Question: Sergey Viktorovich, what do you think was the most important thing at the session of the UN General Assembly and in your meetings with your foreign counterparts on its sidelines?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: There were a lot of meetings – more than sixty: it was bilateral contacts and multilateral forums, including the G8, G20, the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators, special meetings on Afghanistan, terrorism, nuclear safety and security, and much more. But, of course, the keynote theme was events in the Middle East and North Africa, and the problem of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Q: It is clear that on each of these issues there are different points of view. But what was common in the evaluations?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: The meaning of all utterances was that these problems will remain with us for a very long time. If we talk about the so-called Arab Spring – in Egypt, Tunisia and now sweeping Libya, seriously affecting the situation in Yemen, as well as being used to describe what is happening in Syria – then, of course, we are dealing with a clash, I would say, of conceptual approaches.
Q: What do you mean?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: There is a group of countries, especially Western countries, and some Arab regimes that believe the so-called “concept of the responsibility to protect” must be universally applied in all cases when peoples begin to show displeasure and when against the various protest manifestations the authorities use force to restore order. We unequivocally oppose any violence against the civilian population, and stand for the observance of international standards in the field of human rights, and respect for democratic principles of government. But we, first of all, believe that freedom is not without limitations and these limitations are clearly stated in all international legal instruments relating to the protection of human rights and freedoms. Otherwise, there will be no freedom but anarchy. And, secondly, we utterly believe that there must be no double standards here. The chief objective of the international community in the event of such situations is to get the authorities and opposition to sit down at the negotiating table while, naturally, not allowing any kind of violence from both the authorities and the opposition, which takes place in a number of instances. And our main task (and this is a common denominator for the second, larger group of states) is to ensure respect for international law. And international law prescribes that all disputes be resolved by peaceful means. Besides, it clearly and expressly limits the use of force to just two cases. The first is the exercise of the right to defend oneself when attacked. And the second is when the UN Security Council takes the relevant decision. Now around these conceptual things there swirled a lot of talk both at the multilateral forums, including the UNGA general debate and, of course, during the bilateral meetings.
Q: Was the looming economic crisis discussed at the General Assembly?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Yes, there was a very useful discussion on how to ensure the positive development of the world situation, especially when the consequences of the global economic crisis still linger on, and many do believe that a second wave is not far off, and may be not just one. In this situation, we strongly advocated that all the G20 decisions on reform of the world monetary and financial system be carried through. Of course, it concerns a reform of the IMF because in the recent period – before the signs of a fresh crisis began to worry everybody – there had been a certain feeling of complacency among some of our Western partners: once we’ve coped with the first wave of the crisis, there’s no need to rush into global financial system reform. Such an approach would be a grave mistake – the reform should actually reflect the new quality of a number of major players in the world arena, of emerging economies, new economic growth centers and new financial centers. Their voice in the IMF, and the World Bank should be more substantial.
Question: In your opinion, the UN’s role in such an uncertain world diminishes or increases?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think there is an increasingly firm understanding that the United Nations is the load bearing pillar of a modern system of international relations. The UN has a unique legitimacy and universal powers which let it develop mechanisms to provide an adequate response to emerging threats and challenges. And the key is the rule of law, which must be professed, not only within each state, as our Western powers have been exhorting us to do all along and with which we absolutely agree – but also in the international arena. But here, unfortunately, our Western partners do not always agree with us.
Q: You said at the General Assembly that perhaps for the first time the session was opening at a period of such large-scale turbulence. In your opinion, how unique and strong is this turbulence in comparison with previous crises?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: The development is proceeding along a spiral path, in cycles, and in many ways, of course, the cyclicity in the world economy affects what is happening. But on the other hand, the traditional cycles are supplemented by new factors that make the situation more acute. First of all, they are globalization, interdependence and the disappearance of borders, when the exchanges do not stop working around the clock, if you take their totality, when a huge number of derivatives and speculative instruments have appeared and when far from all participants of the international financial and other markets pursue the aim of fair entrepreneurship. And, of course, economic disturbances get superimposed on political problems, especially in the Middle East but not only there. We are alarmed by the statements of NATO leaders that the “Libyan model” will be taken as a model for the future. This is bad – bad that the colleagues think so. Because the “Libyan model” was a flagrant violation of the Security Council decisions, and therefore – a violation of international law: when the adopted UNSC resolutions (both the first, consensus one, supported by all members of the Security Council, which imposed an arms embargo, and the second, providing for a no-fly zone, on which we together with our BRICS partners and Germany abstained) were grossly violated by the North Atlantic Alliance during their implementation.
Question: Russia has taken a very tough position on this issue. Do you think that because of this, our interests in the new Libya will not be affected?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: When we expressed our evaluations, we never questioned and are not questioning the right of the Libyan people for a better future. From the beginning we kept in touch with the National Transitional Council, at the early stages of the crisis at that. And we’ve heard assurances that Libya wants to stay a friendly country to Russia. This fully coincides with our interests. And we have heard, including public statements by the new Libyan authorities, that all their international obligations will be fulfilled. Now, of course, it is too early to talk about this in practical terms because their next task is to stabilize the situation and end the fighting. But when the Libyan people have determined their future, I am convinced that with the new authorities we will, from an applied point of view, be discussing the ways of our interaction.
Q: Still, some experts described the stance Russia took on Libya – and now also on Syria – as insufficiently pragmatic. Criticizing the West, so the argument ran, we thus indirectly support the outgoing dictatorial regimes. This means that with the regimes going to replace them, we would find it much harder to negotiate. What would you say to that?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Of course, we have supporters of Realpolitik and I respect their position. Incidentally, we have proclaimed pragmatism as a principle of Russian foreign policy and we certainly follow this principle in our practical affairs. But we also follow the principle of the inadmissibility of double standards. If those who have decided that there is no place for dictatorships on this planet, and want their position to be perceived correctly, they ought to be consistent. But in fact, in other cases they take diametrically opposed positions. The events in Yemen are a case in point. There all external actors behave differently than in the situation with Syria. No one is dragging this issue to the UNSC, realizing how it could further heat up the situation, and all parties favor a dialogue between government and opposition, although there is almost daily fighting there, and vast numbers of people are getting killed. We want the same understanding from our partners on the situation in Syria too. But so far, this is not happening: in Syria they are trying to persuade the opposition not to have any dialogue with the authorities, it is a one-sided game. They are telling us: we understand Syria’s difference from Libya, because Syria has a much greater regional projection beyond its borders, and the destabilization of Syria would destabilize neighboring countries. The already complicated Kurdish question would be further aggravated, as would the Sunni-Shiite confrontation. And therefore, as our Western partners say, they absolutely do not intend to act in Syria they way they did in Libya. But at the same time they exhort us to adopt a resolution condemning Bashar al-Assad. In contrast, our proposal is for a balanced resolution which would condemn violence on both sides. At the same time it’s necessary to demand that Bashar al-Assad continue the reforms he has already begun, and in addition, to encourage Syria’s opposition to sit down at the negotiating table and agree on everything. Together with our Chinese partners we are prepared to offer such a resolution.
Q: Does this mean that Russia and China have learned some lessons from the fate of resolution 1973 on Libya, which actually opened the way for the Western coalition to overthrow Gaddafi? Then Russia and China, as is known, abstained...
Foreign Minister Lavrov: The resolution our Western partners propose for adoption, is flawed with respect to a number of provisions. It absolutely does not suit us. In addition, as I said, it would, instead of an arms embargo, invite all states to “exercise vigilance” regarding all deliveries of weapons to Syria. Knowing the ability of our partners, we can be confident that in the event of the adoption of such a resolution, they will ensure the transformation of this “vigilance” into real embargo. We remember how the embargo was being implemented against Libya. The abilities of our partners, despite the embargo, to arm one of the sides in conflict are also well known to us. Finally, this resolution contains an ultimatum, and again – only to the government of al-Assad: If after a month we are not satisfied with the way you behave, we are going to apply sanctions. So that the entire resolution is designed solely to ensure that, if passed, it would be rejected by its target. We do not like it. We do not want to create the conditions for the supposedly imminent outside interference. By the way, the other day there was a meeting of the Syrian opposition in Istanbul, following which its leaders said they were against military intervention from outside, unless they themselves asked for such intervention. This is a fairly radical change in approach: previously they had said that outside intervention in Syrian affairs was completely out of the question. Troubling, too, is the fact that when discussing this resolution, we suggested a provision ruling out outside military intervention under any circumstances, the cosponsors of the resolution – Western countries – flatly rejected it. So, in our opinion, the statements of the West that Syria is “quite another thing” and that the “Libyan scenario” is not applicable to it, are now seriously devalued.
Q: Another very important topic is the negotiations on missile defense. They have been ongoing for a long time, and the feeling is that there has been no progress in this area. How do you assess the situation?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: The talks are always better than none. You’re right, though – there’s no progress. The only plus that I’d mention is the fact that during the bilateral contacts with the American colleagues and multilateral contacts between Russia and NATO we have become even more deeply entrenched in the correctness of our approach: in that a somewhat different configuration of the missile defense system in Europe is needed than the one that the United States is talking about and has been endorsed by the North Atlantic Alliance. After all, the approach proposed by the Americans presupposes, at the third and fourth stages of missile defense deployment, the stationing in Europe of missile defense elements which will be able to create risks for intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine launched ballistic missiles; moreover, for missiles with such characteristics that neither Iran nor anyone else has, but only Russia does. We are being told the system is not directed against us but, on the other hand, they are refusing to make a formal commitment by treaty. We, however, need at least legally binding guarantees that the system is not aimed at us. Now they do not want to give us such guarantees. But without this, we will have to seek other options for ensuring our own safety.
Q: In other words, an alternative to these arrangements is an arms race?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think the answers can be found that will not provoke an arms race. Although some Western partners tell us exactly: Why are you threatening that you will take some measures to offset these risks? Why will you be drawing the world into a new arms race? It's a sly approach, because an arms race is being suggested by this very American missile defense project. But we will not respond to this suggestion: our development plans envision the possibilities to secure our territory and our positions in the realm of strategic stability without facing substantial costs.
Q: You’re talking about some alternatives to the US missile defense, but recently, our finance minister has resigned, saying that we’re spending too much on weapons. Western partners can doubt that we have the means with which to countervail them...
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think the President has already answered the remark of Alexey Kudrin that we spend a lot on weapons. He has clearly affirmed that we are not going to change our plans for military building, because these plans must compensate for the serious lag that has been observed in previous years.
Q: So Americans shouldn’t expect that by deploying missile defenses in Europe, they can bankrupt us just as they managed to actually drive the USSR into bankruptcy, which could not afford to keep up with the United States in the arms race by the early 80s of the last century?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I’ve already said that we have provided for projects that will allow us not to worry about our safety in any scenario. They already exist.
Q: Recently, Russia, pursuant to the UN resolutions on sanctions against Iran, tore up the contract to supply Tehran with S-300 antiaircraft missiles. Now Iran is threatening to file for international arbitration and sue for penalties against us. Are there any legal grounds for such a claim?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: According to our assessment, Tehran has no such grounds. The advance has been returned to them, and we believe that this issue should be closed and not be discussed anymore.
Q: The news from Moscow about the upcoming castling in the Russian power tandem caught you at the General Assembly in New York. What was the reaction of your colleagues to the news?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: This did not become a major theme during my bilateral and multilateral meetings. And, I think, for one simple reason: few people doubted that Russian foreign policy would be consistent – and in this case all probably understood that continuity was assured.
October 10, 2011