Interview by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office and Other International Organisations in Geneva Alexey Borodavkin given to the Izvestia newspaper, November 20, 2017

Wednesday, 29 November 2017 15:47

Question: Russophobia is running high in the United States and in many Western countries. Do you feel this negativity from diplomats in Geneva?

Alexey Borodavkin: Diplomacy is an instrument for implementing foreign policy. If foreign policy is Russophobic, then diplomacy is Russophobic as well. Unfortunately, Russophobia turns out to be a contagious disease. It has been picked up by many Western governments and diplomatic services. But it came as a surprise for our ill-wishers who spread this infection that Asia, Africa and Latin America have strong immunity to it. We have many friends in the UN and we feel comfortable here. This is evidenced by the fact that Russian representatives are regularly elected to the governing bodies of important international forums in Geneva. In the outgoing year alone, Russia successfully chaired the World Health Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament.
Some of the foreign diplomats are intelligent people who are forced to act on Russophobic instructions from their governments, but they do it without much zeal, and once out of the room, they make helpless gestures and apologize. There are others, for whom Russophobia is a principled professional attitude. They have no problem with falsification and conscious lies. It is useless to try and dissuade them. As they say, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth.
But no matter how hard the Russophobes huff and puff, our country’s strategic significance makes it unavoidable to talk and interact with us, even for those unwilling to do so.

Question: As you know, Western media have been pushing a lot of fake news lately. This propaganda hysteria affects international organisations that issue biased reports, as happened with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. How do you manage to uphold Russia’s interests amid this unprecedented media pressure? Are you being pressured, personally?

Alexey Borodavkin: Diplomats at all times have to work in conditions of intense competition and rivalry. This is especially true of the UN and multilateral diplomacy in general. And, as you have correctly pointed out, in recent years there has been an unfavourable trend – essentially, certain countries try to substitute the UN’s positive agenda with confrontational fakes, unscrupulous propagandistic tricks and set-ups.
This trend is “toxic,” as they say now, and undermines the UN. We do our best to neutralise it. Without false modesty, Russian diplomats are better trained than our Western opponents, and so we manage not only to block the destruction of the UN, but also to actively promote our initiatives in all major areas of its activities – international peace and security, arms control, socio-economic development and human rights.
Well, as for attempts to exert pressure, first, one needs to grow a “teflon coating”, to remain calm, and second, a diplomat should have a quick tongue and be able to firmly fend off an arrogant opponent to make sure the message has been received. But confrontation is not our choice. Russian diplomacy is not aimed at sparking disputes and conflicts, but at resolving them by peaceful means.

Question: What’s you take on the current results of the intra-Syrian dialogue in Geneva and its prospects? Why is it that the Astana process boasts significant progress, while the Geneva talks are essentially stalled?

Alexey Borodavkin: The primary reason for the Geneva talks failing to pave the way for a settlement in Syria over the past five years is that the participating radical Syrian opposition groups from among the emigrant community, who have long since lost touch with reality, are not interested in reaching a compromise with the Syrian government. The only thing these extremists can do is put forward meaningless ultimatums, primarily calling for Bashar al-Assad’s immediate resignation.
It’s a shame that certain Western and regional powers continue to encourage these radicals. Even worse, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the armed jihadists are still receiving supplies from abroad. The US-led Western military coalition has not abandoned its double-dealing practices in its relations with terrorists in Syria, which is evidenced by the facts of cooperation between the US military and ISIS published by the Russian Defence Ministry several days ago.
However, our partners from among the “friends of Syria” are gradually sobering up and reconsidering their unrealistic approaches, which is primarily due to the fact that the Syrian armed forces, with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, have actually defeated ISIS in Syria, having won major victories in Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Abu-Kamal.
With regard to the Astana process, its main political achievement is that Damascus and the armed opposition, which controls certain areas in Syria, have agreed that peace is a prerequisite for an effective political process. Hence, the cessation of hostilities, the formation of de-escalation zones, the efforts to agree on an exchange of prisoners of war and detainees, and an increase in humanitarian aid to the needy population of Syria, as well as humanitarian demining efforts.
By the way, unlike the West, which pretends to be overcome by grief in connection with the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, Russia is making real efforts to alleviate the plight of ordinary Syrians. I’m talking about bilateral programmes for delivering aid to those in need, which are carried out by the Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in Khmeimim, and assistance provided to UN humanitarian agencies as they try to implement their projects.
Overall, some of the key positions that the opposition should stick to during the talks are taking shape, which include supporting the cessation of hostilities and the de-escalation zones, commitment to fighting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, rejecting the demand for the immediate resignation of Bashar al-Assad and willingness to negotiate with the Syrian government on elements of political reform in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Recently, Russia, in conjunction with Syria, advanced an initiative to convene the National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. The Syrian government and the widely represented opposition will finally be able to discuss directly the future of their country. First, the issue is about updating the Syrian Constitution. We expect that the Congress will be able to bring concrete positive results. However, it is important to emphasise that convening the National Dialogue Congress does not contradict UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on the Syrian settlement process and is not a “competitor” to the Geneva process. On the contrary, we hope that, like Astana, Sochi will help lift the Geneva talks off the ground.

Question: What steps will Russia take to overcome the many years of stagnation at the Conference on Disarmament?

Alexey Borodavkin: In the spring, Russia presented its draft programme for the Conference activities based on the initiative to develop a convention on combating acts of chemical and biological terrorism originally outlined by Sergey Lavrov in March 2016. Just a few delegations were not ready to take part in a substantive discussion, whereas the majority supported our proposal. The chances of it being adopted, which will open the door to talks, are still there.
Preventing an arms race in outer space remains Russia’s priority. The Russian-Chinese draft treaty on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space, widely supported by the Conference, seeks to provide this solution. The United States and its allies in military blocs oppose it. They adopted a convenient position of eternal critics of the treaty on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space, while offering nothing in return. They also refuse to follow our example and to declare their commitment to not be the first to deploy weapons in outer space, although more than a dozen countries have already joined this initiative.
Nonetheless, we keep trying to involve the Americans in the dialogue on military and space issues. A new step is to establish a group of UN experts to help professionals discuss the existing differences and see what can be done together and how, without politics getting involved.
What about the United States? Probably, you will not be surprised to hear that Washington is against it. In general, the United States shows persistent reluctance to bind itself with obligations or other measures that can limit its freedom of action. Recently, US Air Force senior officials spoke in favour of increasing the budget due to the fact that outer space, in their words, is turning into a theatre of military operations. As they say, it speaks for itself.
Nevertheless, we hope that American experts will take part in the group’s activities. Ultimately, keeping outer space free from weapons meets the interests of both Russia and the United States.

Question: Baltic countries and Ukraine have a large number of our compatriots and their rights are being infringed in a significant way. Is the issue of discrimination against the Russian-speaking population on the UN agenda? Does Russia raise this issue at the UN platform?

Alexey Borodavkin: Definitely. This is a priority issue for us on the UN human rights track. We raise it on a constant basis together with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, the organisation's humanitarian units, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. At Russia's initiative, the UN Human Rights Council regularly adopts a resolution on human rights and arbitrary deprivation of citizenship. Also, we make corresponding recommendations to our Baltic and Ukrainian colleagues as part of the comprehensive periodical review of their human rights “achievements.” The review on Ukraine was held just a few days ago, and a wide range of our demands for Kiev were related to this very issue.
Overall, the policies of Ukraine and the Baltic countries towards Russian-speaking citizens constitute a flagrant violation of their obligations under international agreements on human rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Obvious examples of this include forced and discriminatory limitation of the educational, cultural and media space and the activities of language inspectorates, restricting, in fact denying, the civil rights of “non-citizens” in Estonia and Latvia, widespread instilment of anti-Russian and Russophobic ideology, and regular acts of falsification of historical events. This clearly has to be condemned, and we openly declare this at the UN Human Rights Council and relevant Geneva forums.
As a result, these countries are facing increasing pressure from the international community. Even their allies cannot ignore the oppression of minorities and have to give “advice” to Kiev to conscientiously fulfil its international legal obligations and follow recommendations of international human rights bodies.

Question: December 19 marks one year since the tragic death of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara. Since then, security measures for diplomats have been tightened everywhere. Has this in any way affected the work process? What is the contribution of the host country to providing security for diplomatic missions and its staff members?

Alexey Borodavkin: We, Russian diplomats, honour the memory of our colleague, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Andrey Karlov. We do not forget that his killer was a terrorist who shot our friend in the back like a coward. Russian diplomacy, at all levels and in all possible formats, wages an uncompromising fight against international terrorism, and pursues joint efforts of the international community to mercilessly root out terrorism, this plague of the 21st century. This also fully applies to the work of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office and other international organisations in Geneva.
Of course, Geneva now is not as peaceful as it used to be several decades ago. The terrorist threat level here has increased, just like in neighbouring France and Germany. But of course, it would be an exaggeration to compare Geneva with places where other Russian diplomatic institutions are located in close proximity to hot spots of international terrorism. Yet, in the past two years we have bolstered security at our permanent mission. Even with the stringent financial discipline and spending cuts, we devote considerable resources to security efforts. We must give credit to Geneva and Swiss Confederation officials: they have strengthened security at our permanent mission and promptly provide police to protect Russian delegations and mission staff members.

Question: Recently, Russian diplomatic properties were seized in the United States, setting a dangerous precedent in the world. Is our mission in Geneva sufficiently protected from such hostile infringements?

Alexey Borodavkin: As is known, Geneva is a major centre of multilateral diplomacy, with a huge number of various international organisations. In fact, all UN member states have permanent missions here. Geneva values its status and takes efforts to provide comfortable conditions for diplomatic missions and international organisations. Moreover, Geneva is one of the most ardent supporters of the strict observance of generally recognised rules and principles of international law. So we dismiss the possibility of anything even remotely similar to the illegal arbitrary actions of US authorities with respect to Russian diplomatic institutions in the United States.
However, our permanent mission, of course, has all necessary plans in case of emergency situations.

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