Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks and takes questions during the forum, Russia – Land of Opportunity, Moscow, March 15, 2018

Thursday, 15 March 2018 10:33

Friends,

Thank you for the invitation. I am very pleased to be able to speak in such a format. Recently, many of you, I believe, participated in another activity, the finals of the National Manager Contest “Leaders of Russia” in Sochi, where I also had the chance to participate.

I believe it is critically important to create a proper environment for promoting talented and creative youth to positions which will determine the country's advancement towards the future, which is one of the decisive steps that our country must make. I believe everyone is aware of and supports President Putin’s focus on this.

I am pleased that you take an interest in foreign policy. The broad support for our actions on the international arena in pursuit of the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation approved by President Putin ensures our confidence and stability in what we are doing. Thank you once again for this support and interest in our foreign policy.

Ensuring the continuity of our actions in the world is very important today, because the situation is not getting any easier. President Putin outlined the reasons behind the deep crisis in international relations in his Address to the Federal Assembly on March 1. I will not dwell on them.

The gist of what is happening is the categorical refusal of the United States and its Western allies to accept the fact that the 500-year-long Western domination in international affairs is coming to an end. The transition to a new multipolar, more democratic and fair system will be a long one in a historical perspective. Of course, even now the transition to a new system is painful for those who have been used to governing the world for centuries. This is not criticism or condemnation, but a statement of fact. They are used to the fact that they call the shots. This was particularly evident at the time of the demise of the Soviet Union, when they started talking about the “end of history,” meaning that from now on only a liberal way of life and Western liberal international politics will be the only ones applicable in the modern world. This has failed to materialise. The West has been nervously responding to Russia's return to its legitimate position, which we inherited from our thousand-year history, the conquests of our ancestors, and they absolutely and rightfully belong to us. The return of Russia as an equal partner who is not imposing anything on anyone, but that will not take diktat and ultimatums from its partners, either, is very painfully taken by our Western partners. There’s no need for that, because we are not seeking confrontation with anyone. We want to work with everyone honestly, based on mutual respect, and the search for a balance of interests and generally acceptable approaches.

This policy applies to security issues as well. President Putin spoke in detail about us being forced to ensure a balance of interests in the military sphere in connection with the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty. We are forced to react asymmetrically, but so as to ensure a balance of interests.

The necessity for seeking commonly acceptable agreements also concerns, of course, the trade and economic sphere, where application of unilateral measures of unlawful pressure as a means of unfair and unscrupulous competition are unacceptable.

Of course, a balance of interests should also prevail in the humanitarian communication of people, in the relations between various cultures, civilisations, and religions. This is the only way we can secure the integrity of today's world.

So far, sadly, we are nowhere near this harmony, but it is necessary to make every effort to avoid falling into the abyss of confrontation. Russia is proposing a positive agenda that is aimed at consolidating, rather than isolating anyone, aimed at peaceful settlements to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine, as well as the numerous conflicts in Africa and any other place in the world, based on international law and the UN Charter, through a dialogue between all sides involved and encouraging peaceful steps by every participant to a conflict.

Other priorities of our activity certainly include creating new forms of partnership of nations that will not be rigid and based on block mentality but will be open to anyone willing to cooperate based on equal rights and mutual advantage. These principles are at the basis of the EAEU, the SCO and BRICS, and we use these principles in building relations with ASEAN. We are ready to resume our partnership with the European Union as soon as our European neighbours loose interest in following US-initiated anti-Russia policies, including the sanctions and provocations, and putting up with outrageous actions that we are witnessing from the UK and that are far beyond the limits of basic decency.

We respond to these irritants in a calm manner, and are willing to talk with anyone and discuss any issues concerning us. Naturally, we will reserve the right to pose questions we might have concerning our partners, but we will do this in a respectful way, without stirring up hysteria and using confrontational approaches, solely based on the standards that have been universally coordinated for decades and centuries (that is, international law), whose essence is embodied in the UN Charter.

I am ready to take any questions from you and listen to your comments.

Question: I come from war-torn Lugansk.

How long will Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russia in general, tolerate all this joint scheming by the United States and other countries against the Russian Federation?

Sergey Lavrov: I would like to express our solidarity with you in connection with this hard and illegal blockade, during which virtually every member of your population has been branded as a terrorist. This happened after Donetsk and Lugansk voiced their unwillingness to accept the illegal armed coup d’etat, and after they asked Kiev to leave them alone because they wanted to understand what was going on. But Kiev launched an “anti-terrorist operation”, involving the Ukrainian Armed Forces and security forces, against you, although you did not attack anyone.  Those who illegally seized power attacked you. Therefore we will not allow them to stifle you with this blockade, to force you to basically accept Kiev’s ultimatum and to force Donetsk and Lugansk to renounce the Minsk Agreements. We will not allow these absolutely worthless attempts to succeed. The UN Security Council approved the Minsk Agreements. This international law must be implemented.

How long can we tolerate the behaviour of our Western colleagues who violate all conceivable norms of international law, including the Minsk Agreements, and who are unable to discipline Kiev? This is a philosophical question. In principle, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and the entire Russian nation are extremely patient. As I see it, history provides many examples of attempts to abuse this patience. Vladimir Putin also noted this in his Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. We knocked on all doors after 1991, but no one listened to us. I believe this period is now over.

Question: Would you agree that given the developments around the world over the last decade, democracy and its tools have somewhat lost a bit of their appeal, just as the ability to govern today’s world and promote cooperation?

Sergey Lavrov: This is an exceedingly good question. Generally speaking, democracy is the rule of the people and a fundamental principle. The way that this principle is followed by specific societies probably depends on their traditions, history and culture, religion as well as many other factors too. The rule of the people is certainly a fundamental principle of democracy.

Over the last 15 or 20 years, it has become obvious that democratic procedures sometimes fail in terms of satisfying the current Western leadership. Some 15 or 20 years ago elections were held in Austria, and a radical right-wing party headed by Jorg Haider won the democratic election, and he was supposed to become prime minister. However, given his right-wing conservative views, the liberal democratic leaders of the European Union did everything they could to force him to renounce his victory that he had won democratically. There was another example to this effect. In 2007, elections in the Palestinian National Authority were to be held in the Middle East, contested by Fatah, currently headed by the President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip and universally regarded as a radical and extremist, and sometimes even a terrorist organisation. Back then Russia voiced concern over holding the elections against the backdrop of the heightened tension with this stand-off between the two Palestinian parties. We floated the idea of holding the elections at a later time. But then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted that the elections be held. The vote did take place, and Hamas won the election. The US issued a prompt statement saying that it did not recognise Hamas’ victory, since they were terrorists, even though all international observers confirmed that the number of ballots cast was equal to the number of voters. All the procedures were respected.

As you can see, Russia is currently facing accusations of an attempted government coup in Montenegro in order to prevent the country’s accession to NATO. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have done no such thing, while the current Montenegrin leadership, pressured by Brussels, did just that in order to sidestep democratic procedures. They refused holding a referendum on NATO membership, even though opinion polls show that there is no unity on this matter among the people of Montenegro.

There are many examples of this kind. I think that there are more to come. The election results in Italy and Austria have also become a matter of concern for the European Union. I cannot rule out that they will come up with something once again in order to make sure that democracy follows a pre-determined course.

The last observation refers to democracy in international affairs. When our Western colleagues hold talks, and we discuss some documents that are later to become public, they always require that every country state its commitment to the rule of law and democracy. However, when we discuss specific sections of a document dealing with international affairs, and we propose mentioning “democracy and the rule of international law,” they do not want this to be in the text, since they find it more convenient to simply leave it out.

There are many such examples. I hope you get the general gist of what I’m trying to convey.

Question: Russia has recently delivered its famous S-400 missiles to Turkey. Are these deliveries timely? As history shows, Turkey is sometimes Russia’s friend and sometimes Russia’s enemy. Won’t Turkey become Russia’s enemy once again in the future, and won’t the United States reestablish its air base in Incirlik?

Sergey Lavrov: First of all, Incirlik Air Base is still there.  I have not heard of any plans to dismantle it. Second, as this is a military-technical matter, I hope that you have addressed it to Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, or that this subject was raised during today’s meeting with him. Regarding this topic’s foreign policy aspect, your question is very interesting. Indeed, Russia and Turkey have repeatedly fought each other, and our wars were bloody and ruthless. The current generation of Turkish and Russian leaders who comprehend this controversial history are determined to steer towards partnership (strategic partnership, I would say). This fact shows the wisdom of the leaders who make such decisions. There are no eternal enemies. In some cases, one is unable to implement policies that would heed your interests but which would not encroach upon, offend or ignore your partner’s interests. Turkey is our neighbour, and I am absolutely convinced that one cannot quarrel with neighbours. Neighbours cannot be pitted against each other, just like they tried to do in Ukraine. Unfortunately, this wonderful country and its people have been plunged into a profound crisis.

Speaking of S-400 deliveries once again, I don’t think that we should fear anything in this respect. The agreements we managed to reach on Syria are unprecedented. We were able to bring together three actors (Russia, Turkey and Iran) that voice different opinions concerning the situation in Syria and which also have absolutely different interests in this region. In my opinion, this is a comprehension of the fact that all of us live next door, and that we need to understand each other’s interests and to look for agreements making it possible to work on this foreign policy front in such a way as to prevent a confrontation between these interests. On the contrary, we need to reconcile these interests. Actually, this comprehension is a major achievement. The current Russian-Turkish trade and economic cooperation, including the Turkish Stream project and nuclear power stations, amounts to long-term projects that would take years and decades to implement. As we are becoming convinced in many other regions, an economic foundation is the best guarantee of various countries’ joint work, and this would also prevent these countries from reverting to any completely unnecessary confrontation.

Question: I have a question about London and the case of Sergey Skripal. London announced yesterday that it would expel 23 Russian diplomats and suspend Russian-British relations. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that Russia would provide a fitting reply without specifying. What reply could it be?

Sergey Lavrov: You surely understand that we are polite people and will first notify our British colleagues, unlike what they do when they make public statements blaming everything on Russia, claiming that we have poisoned Sergey Skripal and his daughter, and that we produce chemical weapons contrary to our international obligations. Whenever we have any doubts or suspicions, we try to avoid asking any questions in public until we discuss the matter with those concerned. This is polite, and this is how gentlemen should act. But the number of gentlemen is rapidly decreasing, as you can see.

Regarding this story, two meetings were held yesterday. One was held at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, and the other at the UN Security Council. Both were convened on Britain’s initiative. And at both meetings the British demanded that Russia be condemned for staging a chemical weapons attack on a British citizen in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Just as we did several days before, we asked for evidence of our guilt. The reply was that they do not need any evidence. Next we asked for an official request in keeping with the CWC. They replied that they know everything and that the request was incorporated in the speech that Theresa May made in parliament. Can you see how seriously these grown up people make such statements? We proposed acting under the CWC, which includes sending a request, involving experts from the OPCW Technical Secretariat, as well as analysing the substance involved in this case. Following this, a request should be sent to the suspect country, which must reply within 10 days, which is what we will most certainly do. If the said answer does not satisfy the requesting party, in this case, the UK, they have the right to convene an emergency meeting of the OPCW Executive Council and set up an expert group to deal with this matter. The CWC, which the UK has signed and ratified, stipulates a series of such steps. The UK representative in The Hague said they would not send any request and that we must make a clean breast of it.

At the meeting in New York, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya put forth our position, replying politely and in a well-argued manner to totally impolite and unsubstantiated allegations. He proposed adopting a document on the investigation of this accident based on the Chemical Weapons Convention. The British representative blocked the adoption of this proposal. You can judge for yourself the reasons behind the actions taken in this case by the British and the Americans, who have supported them unconditionally. Europeans have taken a more restrained stand, but they are being put under pressure to act in keeping with the so-called NATO solidarity. I believe that this story above all demonstrates the desperate state of the current British government, especially in a situation when they cannot comply with the promises given to their people in connection with Brexit. As for our reply, I can assure you it will not be long in coming.

Question: President Putin has declared 2018 the Year of Volunteers in Russia. Our country has a vast number of great volunteer projects, socially significant projects. How can we take these projects to the international level? I would not say that the projects in other countries (such as Israel, Sweden or Switzerland) are better or superior to ours, to our experts’ projects. How can this be done?

Sergey Lavrov: Are these trips to other countries held as part of volunteer programmes?

Question: No, they deal with professional activity related to the exchange of specialists. But even at the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi, when we talked to our friends from other countries, they were eager to start implementing these projects in their own countries. But we do not know how that is done in practice.

Sergey Lavrov: If these projects were designed to have an international dimension from the start, or are dedicated to national development, but are also of interest to your foreign colleagues, I am ready to help. But first, we need to know what they are about. You can send details of your projects to us; I will make sure they are dealt with properly, especially in view of the fact that we now have a public organisation called the Council of Young Diplomats, which, by the way, has recently held the first international meeting of young diplomats in Sochi. I believe that this will be a very good public mission to assign to the Council of Young Diplomats so that its members can help you find the best, ideal way to establish stable ties abroad. So please, send your projects in.

Question: Do you believe that a woman could win presidential elections in Russia? It is possible in other countries, obviously, but is it possible in Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: Why are you separating us from the rest of the progressive world? I believe that it can happen anywhere. The most important thing is that it should be the qualities that a person possesses that help him or her win the elections, not that a woman should win.

Question: I think that it is harder for a woman to win.

Sergey Lavrov: Perhaps, there are some factors – objective, subjective, historical, civilisational, religious, to some extent. I proceed from the fact that we are moving towards a situation where we can make an objective comparison between the competency and personal qualities of everyone running for public office.

Question: Was it appropriate to make a contribution to the International Olympic Committee before the final day of the Winter Olympics? Does this mean our country agrees that the decision to ban us from the Olympics was fair?

Sergey Lavrov: I prefer not to comment on issues that are not my direct responsibility. The Russian Olympic Committee, which is independent from the Government, is responsible for this decision. I do not know all the details, but when it comes to contributions, we obviously have to make them, unless there are exceptional circumstances. In this case, athletes decided to participate in the Winter Olympics, so we are talking about the decision made by the Russian Olympic Committee.

Question: I express gratitude for everything you have done on behalf of all the Syrian people, whose youth I represent at the Forum. The situation in Syria has improved thanks to Russia. Thanks to Russia we can now live and receive education.  What do you think of the current situation in the north of Syria? How can Russia help cope with this? How can Russia develop relations with US colleagues who are against our ties?  

Sergey Lavrov: We have made a number of detailed statements with assessments of the developments there. Several times, we have drawn the attention of our US colleagues to the fact that, in spite of their numerous solemn promises to respect Syria’s sovereignty, they still, in fact, take action contrary to this. We will be aiming to ensure that this story does not fade into the background and that the UN Security Council achieves the implementation of its resolution, which requires respect for the territorial integrity, freedom, independence and sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Only yesterday, we received Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Moscow, and spoke with him about the north of Syria. At a joint news conference with me he publicly confirmed that Turkey respects Syria’s sovereignty and does not intend to maintain its presence there after the completion of their current operation. As for the operation itself, it was clearly provoked by US actions in the eastern part of Syria, to the east of the Euphrates. The USA did not just put a stake on Kurdish armed units to counter terrorists, but even after the terrorists were driven away, the US announced that together with the Kurds it would take control of the entire Syrian border with Iraq, with the Kurds responsible for this “security zone”, as they called it. This was absolutely unprofessional, incompetent. If those who issued this statement expected Turkey to sit quietly and watch developments unfold, they have no idea at all about the alignment of forces in the Middle East and in Syria in particular.

On the topic of Syria, I would like to conclude by saying that we will continue to fight terrorists, we will finish them off, and we will help to eradicate them in Eastern Ghouta where the Syrian army is currently conducting the necessary operations with our support. We will definitely make humanitarian exceptions, as was announced yesterday by our Defence Ministry. Those who want to leave and obtain humanitarian aid can use those corridors. The main thing in Eastern Ghouta, and other places, is that the US coalition, which operates there from the air and has numerous special forces on the ground, should stop supporting Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. All the other groups deemed by the West as non-extremist, for some reason, work under the Jabhat al-Nusra umbrella (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), and they have established a joint command. UNSC Resolution 2254 demands disassociation from bandits, and then nobody will suffer collateral damage from the uncompromising anti-terror fight that has never been banned by the UN Security Council.

Apart from the continued fight with terrorists and solving humanitarian problems – the Syrian government and the sane opposition can do much more in this respect, especially in the de-escalation zones created under the Astana agreements – political process should get off the ground at last. Russia, Iran and Turkey, as the guarantors of the Astana process, with the participation of a large number of groups from Syrian society (almost all groups were represented in Sochi), held the Syrian National Dialogue Congress. A final statement was approved which received full support from the UN and should be brought into practical implementation as soon as possible. The first step would be the establishment of a constitutional committee under UN auspices that should start working in Geneva and draft Syria’s new constitution. We are meeting with the foreign ministers of Iran and Turkey in Astana tomorrow. We’ll look into how the Sochi statement is being implemented and we will formulate our recommendations to all parties – both the Government and the opposition.

Question: What do you think of the education problem in Latvia which discriminates against the Russian-speaking population?

Sergey Lavrov: This applies, probably, not only to Latvia but also Ukraine. There are intentions less radical yet negative for Russian-speaking minorities in other neighbouring countries, too. When a country, where a third of the population speaks a language other than that of the titular nation, is trying to force that third to give up their history, culture and language heritage, it is the gravest violation of all thinkable UN and Council of Europe conventions protecting regional languages and languages of ethnic minorities.

We raise these issues at the OSCE, the Council of Europe and in the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For understandable reasons, not everyone there is ready to act with integrity and stand up to the norms long enshrined in international law, merely because Latvia is an EU member, and the EU has what they call solidarity and we call mutual cover-up. The idea is that decisions must be taken by a consensus while any country may lead it in the opposite direction.

But there are judiciary bodies including the European Human Rights Court. With all the ambiguities of some of its decisions, they cannot avoid considering applications by residents and public organisations. I strongly recommend you to do that. I will definitely be accused later of inciting anti-government protests in Latvia, but this means protection of human rights which has never been regarded as something devoid of protection under the pretext of a country’s sovereignty. We must seek justice, go to courts. It will be a long process, but there is no other way.

We have the same attitude towards the law on education recently adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine and which they refuse to amend now even though the Council of Europe acting through the Venice Commission demanded that the law should be changed, and very significantly. We will keep supporting you.

Question: Kazakhstan has recently allowed visa-free travel for US citizens. How might this affect Russia-Kazakhstan relations?

Sergey Lavrov: You know, and I am not deceiving you, I didn’t know about that. You see, I will be in Astana tomorrow, and I will talk this over with my colleague, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, Kairat Abdurakhmanov. Basically, such things will inevitably entail a need for approval within the Eurasian Economic Union, which also has a visa-free travel policy. We are now engaged in talks with our Belarusian friends so as to reach an understanding on a joint visa policy. If Kazakhstan has also unilaterally granted visa-free travel to Americans (honestly, I did not know about that), we have to consider its possible implications for our common visa space. Not all US nationals that can travel to Kazakhstan are allowed in Russia. You understand that we, just like the Americans and other countries, have certain lists. They will have to be agreed on and verified. I will sort it out tomorrow. Thank you for the lead.

Question: How do you see the role of the Astrakhan Region in the strategy of building relations in Eurasia, I mean Caspian Sea relations? Can you give us a brief evaluation of the relations between the Caspian Sea nations with a view of Caspian Sea status, which has not been completely defined as of today?

Sergey Lavrov: To begin with, I love Astrakhan. Unfortunately, I haven’t visited the Volga Delta for a long time. Second, Astrakhan hosted the 4th Caspian Summit two and a half years ago where basic directions for work on the status of the Caspian Sea were approved. I can say with a high degree of confidence that the relevant Convention will be signed at the fifth summit to be held in Kazakhstan.  

Last December, we gathered the foreign ministers of the Caspian nations in Moscow – Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan. We agreed on all the clauses of the Convention at our level. Now the final text has been agreed on. At present, the texts in the languages of all member-countries are being compared; the English text is being verified so that it is common for all the participating countries, taking into account that five countries, including Iran are signatories to the Convention.  I am confident that it will be signed. Knock on wood, but I don’t see any obstacles. For many years we have been thinking about uniting the issues of economic cooperation on the Caspian Sea into a common agenda and ideally to establish an organisation of Caspian economic cooperation. But as a first step, in case everyone is not ready for that, to set up a mechanism of annual meetings on economic cooperation. We promote Astrakhan as the venue for such events.

Question (via the interpreter): Russia-US relations are not very good now, nor are US-Mexico relations. Do you think this is an opportunity for Mexico to build stronger relations with Russia? Can Mexico help with the “tough order” in the West?

Sergey Lavrov: You are right. But US relations with Russia are not like US relations with Mexico if only because a physical wall is being built between them, whereas the wall between us and the United States is so far imaginary. We do not have a common border except the Bering Strait, but no wall is needed there. On a serious note, we are interested in having good, close relations with Mexico. This is what our presidents used to say, and they have met a number of times on the sidelines of various forums, this is what my colleagues used to say. When Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico Luis Videgaray Caso came to Russia recently, we had very good talks. I am currently reading yet another salvo of speculation that first appeared last autumn, then died down and is now revived again, that you forthcoming elections will be manipulated by the Russian Federation. Nobody even cares to explain why we would need to do this. Do we want to set up a base in Mexico to attack the United States? We wouldn’t be able to do that since the wall will be there. I have great hopes that the smart, generous, energetic and talented Mexican people understand everything quite well and will not allow to be dragged into some confrontational plot which is being imposed on you by the Western countries, including your neighbours.

Regarding Mexico’s role in Latin America, it is hard to overestimate. We very much appreciate that Mexico was an initiator of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which united for the first time ever all the Latin American countries of North and South America. I think this is the greatest achievement for the emergence of Latin American identity while preserving good relations with the US and Canada. The CELAC members in the modern world still have a somewhat different civilisation, culture, identity and self-perception. There are some challenges involved – the Venezuela problem, and a number of others. But a desire to be one of the pillars of a multi-polar world, which is inevitably emerging, I think is absolutely legitimate and justified. We support in every possible way such a role for Latin America in the world.

Question: We are now at the educational forum, Russia – Land of Opportunity, where the continuous education issue runs through each session as a keynote. Education goes beyond our school and university, extending to our entire future life. That is, to make us competitive, we need to continue to read books, attend training and lectures. What do you do in terms of continuous education, self-education? What was the last book you read?

Sergey Lavrov: I will begin with the last part of your question about the last book I still have not finished. It is a book by Viktor Pelevin  iPhuck 10. You've probably heard about it.

Regarding self-education, in my case, it is an ongoing process. Every day we have to consume hundreds, thousands of pages of information that come from our ambassadors. It is not limited to a fairly general description of local problems that can be obtained from the media and the internet, but it is also from personal contacts. I regularly (two or three times a week) talk to my colleagues, ministers. As a result, I am not just saturated with information (because information is one part of continuous self-education), but also better understand the way they think, how they assess a situation analytically. Often, I get clues. During meetings like this, or at news conferences, when a question is asked, while keeping strictly within the boundaries of the issue under discussion, but leads to more system-wide thoughts or concerns some other problem.

Apart from what I do, the Ministry has a fairly well-established education system. First, when people apply for jobs after university, they are interviewed and tested before they can join the Foreign Ministry. After that, at a fairly early stage, they undergo advanced training courses at the Diplomatic Academy as young diplomats. After some time, as they climb the career ladder and take higher positions, there are training courses for executives, including a separate programme for those who go abroad as ambassadors, deputy ambassadors, consuls general, etc. Many diplomats who work in Moscow also attend these courses.

I'm talking about this very generally. If a person does not want to be educated, no training will help them. And if they do, they might not need any formal training at all. In today's world, one can find a lot of other opportunities.

Question: I represent the Sevastopol regional department of rescuers. Are their plans to organise foreign internships for rescuers and volunteers who work in medicine and rescue as part of the Volunteer Year, so they can learn in those regions and countries where this work is done at a higher level?

Sergey Lavrov: Ever since our current Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu built the Emergencies Ministry (EMERCOM) from scratch, it has been one of the reference agencies in search and rescue. Many people, including myself, consider it the best in the world. So, I do not really understand what else volunteering you are talking about. You must share your experience with others. There is an International Civil Defence Organisation. Civil defence is part of the name of your ministry. This organisation is headed by Russian national Vladimir Kuvshinov, who used to work at EMERCOM Russia. I think that as a member of this international organisation, EMERCOM can possibly initiate various types of volunteer and other events.

Question (via the interpreter): How will the diplomatic crisis between Moscow and London affect the upcoming presidential elections in Russia?

How do you assess Algeria’s role in the region? Is Algeria a strategic partner for Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: I do not even presume to judge the motives our British colleagues might have had. I think that their motives are shady in any case. If they were clean, we would have been informed, and presented with answers to the questions that we ask, and the procedures envisaged by the Chemical Weapons Convention would have been started.

Algeria is our strategic partner. I recently received Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel. We reaffirmed our mutual interest in deepening our partnership in all areas. I think in the near future, we will take some additional steps in trade, economic and investment cooperation. We are very closely cooperating on foreign affairs, including Libya, which is a most complicated issue created by our Western colleagues, when the country was actually destroyed, causing problems for all its neighbours, including Algeria, but not only in northern Africa. There are also bandits in the Sahara-Sahel region armed by those who wanted to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. There is a huge amount of illegal weapons and other ills that have beset this region and that directly affect Algeria.

We regularly communicate in a variety of formats. Most recently, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev visited Algeria. I spoke with my colleague the other day in Moscow. We have a strategic partnership and determination to help each other to develop the economy and social sphere of our countries, secondly, to provide opportunities for free communication between our people in humanitarian and cultural formats, and thirdly, to seek conflict resolution in the region on a just basis.

Question (via the interpreter): South Africa as a member of BRICS is interested in how the New Development Bank will work in such areas as technology and the economy, taking into account the interference by the imperialists? We have seen some countries change governments outside electoral periods. What are the plans within BRICS to stabilise the situation?

Sergey Lavrov: The New Development Bank, established by the BRICS countries, is just beginning its operations; the new bank will soon be working at full capacity. The projects that are being discussed at the initial stage concern only the five BRICS countries. Possible projects outside the BRICS are the next step. Clearly, the African continent will receive special attention, because a New BRICS Development Bank branch will be located in South Africa.

As for our imperialist friends (as you called them), who are trying in every way to impede the development of economic cooperation within BRICS, this is not the only focus of their work. They are in principle interested in breaking up any associations where they do not call the tune. I am confident that such countries as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Russia have too much dignity and will not allow anyone to dictate their foreign policy or to forbid us to communicate with very close friends we are bound to, including the brotherhood-in-arms between my country and South Africa during the latter’s struggle for independence.

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