Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin Interview to the Newspaper Kommersant, Moscow, November 29, 2011


Question: What role does the Asian direction of Russian foreign policy play at present?

A. Borodavkin: First of all I’d like to note that the foreign policy of any state - Russia is no exception - is aimed at creating the favorable external conditions necessary to ensure reliable security of the country and its sustained socio-economic development. This underpins the formulation of both strategy and tactics in international affairs.

The Asian vector in recent years has objectively moved to the forefront of our diplomatic work. Broad connectivity to the affairs of the region is a conscious choice of Russia. Greater constructive involvement in the unfolding processes of politico-economic cooperation and integration here is our aim.

In Asia, our country is perceived as an important factor in military and political stability and sustainable development. We have been able to create a solid positive groundwork for our activity here. We have no major ideological differences and “pain points” in bilateral relations which could not be resolved through constructive dialogue. Leading states – China, India and Vietnam – are our strategic partners and are keen to continue close many-sided cooperation with Russia. Our ties with Japan, South Korea and the dialogue partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are developing dynamically and on a mutually beneficial basis.

We have much to offer partners to address the energy, transport, science and technology, environmental problems in the region, and they understand it well. Without Russia it is impossible to imagine endeavors for regional military-political stability, collective efforts to combat international terrorism, interaction in the field of emergency response, and inter-civilization dialogue.

We are in a strong position in the multilateral regional and trans-regional associations – the Brazil-Russia-India-China- South Africa forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, the Asia Cooperation Dialogue and the format of the Russia, India and China trio. Evidence that Russia and Asia are inseparable from each other is our joining last year in the activities of the East Asia Summit (EAS). All of this suggests that our country is in great demand in the context of cooperation in the Asian space.

Question: What are the main goals of Russian policy in the Asia-Pacific region (APR)?

A. Borodavkin: We have no hidden agenda in the APR, of which Russia is an integral part. We are sincerely interested in ensuring its stability, security and prosperity, expanding relationships with partners and being closely involved in regional integration processes. Both the political and economic components of our work in the region are equally important to us.

Let’s look at what the region is today. The APR region is on the strong rise. Even against the backdrop of the current turmoil, its leading countries demonstrate stable growth: China - 9%, India - 8% and ASEAN - 5-6%. The APR has become the engine of global development. The center of global growth and political influence has shifted here.

At the same time, however, we see that there still exist here serious contradictions, conflicts and territorial disputes. On this negative “baggage” of the past accrete numerous security challenges, including in areas such as disarmament and nonproliferation, the fight against terrorism and organized crime, and dealing with the effects of natural and manmade disasters. Economic and social risks grow, especially in view of the impending new round of global financial crisis.

With this in mind, we urge the APR states to join efforts in forming an inclusive architecture of regional security. It is no exaggeration to say that this is an indispensable condition for further stable development of the APR. It’s important that this architecture should be built on a non-bloc basis, underpinned by the rule of international law, recognition of the indivisibility of security and the inadmissibility of attempts to ensure one’s own security at the expense of the security of other states. It is this vision that we promote both through bilateral dialogues and multilateral organizations, such as the East Asia Summit.

We actively buttress our political efforts with the buildup of involvement in regional economic processes. For us this is no less important. They are customized, above all, to facilitate, to the utmost degree, solving the tasks in the modernization and innovative development of our country and in the social and economic growth of Siberia and the Russian Far East. We allot a leading role in this to participation in the work of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which Russia will chair in 2012. We will have to ensure continuity in addressing those tasks that were promoted by the United States and other countries that presided before us, as well as to fully implement our own priorities. Among them: liberalizing trade and investment activities further still and deepening economic integration in the region; cooperation for innovative growth; improvement of transport and logistics systems; and assuring food security.

We cannot ignore another important issue. Russia is a Eurasian state and our obvious purpose is to serve as a bridge or connecting link between Europe and Asia. Today, we are actively realizing this unique role of ours in the framework of the Asia-Europe Meeting, a dialogue forum which we joined in the past year.

All this does not mean that problems do not exist in the Asian direction of our foreign policy. They do; moreover, they affect the interests of not only Russia, but also of most members of the international community.

It is, for example, about the continuing instability in Afghanistan and the Afghan-Pakistani border region, and the integrated terrorist and drug threats emanating from there. Countering them is a priority of our bilateral cooperation with the IRA and other countries in the region, including within the framework of the CSTO and the SCO. But we can also expect greater efforts on this track from the military forces of NATO member states present in Afghanistan.

Together with our partners we have been able to prevent the escalation into armed conflict of the chronic political and military confrontation in Northeast Asia. However, unfortunately, the Russian diplomatic efforts for the resumption of six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem and the assurance of security in the region have so far failed to re-launch the process. We believe that the ball is in the court of Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul – we expect them to speed up agreeing on a formula to restart six-party talks.

We have been working persistently to defuse tensions related to Iran’s nuclear program (INP), and to help give it a completely transparent and IAEA verifiable character. However, the situation around the INP is becoming increasingly nervous. Of course, this doesn’t help the settlement of the problem, which must be achieved solely by peaceful political and diplomatic means.

This “list” of the Asian challenges and threats disturbing us is far from complete. But at least we can set down on the credit side of the ledger the fact that their negative impact is curbed, not least thanks to the foreign policy efforts of Russia.

Question:How does Russia see its future place in the Asia-Pacific region, under the current division of labor? Given that Siberia and the Russian Far East are rich in natural resources, but cannot boast of powerful scientific centers or manufacturing clusters, what can Russia offer the region in addition to raw materials?

A. Borodavkin:We attach paramount importance to economic cooperation, with emphasis on those areas where Russia has comparative advantages. As such “cross-cutting priorities” we see the energy, transport, civilian nuclear energy, space exploration.

Our trade and economic relations with the Asian states are growing; bilateral economic projects are being successfully implemented. Work is under way to form “modernization alliances” based on innovations in high added value sectors with China, India, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Australia. South Korea and China show great interest in the Skolkovo Innovation Center. We cooperate with China in nuclear energy, space, high technology, and with India in the same areas, as well as in the space sector and the pharmaceutical industry.

We intend to continue to cooperate with the APR countries in the energy sector, including conventional and unconventional energy sources development and the creation of infrastructure for oil refinement and liquefied gas production. We will promote our capacity in the field of the use of the global navigation and telecommunications system GLONASS. Certainly, the main guideline here is to raise in Russian exports the share of our competitive products and goods with high added value.

We are looking closely at the process of the formation of a system of agreements on free trade areas (FTAs) in the APR, particularly in the framework of the EAS-promoted Economic Partnership for East Asia and Trans-Pacific Partnership. We mean to be closely involved in the discussion of these issues after the completion of the process of our accession to the WTO expectedly in December this year.

In this case we are not sitting idly by. Negotiations are nearing completion of an FTA agreement with New Zealand, which will be signed on behalf of the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Customs Union. The elaboration of a similar document with Vietnam is under way, and in the near term, we are planning to set up the same kind of partnership with ASEAN.

Question:What is the main essence of the policy resulting from the meeting held under the leadership of President Dmitry Medvedev in Khabarovsk on July 2, 2010? How is the working being conducted to implement it?

A. Borodavkin: Let me remind you that the meeting was devoted to the socio-economic development of the Russian Far East and to the strengthening of Russia’s position in the APR. There was a necessary and very detailed conversation with an emphasis on what to do and how to build our business in the future.

The President set the priorities of Russian policy in the APR and ordered working out concrete measures to implement them. This action program was prepared and approved by the President. Its implementation bears a comprehensive and long-term character. It is about creating favorable conditions for solving the problems of shifting the Russian economy onto the path of innovative development; making efficient use of the region’s capacity for meeting the needs of the socio-economic uplift of our eastern territories; and strengthening the role and place of Russia in the regional architecture of security and cooperation.

Simultaneously, work is also being carried out in all those areas that we talked about above.

Question: For many observers the impression is that Russia is making a big bet on cooperation with China in the Far East. For example, only with China is a program signed for cooperation of border regions. Does this focusing on one partner not create risks for Russia?

A. Borodavkin:The proximity of fast-growing China provides undeniable advantages for carrying out the strategy to develop Russia’s eastern regions. Over thirty years of reform China has made a quantum leap in its socio-economic development. North-eastern China that borders our country is turning before our eyes into a modern industrial/agricultural and transport/logistics center of the entire Northeast Asia region, oriented, inter alia, to the production of high-tech products. This should be maximally used for the development of our Far East.

China is a capacious and fairly stable market for traditional export sectors of our eastern territories. It is oil, gas, coal, timber, mining products, and seafood. On the other hand, China has considerable financial resources that could be attracted in the shape of investments to the economy of Siberia and the Russian Far East.

It was to build cooperation in a more systematic and planned manner that the program mentioned in your question was developed.

However, the above does not mean that the East of Russia is farmed out to China. The absence of similar arrangements with other APR countries is an omission that we now seek to eliminate. The key to a successful solution to this problem is the growing attention of our partners to joint economic work in the Russian Far East and Eastern Siberia. In particular, South Korean companies confirm their intention to build up cooperation with us under the programs to modernize the Russian economy, develop innovative products and realize the projects for technoparks. The bilateral intergovernmental commission’s Far East and Siberia committee, and the mechanism of Russian-Korean business forums are actively engaged in dealing with the questions of interregional cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea.

We witness a growing interest for participation in energy projects in the Asian part of Russia from India and Japan.

It is important to conduct persistent work to also draw other APR partners – the US, ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand – into the implementation of cooperation projects in eastern Russia. The holding of the APEC summit in 2012 undoubtedly will also contribute to this.

Question:How is the implementation of the joint Russian-Chinese initiative to establish a comprehensive architecture of security and cooperation in the APR progressing? Is there a sense that it might suffer the fate of a Treaty on European Security?

A. Borodavkin: We are consistently working on the realization of the principles set forth in the joint initiative to establish a comprehensive Asia-Pacific architecture of security and cooperation. As you know it was proposed during the official visit of Dmitry Medvedev to China on September 26-28, 2010 by the leaders of Russia and China. Its meaning is as follows: In today’s interconnected and interdependent world, in the conditions of transfrontier challenges, it is impossible to ensure one’s own security at the expense of the security of other states. It is essential that all countries of the Asia-Pacific region should reaffirm their commitment to the principles of equal and indivisible security, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the non-use of threat or threat of force, and other basic norms of international law. On this basis, we could move on to practical measures to build mutual confidence and resolve regional problems.

We are convinced that this initiative may be a unifying idea for the Asia-Pacific region. It is no accident that is has already met with a positive response from many Pacific Rim countries. We, in coordination with the Chinese partners, are engaged in its promotion and explanation. The initiative has been circulated as an official document of the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, its provisions are voiced in the statements of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at various international fora, including at the recent 6th East Asia Summit. Its underlying principles for ensuring security in the APR are incorporated in the joint documents issued at the end of bilateral summits with leaders of a number of key states of the region. It’s safe to say – the initiative is working.

Question: How is cooperation with ASEAN developing? When can we expect the program of economic and trade cooperation to be signed?

A. Borodavkin:Strengthening the dialogue partnership with ASEAN, which this year celebrated its 15th anniversary, is one of the priorities of our policy in the APR, as identified by the President. A powerful impetus to its development came from the Russia-ASEAN summit held last year in Hanoi. We are now actively engaged in the realization of the agreements reached at the highest level, focusing on two main areas.

First, it is deepening foreign policy cooperation. We and ASEAN agreed approaches to the improvement of the security and cooperation architecture in the APR, by confirming them in the July Joint Statement of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. The partners support our thesis of the indivisibility of security, the inadmissibility of ensuring one’s own security at the expense of other states, and the necessity to abandon confrontation and attempts to build new dividing lines.

Another key task is to form significant practical “baggage” of cooperation, to move from one-off projects to long-term programs in the most promising areas such as energy, infrastructure development, prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, and countering new challenges and threats. We pay serious attention to augmenting the modernization and high-tech component of the dialogue partnership with ASEAN.

For this purpose, interested Russian agencies have developed close contacts with the relevant authorities of the Association. The Russia-ASEAN work plans for energy and to combat terrorism and transnational crime are being realized. We have transmitted to ASEAN for consideration, our specific proposals for the establishment of cooperation in the fields of peaceful nuclear energy, space, transport, education, nano-and biotechnology, food security and assistance in the development of the Mekong River Basin.

The work of the ASEAN Center, set up last year at MGIMO, is of great help in widening humanitarian and academic contacts with the Association. We are also making efforts to bring together and orient to the implementation of specific tasks, the business community on both sides. We use a variety of venues for this purpose, including the Baikal Economic Forum in Irkutsk.

The Road Map for commercial, economic and investment cooperation between Russia and ASEAN will help put the extensive work undertaken on a systematic and planned basis. The preparation of a draft of the document, worked out by a decision of the leaders to eliminate the existing obstacles to trade and investment, is almost completed. Now it remains to finalize only the details with the ASEAN partners for its official adoption. We expect that this will happen before the end of this year.