Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Argentine newspaper Clarin, May 18, 2018

Friday, 18 May 2018 19:06

Question: What will Russia propose and what statements will it make at the G20 foreign minister meeting on Monday, May 21? Are Russia’s priorities consonant with those that Argentina is promoting in the G20 this year? Will the Russian President visit Argentina in November?

Sergey Lavrov: We believe that open dialogue between the G20 foreign ministers is useful, and so we welcome Argentina’s initiative to continue work in this format.

We are pleased to note the growing international standing of the G20 – an important component of the polycentric architecture of the global order – which is resulting in more and more issues being discussed at this forum.

No doubt, the G20 should remain an effective mechanism for responding to financial and economic crises. The objective link between global politics and economics results in a growing number of topics to be discussed and shapes the long-term character of coordinated decisions. It is quite natural that the G20 is discussing in greater depth such issues as development assistance, climate change, combatting terrorism and corruption, migration and refugees, and international information security.

The German presidency managed to organise a full-format and, I believe, fairly productive discussion at the level of G20 foreign ministers last year. They discussed issues of peace and security in a constructive way. They compared positions on implementing the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development and cooperation with Africa. The discussion of issues at the junction of politics and the economy reaffirmed the growing role of the G20 as a major mechanism of global governance.

We also supported Argentina’s proposed agenda for the foreign minister meeting this year. We hope that its results – along with the work on the other 14 tracks – will make a major contribution to the preparations for the leaders’ summit. There seems to be growing demand to seek out points of commonality against the background of the devaluation of international law and the weakening of international institutions.

We are convinced that top priority should be given to the development of the entire human race rather than a select few. It is necessary to make global decisions based on the principle of multilateralism that takes into account the interests of all states without exception.

The principles promoted by the Argentinean presidency, including the social aspects of the global economic agenda and the importance of international consensus are consonant with our approach to cooperation within G20. We support Argentina’s priorities. We share the relevance of employment, new skills and education, a new topic on this year’s agenda in the context of the global development of the digital economy. This is also important in our country, and we are vigorously interacting with G20 partners in this field.

We also praise Argentina’s interest in infrastructure investment, which echoes the matter of funding investment – a priority of the Russian chairmanship in G20 in 2013 and our special attention to the development of infrastructure.

Argentina’s emphasis on food security also deserves support. This is one of the key aspects of the implementation of the whole range of Agenda 2030 tasks, including the eradication of poverty and improving health care. We will continue to participate constructively in discussing other things to do with this year’s forum programme.

We understand that G20 presidency implies a very difficult task to find a consensus in the current conditions. We believe that the team exercising the functions of presidency is working very professionally. We are committed to help our Argentinean friends at all levels so that the leaders at the upcoming summit could rely on a significant “harvest” from a year-long period of interaction between the world's largest economies.

President Mauricio Macri has indeed invited President Vladimir Putin to attend the G20 Summit and pay Argentina an official visit. We derive from the fact that the Russian-Argentinean summit should contribute to further expansion of the strategic partnership between our two countries.

Question: What do you think about the current stage in Russian-Argentinean relations?

Sergey Lavrov: Russian-Argentinean relations continue their upward trend. The most important part is that we carry on the policy of strengthening our comprehensive strategic partnership. This policy remains unaffected by time-serving considerations and is based on broad consensus both in Russia and in Argentina. We can say confidently that relations between our countries are a spectacular example of dynamic and mutually beneficial non-ideological cooperation.

We are satisfied with the high level of our political interaction both at the bilateral level and on multilateral platforms, including the UN, in the interests of maintaining international security and stability, including global economic stability, as well as achieving [sustainable] development goals.

We are particularly grateful to our Argentinean partners for our joint efforts against the glorification of Nazism. The programme of my visit includes the opening of the historical documentary exhibition The Holocaust: Destruction, Liberation and Salvation at the Congress of the Argentine Nation, which tells about the heroic Soviet servicemen who saved thousands of concentration camp inmates. It is gratifying that people in Argentina cherish the memory of this.

On the other hand, we must act more energetically to tap into the considerable potential of bilateral cooperation in important spheres, such as trade, investment, as well as research and technology. We must pay particular attention to these fields. We are glad that our Argentinean partners see eye to eye with us and agree on the need to build up joint efforts.

We have analysed the implementation of the agreements that were reached at the top-level talks in January 2018 and concluded that certain progress has been made in the fields of trade and investment. We continue working to remove red tape hindering our export and import transactions, and the concerned agencies are conducting a constructive dialogue on the settlement of any differences.

We greatly appreciate the presence of President of Argentina Mauricio Macri at the May 11 opening ceremony of the Mechita rolling stock workshops in the province of Buenos Aires, the construction of which was financed by Russia’s Transmashholding. I am confident that this project will not only create new jobs and attract investment but will also provide the basis for large-scale Russian-Argentinean cooperation in the railways sector.

Gazprombank is ready to invest in the construction of a logistics hub at the port of Ramallo and is now looking for partners in Argentina. There are also other interesting initiatives.

The focus is, logically, on high technology and innovation. We will apply the rich experience of our cooperation, which we have accumulated over the past years, to implement long-term projects in the sphere of hydroelectric and civilian nuclear power. We have created the groundwork for practical cooperation in space exploration, biotechnology, pharmaceutics and other spheres.

Cultural and humanitarian ties are a major part of our bilateral relations. Visa-free travel for mutual short-term visits by our citizens was approved in 2009. The number of Argentineans studying in Russia on state scholarships is increasing.

Argentina has the largest Russian diaspora in Latin America. It numbers 300,000 people. We are grateful to the Argentinean authorities for supporting our compatriots and their efforts to maintain their national identity, cultural traditions and language.

Question: Could you comment on the ongoing standoff between the West, led by the US, and Russia? In your opinion, has the Cold War resumed, and if so, what side is Latin America on?

Sergey Lavrov: These are challenging times for Russia’s relations with what is referred to as the West. As I have said on multiple occasions, the current state of affairs results from unilateral actions by a number of Western countries, and primarily the US, who is clearly losing its global dominance and seeks to reverse the emergence of a fair, polycentric system of international relations. In a number of cases their unilateral steps are outright destructive and create a dangerous imbalance in global governance. The people of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Ukraine have already felt the consequences of this policy.

It seems that some in the Western political elite do not like it when Russia conducts an independent foreign policy, while also succeeding on the domestic front and ensuring its sovereignty. This is why they want to punish us and restrain Russia’s development by imposing unilateral sanctions and creating a negative image of the Russian state in the media.

At the same time, I think that this could not be referred to as Cold War 2.0. During the original Cold War, two ideological systems and socioeconomic and government models opposed each other in an all-out military and political standoff. Today, the ideological struggle that used to divide the entire world into two camps has become a thing of the past.

That said, it is true that 30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall the remnants of the Cold War are preserved in the West. For example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is still there.

Relations with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) remain an important part  of Russian foreign policy. In our interactions with Latin Americans we are guided by an inclusive and ideology-free agenda. These relations are not aimed against anyone.

Let me remind you that Russia never forces its partners to choose whether they are with or against us. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about some Western countries, primarily the US.

Question: What do you think about accusations regarding Russia’s involvement in the poisoning of Sergey Skripal? How would you describe the conflict with Great Britain in this connection?

Sergey Lavrov: A lot has been said on this subject already. Russia’s position on this matter remains unchanged. We believe that the UK government acted in an unacceptable and unworthy manner when it sought to exploit the Salisbury provocation for its own shady political ends, while Russia has nothing to do with this incident.

Russia came forward right away with a proposal to investigate the incident together. We asked them to provide facts, and asked specific questions. All we got in return were obstructions and vile insinuations. Instead of engaging in dialogue and working together under international legal mechanisms, London opted for launching an anti-Russia campaign and to escalate tensions in the relations between our countries. The UK came up with a number of hostile and provocative initiatives, including the expulsion of Russian diplomats. Of course, Russia responded to these acts in an adequate manner.

I believe that actions of this kind, lacking any evidence and guided by the infamous “highly likely” approach do no credit to Great Britain and challenge international law.

The Salisbury incident took place more than two months ago, but there are still no signs that UK leadership is willing to settle the situation in a civilised manner. London prefers to turn a deaf ear to our calls to review its destructive policy and work together in an honest and open manner in order to understand what happened.

What worries Russia the most is the health and condition of our compatriots, and I am referring not only to Sergey, but also to his daughter, Yulia Skripal, who got mired in this provocation by the British. The UK’s refusal to grant consular access can be interpreted as their kidnapping or intentional isolation.

Let me reiterate that Russia is ready to engage in meaningful contacts, and we call on London to lend us its honest assistance under a criminal investigation into an attempted murder opened by Russia’s Investigative Committee on March 16. The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation has sent the corresponding legal assistance requests to Great Britain. Russia continues to insist that we need detailed information on the progress in the investigation, as well as clarifications on the veracity of multiple contradictory interpretations of what happened by the British media.

Unfortunately, so far the confrontational actions by the British government have had a negative effect in terms of interstate dialogue. The UK is solely responsible for the way this posture affects our bilateral relations.

Question: Has US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action increased the risk of military escalation and invasion of Iran?

Sergey Lavrov: We are disappointed by President Trump’s decision on the unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for the settlement of Iran’s nuclear programme and on the reintroduction of sanctions against Iran.

This decision has violated the JCPOA and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), which approved it. Washington has again acted contrary to the opinion of the majority of the world’s nations, exclusively in its own mercenary interests, and in flagrant violation of international law.

It is difficult to say now what will happen. We hope that the United States’ withdrawal from this agreement is not part of any plan to attack Tehran or attempt to change the government there. However, it is obvious that this decision will seriously damage global and regional security and stability.

This is why it is of fundamental importance that Iran has not opted to fuel tensions but has continued to comply with international obligations, as the IAEA has reaffirmed once again. The other signatories, including Russia, remain committed to this agreement.

This is why we are cautiously optimistic that the JCPOA can be saved. There is still a chance that the solution to this acute international problem, which was achieved through long years of difficult negotiations, will not be derailed.

We are open to interaction in the interests of preserving the JCPOA and are resolved to continue to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with Tehran.

QuestionWhat do you think about the nascent rapprochement between the two Korean states and Washington’s actions in this context? How can the denuclearisation process proceed?

Sergey Lavrov: We have always called on Seoul and Pyongyang to normalise their relations. We did this even when tensions on the Korean Peninsula were running high. We believe that the entire package of regional problems, including the nuclear matter, can only be settled through political and diplomatic efforts.

In this context, we are glad that negotiations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea have been developing consistently and successfully in the past few months. We welcome the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, which was signed at a meeting of the two Korean leaders and sets out the basic principles of the two states’ peaceful coexistence and their desire to promote their relations and work together to make the peninsula a nuclear-free region. For our part, we can offer assistance to the implementation of the inter-Korean agreements.

As for the US role in this settlement, we hope that it will remain constructive. Of crucial importance is the planned meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un, which is scheduled to take place in Singapore on June 12. If the two countries refrain from making unacceptable demands and indicate their readiness for dialogue based on mutual respect, the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula will have a good chance.

The practical aspects of this process should be coordinated at multilateral consultations on peace and stability in Northeast Asia. It is obvious that this nuclear problem cannot be addressed outside the context of the other regional security challenges or to the detriment of any one side. This is evident from past experience and the long history of mistakes. Moreover, in light of the current problems with the JCPOA, we must create an unprecedented mechanism of mutual guarantees, which can only be done through the joint efforts of all countries in the region.

Question: How long does Russia intend to stay in Syria?

Sergey Lavrov: Let me begin by reminding you that the Russian military have been operating in Syria since autumn 2015 at the request of the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic, which asked Russia for assistance in combatting terrorism, promoting stability in the country and laying the groundwork for a political settlement of the grave crisis that has been going on for so long.

We have successfully delivered on a number of objectives and goals. Russia made a decisive contribution to defeating ISIS, the military and political hotbed of terrorism. After that, in December 2017, Russia withdrew a significant part of its military forces from Syria.

However, Russia’s mission in Syria is not over. Specifically, the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides remains fully operational. Military aid battalions remain on duty, and so do two stationing sites, the Khmeimim airbase and the Russian Navy base in Tartus. In this connection, it would be logical for Russia to remain present in Syria as long as the legitimate government and the friendly Syrian people need it.

Question: MERCOSUR and the EAEU are currently drafting a cooperation agreement that is promoted by Russia. What are the prospects for inter-regional cooperation?

Sergey Lavrov: The EAEU is active in its relations with third countries and integration bodies. These cooperation formats include, among other things, dialogue partnerships, non-preferential agreements and free-trade agreements.

Establishing ties with Latin American countries is an important element of our efforts to reach out to various regions. Between 2011 and 2017, EAEU’s trade with its Latin American partners (MERCOSUR, the Pacific Alliance, Ecuador, Nicaragua) accounted for about 2.3 percent of the union’s total trade with third countries.

MERCOSUR is viewed as a priority partner in the region. We support creating a dialogue partnership between the five Eurasian countries and MERCOSUR by signing a memorandum of cooperation that would cover areas like trade and investment, energy, research and technology, finance, transport, communications, agriculture, tourism and ICT. This would enable our countries to explore opportunities and potential benefits of expanding trade and economic cooperation.

We believe that the memorandum is nearly ready and it is likely to be signed in the foreseeable future.

Question: The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia is less than a month away. Is everything ready? Do you expect high-ranking guests? Do you fear a boycott, possibly from South American countries?

Sergey Lavrov: All the important preparations have been completed, as President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of the Supervisory Board of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Local Organising Committee in early May.

The Local Organising Committee and all other agencies involved, including the authorities of the regions that will host the matches, continue making efforts to ensure the highest standards at this high-profile international event. I am confident that the tournament will become a real sports festival, and, apart from first-class football, our guests will truly enjoy themselves, experience the high quality of service and traditional Russian hospitality.

We expect that the World Cup will be attended by a large number of high-ranking guests from various countries, including presidents, premiers, vice-premiers, and ministers. They are expected here for the opening and final matches in Moscow, and they are also likely to visit some of their national teams’ games in other Russian cities.

We are consistent in our position that sports should remain separate from politics. We view any boycotts of international competitions as short-sighted moves that are in conflict with the spirit and values of the international sporting movement and the fair play principle. They are not in accord with high performance sports. As experience has shown, countries that impose boycotts eventually suffer more from them than those they boycott. And anyway, athletes and fans are hit the hardest by this practice.

But it would be ridiculous to expect any boycott by South American countries. Russia's relations with the CELAC states have always been based on respect and partnership, and free from ideological constraints. We maintain intensive contacts with the national football organisations of the region. We greatly value the South American school of football, which has fostered a constellation of world-class stars. We expect a large number of South American fans to attend the matches. We will be sincerely glad to see them, as well as other foreign guests.

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