precedent in connection with a strange episode on the border with Colombia when we lost one of our Sukhoi aircraft confirms that we are interested in buying new Sukhoi planes. This may involve 12 aircraft plus one more to replace the lost plane. What do you think about this initiative? Sergey Lavrov: This is your right. As I have already said, we maintain sustained and multi-faceted military-technical cooperation. There is a certain procedure for requesting the delivery of any specific military equipment. I assure you and I’m confident that the President and the Defence Minister of Venezuela and other members of your country’s leadership are well aware of these procedures. I don’t doubt that the request will be examined promptly and constructively. Question: Can we say that this Venezuelan initiative is met with a positive attitude? Sergey Lavrov: I’m hearing this from you, but we need to receive a letter of inquiry from your government. If you are duly authorised, please show your credentials, and then it would be necessary to visit another agency of the Russian Government. Question: I would like to thank you for your time. We know that your schedule is quite packed, considering the fact that you are the Foreign Minister of such a large country as Russia. I would also like to thank you for your hospitality.

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