Major foreign policy events of 2015

Wednesday, 30 December 2015 21:30

1. In 2015, the negative trends characteristic of international relations in recent years have worsened. Amid proliferating regional crises, growing instability in the global financial and economic system and escalating interreligious tensions, global competition has deepened against the backdrop of attempts by a number of states to reverse the objective process of the formation of a polycentric world order and to maintain their domination in international affairs.
Under these circumstances, Russia has pursued a proactive foreign policy course, one based on its commitment to international law and a collective approach in the search for ways of meeting the threats and challenges to international security, stability and sustained development.
2. A key diplomatic event of the year was the anniversary session of the UN General Assembly, which was attended by President Vladimir Putin. It reaffirmed the role of the Organisation as a unique institution that has no equivalent in terms of legitimacy, representation or universality.
During the previous seven decades, the UN has stood the test of time and proved its relevance in dealing with challenging international issues. The further development of its potential hinges on the member countries’ readiness to strengthen the central and coordinating role of the Organisation in world affairs, and their willingness to make more active use of its Charter-based potential for working together, through consensus, among the key centers of force and influence in today’s world.
3. The focus of Russian diplomacy has been on the efforts to mobilise the international community to meet the challenge of international terrorism and extremism, which have acquired unprecedented scale in the context of operations by ISIS and other terrorist groups.
In his address to the UN General Assembly in New York (in September), President Putin put forward an initiative for forming a broad international antiterrorist coalition based on a solid legal foundation and with the central role of the UN Security Council. The operation by the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces, launched in response to a request from the Syrian authorities, has highlighted Russia’s resolve to stand up to modern barbarity and fight terrorists far beyond its borders.
The effort to suppress the financing of terrorism and foreign terrorist militants was an important part of the effort. The UN Security Council, with Russia’s active participation, drafted and approved an array of important documents, including Resolutions 2199 of February 12 and 2253 of December 17, designed to suppress the financing of the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq. In this context, priority was given to closing off channels of financing ISIS through the illegal sale of oil stolen from Syrian and Iraqi fields and transported across these countries’ borders with Turkey. Ankara’s line towards complicity with terrorists was evidenced by the treacherous attack by the Turkish Air Force on the Russian Su-24 bomber on an antiterrorist mission in the Syrian airspace.
In addition to the UN, other cooperation formats and assets were actively used in this fight, including the OSCE, the CIS, the CSTO, the SCO, ASEAN, APEC, the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Financial Action Task Force. 
4. There was a need to constantly monitor developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as they increasingly influenced international security and stability, including the crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
Russian diplomats have been working in the MENA region to help find a solution to the crisis in Syria. The International Syria Support Group, which was created in October with Russia as the leading contributor, has a clear set of priorities, namely the uncompromising struggle against terrorist groups and the simultaneous promotion of the political process with the involvement, without exception, of all political forces and ethnic and confessional groups. A major step towards reaching this goal was the approval of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on December 18, which includes plans for a staged political settlement based on the preservation of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity and reaffirms the cardinal principle of such a solution, according to which Syrians will determine the future of their country.
Efforts have been taken through bilateral channels and at various international platforms, primarily the Middle East Quartet of international intermediaries (Russia, the United States, the EU and the UN), to prevent the deterioration of Palestinian-Israeli relations and the escalation of violence and to create conditions for re-launching the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis. These efforts focused on strengthening cooperation between the Quartet and the concerned regional parties, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
5. A positive example, proving that major achievements are possible when a  collective format, based on a serious, pragmatic and creative approach, is employed, was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) coordinated in Vienna to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of  Iran’s nuclear programme (July). This document has resolved one of the thorniest international issues of memory, one that could have easily escalated into an armed confrontation.  The principles of phasing and reciprocity, initially proposed by Russia, form the basis of the implementation of the JCPOA, which should become a major stabilising factor in the region.
6. The launch of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan on January 1, 2015, which Armenia and Kyrgyzstan later joined, marked a new stage in the Eurasian integration process. The EAEU constitutes a common market with 180 million consumers.
This new integration association gradually grew stronger, and at the same time actively developed relations with external partners. The EAEU and its member countries have signed a free trade area agreement with Vietnam (May, the EAEU’s first preferential agreement), has held free trade area talks with Israel and considered signing similar agreements with India, Egypt, Iran and other states and associations.
The Russian-Chinese Joint Statement on the further development of their all-encompassing partnership, strategic interaction and mutually beneficial cooperation has sealed the intention of the sides to continue to search for points of common interest between the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Silk Road Economic Belt project in the interests of sustainable economic growth in the Eurasian space through the strengthening of equitable cooperation and mutual trust.
7. We continued developing multilateral cooperation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). During the year the CIS member-countries signed 11 international treaties and made over 60 decisions aimed at promoting cooperation in the economic, humanitarian and law enforcement spheres. We continued to pay special attention to minimizing the influence of the global financial-economic crisis on the CIS national economies, countering terrorist threats and organised crime, consolidating border security and intensifying cultural and humanitarian contacts.
The celebration of the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War was the central event of the year. Celebrating the anniversary, the CIS member-countries that sacrificed tens of millions of lives of their soldiers and civilians for the sake of Victory, shared the opinion that the attempts to erode the foundations of the world arrangement laid in 1945 that rely on the UN Charter and the central role of the UN in global affairs, threaten to destroy the entire architecture of current international relations.
Belarus remained Russia’s key strategic partner. Russia developed relations with it both in the Union State framework and other formats.
To reduce the impact of phenomena related to the crisis in the global economy and the drop in world oil prices, the Russian and Belarusian governments are carrying out their plan of measures to create additional conditions for trade and economic cooperation.
The two countries were enhancing their cooperation in the military and military-technical spheres, anti-terrorist activities and in countering crime. They successfully held their joint exercises Union Shield-2015 in September.
Russia continued to steadily develop its strategic partnership with Kazakhstan. Being the leading economy in Central Asia, it remains Russia’s major ally in a number of areas of military-political and economic cooperation.
The events of the 12th Forum of Interregional Cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan held in September reaffirmed the high interest of both countries in expanding productive cooperation.
8. Russia continued facilitating the development of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as modern democratic states, promoting their international ties and ensuring their security and socio-economic progress. In this context an important role was played by industry agreements pursuant to the Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Abkhazia  of  November 24, 2014,  and Treaty on Alliance and Integration between the Russian Federation  and the Republic of South Ossetia of March 18, 2015.
9. Russia actively and consistently worked to facilitate settlement of the conflict in Southeastern Ukraine. With active participation of President Vladimir Putin, Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine finalised a package of measures for the actual implementation the February Minsk Agreements. These measures outlined the actions to be taken by the sides in order to normalise the situation in Donbass. The UN Security Council endorsed the February agreements by its Resolution 2202 of February 17, 2015 as the only foundation for settling the Ukrainian domestic crisis.
Despite Ukraine’s attempts to dodge its obligations and thanks to Russia’s consistent work with all the interested parties, further escalation of the armed conflict was avoided and the ceasefire agreement was generally observed.
10. In light of the complex situation surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, Russia has played an important role in providing intermediary services to the parties to the conflict using all available tools in the process, including meetings at the high and the top levels. Corresponding initiatives were discussed in detail during the presidential visit to Yerevan in April and Baku in June, and were reviewed in detail during the official visit to Moscow of the Armenian foreign minister in April and the Azerbaijani foreign minister in May.
In their statement, the heads of the OSCE Minsk Group delegations, including Russia, the United States and France, sent an urgent message to the parties, at a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade in December, to reaffirm their commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to continue to work with an eye towards achieving a comprehensive settlement based on existing proposals.
11. Amid the continuing year-plus stagnation of the talks on the Transnistrian settlement in the wake of a deteriorated dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol primarily caused by an actual economic and transport blockade of the region by Moldova and Ukraine, Russia, as a guarantor and mediator, has maintained a constructive interaction with the 5+2 format participants to restore its dynamics. With Russia’s assistance, the OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade (December) adopted a declaration on the negotiating process as part of bringing about a solution to the Transnistrian conflict.
12. Work to improve the efficiency of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation continued.
Decisions were made to streamline the deployment and management of the collective forces. Joint exercises were held to improve military and peacekeeping cooperation, special operations and the fight against illegal migration and drug trafficking.
A central place on the organisation’s agenda was taken by the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, in particular, the need to fortify the Tajik-Afghan border.
During the CSTO summit in Dushanbe (September), the member states unanimously called for increasing the military component of the organisation to combat terrorism, which was confirmed in the joint statement, “Measures to eliminate international terrorism,” adopted by CSTO member states on the sidelines of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York (September).
An extraordinary session of the Collective Security Council in Moscow (December) focused on regional security and stability, after which a statement of the heads of member-states of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation on countering international terrorism – was adopted.
13. Russia's BRICS presidency (April 2015-February 2016) focused on strengthening the role of this organisation as an important component of the global governance system, and its transformation from a forum of dialogue and coordination on isolated issues into a mechanism of strategic cooperation on key issues of international politics and global economy in accordance with 21st-century requirements.
We have made specific proposals regarding various forms of cooperation of Big Five nations, which are working to improve the stability of international relations, the reliability of the global financial system, and to promote trade, economic and investment relations. Large-scale challenges regarding the further development of multifaceted cooperation have been outlined in the final BRICS Summit documents (July), including the Ufa declaration, Ufa action plan and economic partnership strategy.
14. The strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as an authoritative multilateral forum has become a priority in Russia's presidency in this organisation in 2014-2015.
According to the presidency plan, dozens of theme-based high-level meetings have been held. In the run-up to the Heads of State Council meeting in Ufa (July), the parties managed to come up with a large number of arrangements designed to consolidate the SCO, coordinate joint efforts on issues of global and regional security, implement promising economic projects and build up cultural and humanitarian contacts. Political decisions to expand the SCO were adopted at the summit, which provide for launching the procedure of admitting India and Pakistan to the organisation, and granting observer status to Belarus and dialogue partner status to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia and Nepal have become a chief result of the summit.
The proximity of approaches to key issues of our time was reflected in the final declaration of the summit and the package of adopted documents, including the SCO Development Strategy to 2025, 2016-2018 Programme of Cooperation of SCO Member States in Fighting Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, and the statement by the heads of member states on the threat of drug trafficking.
15. Amid the unfavourable global economic situation, we have continued our work at international economic venues.
As a member of the G20, Russia has consistently worked to enhance the role of this forum in improving the system of global economic governance. The G20 Summit in Antalya (November) reaffirmed the agreements reached at previous meetings, including in St Petersburg (September 2013), aimed at achieving sustained, balanced economic growth and continuing efforts to improve the global financial architecture and address other key international issues.
Significant progress has been made in implementing the G20’s 2010 resolution regarding the reform of the IMF quotas and governance, which paves the way for increasing Russia’s share of the IMF’s authorised capital to 2.7 percent and BRICS’ aggregate share to 14.7 percent.
The declaration of the Third Gas Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Tehran (November), which was attended by President Putin, contains provisions which are important for Russia regarding the sovereignty of states over their natural resources and the fundamental role of long-term contracts in making major gas projects attractive in financial and investment terms.
In collaboration with OPEC, a pragmatic approach has been developed to maintain oil production levels at the current level, which has helped stabilise the market within a new price range.
We have made active use of the legal tools of the World Trade Organisation to protect the interests of Russian participants in foreign economic activity and enhance Russia’s role in developing new international trade regulations.
16. The outgoing year has reaffirmed the important role played by the OSCE in European affairs in the context of resolving the Ukraine crisis and consolidating collective efforts in fighting terrorism and maintaining the political dialogue on European security architecture. Amid the ongoing freeze in relations between Russia and the EU as well as Russia and NATO, the OSCE’s role as a platform for political dialogue is growing.
At the same time, certain negative trends in the organisation’s activity have also grown, primarily those related to the non-consensus activity of OSCE executive agencies, especially the Office for Democratic Institution and Human Rights, the Office the High Commissioner on Ethnic Minorities and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Russia had to step up its counteraction against hostile rhetoric and the promotion of approaches at the OSCE that are in conflict with our interests.
Within the framework of the Helsinki +40 process, we have pursued a policy to maintain strategic dialogue within the OSCE on ways to overcome the European security crisis.
17. Relations with the EU have remained hostage to the EU’s politicised course towards a confrontation with Russia, which it pursued in the context of the Ukraine events. The majority of bilateral cooperation areas were frozen. The EU’s economic restrictions against Russia were extended (until June 2016), as were Russian retaliatory economic measures of a restrictive nature (until August 2016). The lists of Russian citizens subject to visa restrictions were enlarged, as were the lists of EU citizens in response to this.
Under these circumstances, Russia’s focus in Europe was on developing bilateral ties with countries holding more realistic, pragmatic positions regarding cooperation with our country.
Constructive dialogue with France continued to develop, in particular with five one-on-one meetings between the two heads of state both in the bilateral format and on the sidelines of various events, including the Normandy format.
Positive trends in relations with Italy were maintained with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s visit to Moscow (March) and President Putin’s meeting with Prime Minister Renzi and President Sergio Mattarella on the sidelines of the Expo 2015 in Milan (June). Dialogue between the two countries’ foreign service chiefs forged ahead.
Despite Washington’s and Brussels’ position, a number of other EU countries, including Austria, Hungary, Greece and Cyprus, have also sought to improve relations with Russia. The Greek and Cypriot leaders, Alexis Tsipras (April and June) and Nicos Anastasiades (February), visited Moscow. President Putin visited Hungary (February). Contacts between foreign ministers were maintained.
18. The NATO leadership’s course towards Russia’s “containment”, as evidenced by the buildup of the military presence in Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet Baltic countries and the intensification of military exercises near Russia's borders, necessitated measures to counter threats to Russia’s national security created by the North Atlantic alliance.
The remaining channels of political dialogue with NATO and bilateral contacts with the leaders of its key member countries were used to explain the negative implications and potential risks of changing the existing configuration of forces in Europe. Special emphasis was placed on the confrontational nature of the alliance’s decision to invite Montenegro to open NATO accession talks, which will lead to the further fragmentation of the European security space and the emergence of new dividing lines in the continent.
19. The outgoing year has witnesses the failure of the US attempts to “isolate” our country, as evidenced by the intensive bilateral dialogue at the top and high level. We have continued to interact with Washington on issues where such interaction responds to Russian interests and the goals of ensuring international security and stability, including in Syria and Ukraine. Russia and the US have made a major joint contribution to achieving a comprehensive agreement on the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue.
Washington’s unfriendly steps and attempts to exert pressure on Russia have been met with retaliation on our part. At the same time, during our bilateral dialogue, we have consistently brought the Americans’ attention to the need to comply with principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs and the complete abandonment of attempts at blackmail.
We have urged Washington to resolve the problems that it has created on the bilateral agenda. We have insisted that the “witch-hunt” of US law enforcement agencies for Russian citizens in third countries must be brought to an end. Special attention was given to protecting the rights of Russian children adopted by US families and abused by them.
20. We continued to step up our practical efforts to promote ties with the countries of the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) on a comprehensive basis, and consolidate Russia’s positions in different areas to intensify our domestic development, primarily in Siberia and the Far East.
We gave high priority to cooperation with ASEAN – the centre of integration in the APR. Our partnership gained new content, largely owing to the comprehensive work on preparations for a Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in 2016. Our total trade with the ASEAN countries reached a record $22.5 billion.
Russia’s approaches to regional integration received support at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum held in Manila in November.
Russia closely cooperated with all APR countries in resolving today’s key task of building a reliable regional order based on the principles of equal and indivisible security and mutual consideration of interests. Our initiatives received a positive response at the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum and Security Governance in Asia-Pacific (ARF), the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). Owing to our efforts, a statement on continuing a thematic multilateral dialogue was included into the final documents of the meeting of the EAS and ARF foreign ministers in Kuala Lumpur in August.
21. Russia’s relations with China played an increasing role in global politics. Our countries demonstrated a balanced and pragmatic approach to the resolution of the world’s most urgent problems with reliance on the principles of international law and justice. We also maintained productive cooperation in the UN, primarily its Security Council, BRICS, SCO, the G20 and other multilateral formats.
The official visit of Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, to Moscow in May to attend the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War was one of the main political events of the year. Following talks, the two countries made joint statements on deepening their comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation and connecting the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt. They also signed a sizable package of bilateral documents.
In September, President Vladimir Putin paid a working visit to Beijing to take part in the events devoted to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Russian and Chinese leaders met on the sidelines of the BRICS and SCO summits in Ufa in July, the G20 summit in Antalya in November and the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December. The prime ministers of the two countries reached large-scale agreements during their regular meeting in Beijing in December. The Russian and Chinese parliaments maintained systematic contacts. The two countries also promoted cultural exchanges.
22. Russia and India steadily expanded their privileged strategic partnership. The intensive dialogue between Moscow and New Delhi at all levels resulted in productive cooperation at key international forums. President Pranab Mukherjee’s participation in the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War clearly demonstrated the solidarity between our peoples.
We continued to pay priority attention to cooperation in high technology, innovations, the energy industry, aircraft and machine building, medicine and the military-technical sector. At the annual Russian-Indian summit in December, the two countries adopted a joint statement and signed documents on further development of cooperation.
23. Regular and meaningful political dialogue and close coordination of actions in the international arena were conducive to the development of our comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam. Bilateral cooperation involved a broad range of areas, such as oil and gas, the power sector, including nuclear energy, and the military and military-technical spheres.
24. Cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean nations continued to pick up momentum. President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba and Peru. For his part, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with the President of Colombia, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his counterparts and top leaders of numerous regional states. During these meetings, the sides reaffirmed their mutual striving to further multi-faceted bilateral cooperation including at international venues.   Ministries and departments continued to actively exchange delegations, and dynamic inter-parliamentary contacts were also maintained.
The sides signed joint statements on establishing relations of a comprehensive strategic partnership with Argentina (April) and the Russian-Peruvian strategic partnership (November). In March, Russia applied to join the Central American Integration System as an extra-regional observer. In September, the sides passed a joint statement on establishing a permanent mechanism of political dialogue and cooperation between Russia and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). They coordinated a draft memorandum for trade and economic cooperation issues between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the governments of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) member countries.
25. A multi-faceted partnership with states of Subsaharan Africa continued to expand. Political dialogue, including top level and high level dialogue, became more intensive. President Vladimir Putin and South African President Jacob Zuma reaffirmed their mutual striving to further bilateral strategic partnership (May, July).
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia made a substantial contribution to resolving conflicts and crises in Mali, Somalia, Sudan and the Central African Republic. It also provided targeted humanitarian relief aid to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cameroon.
26. Russian diplomacy aimed to streamline the global non-proliferation regime. Delegates of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in New York City (April-May) reaffirmed the fundamental significance of the treaty as a pillar of global strategic stability and international security. Russian proposals regarding the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East received all-out support and were included in the conference’s draft concluding document whose approval was, however, blocked by the US, UK and Canadian delegations.
An international operation to eliminate Syrian military and chemical potential was virtually completed by late 2015. All chemical weapons removed from the country under UN Security Resolution No. 2118 of September 27, 2013 were destroyed, and former chemical weapon production facilities were also eliminated.
 
27. We conducted system-wide work aimed at strengthening the partnership of cultures, religions and civilisations based on universal values that underlie human solidarity. We started from the inseparable interrelation between efforts to promote inter-civilisational and inter-religious dialogue and measures for the elimination of radical nationalism, religious extremism, and other forms of intolerance. To meet these challenges, we comprehensively made use of the potential of multilateral formats and international contacts. An important achievement here was the adoption of the Joint Statement of 65 states, Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East, initiated by  Russia, the Vatican and Lebanon at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (March).
28. Ways to strengthen Russia’s international humanitarian presence invariably remained the focus of Russian diplomacy. We expanded the chain of representative offices of Rossotrudnichestvo and Russian centres of science and culture abroad (RCSC), which serve as effective platforms for dialogue, sources of news opportunities and meeting places for our compatriots. An RCSC opened its doors in Bucharest, and a new centre was built in Kabul, with a representative office to be established in Moldova, RCSC branches in Ganja (Azerbaijan), Gyumri (Armenia), Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and Khujand (Tajikistan) in the long run. An agreement has been reached to establish a cultural centre in Singapore.
Other effective elements of Russia's soft power included the export of educational services, the organisation of cross-year projects and events dedicated to various memorable dates. In the year of the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, foreign branches and representative offices of Rossotrudnichestvo conducted large-scale social and political work, which elicited a broad international response that helped promote the truth about the events of those years.
29. Particular attention was paid to the support of Russian compatriots. The coordination of work in this area was undertaken by the Government Commission on Compatriots Living Abroad in accordance with the priorities set out in its programme for 2015-2017. We provided broad assistance to the Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad, an effective platform for defending their legitimate interests. By the Fifth World Congress of Compatriots in Moscow (November), the millions-strong Russian world was more united and better tuned for achieving its creative and constructive potential.

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