Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Interview to Interfax News Agency, December 26, 2011

Q: Was the outgoing year a success for Russian diplomacy? What foreign policy events seem to you most significant?

A: The end of the year will obviously go down in history as a period marked by dramatic events and high turbulence in international relations. The pace of changes occurring in the world noticeably increased. A deep transformation of the geopolitical landscape occurred before our eyes. At the same time quite a few aspects in international development are a source of serious concern. In particular, it is the accumulation of crisis elements in the world economy, and the threat of a protracted global depression.

It is undoubted that in modern conditions, the status of Russia - as well as any state - in the international arena depends on how consistently and effectively the comprehensive modernization is being carried out, designed ensure transition to a modern model of dynamic national development. So in 2011, as before, the priority of our foreign policy was to create the most favorable external conditions for overall internal development, to achieve concrete results understandable to citizens. To this end, we sought to strengthen Russia’s prestige in the world, further increasing the weight of our country as one of the main centers of power and influence of the emerging new polycentric world order.

The most important achievement of Russia’s foreign policy, secured together with our closest partners, was the advance of the integration processes in the CIS space. Held in Moscow in December, the sessions of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council and the Interstate Council of EurAsEC, and the CSTO and CIS summits, summed up the results of the intense work in this sector.

The realization of the decisions adopted in the format of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in the context of making the transition on January 1 to the Single Economic Space, which will ensure the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor, and of advancement towards the creation by 2015 of the Eurasian Economic Union, will determine the future of our countries for the foreseeable future. For the first time a supranational body will be created – the Eurasian Economic Commission, to which the three states have delegated a part of their sovereignty, and its scope of authority will be gradually expanded. Furthermore, the decision-making mechanism rules out the dominance of any individual state. The structures being set up by the trio are open for accession by new participants and must provide a bridge in the development of broad fruitful cooperation between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

A solid foundation for further improvement of cooperation in the CIS is laid by the signing of a free trade zone agreement by the Commonwealth member states. We regard strengthening the integration structures with our participation as a contribution to ensuring the sustainability of the emerging international system.

We continued to work actively deepening allied relations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is a key tool in ensuring stability in its area of responsibility and to streamline the crisis response mechanism at its disposal.

New opportunities are opening before us, but they come along with new challenges common to all. This objectively pushed leading states toward work within a positive, unifying agenda. An example of such a line gaining ground is the activity of the Group of Twenty. The growing BRICS economies are on the rise – they together account for about half of global economic growth already. The outcomes of the BRICS leaders’ meeting and subsequent G20 summit in Cannes have confirmed that the association is becoming an increasingly influential force in the financial and economic sphere, and that the approaches of BRICS on topical international issues, including the need to ensure the rule of international law, set benchmarks for activity in the international arena for an increasing number of countries. We hope that the forthcoming BRICS summit in New Delhi next year will strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation among the forum participants and will contribute to the further consolidation of their position in the world economy and politics.

In the center of a kaleidoscope of international events were the upheavals that swept through North Africa and the Middle East. We pursued a line on the cessation of violence and the observance of human rights, on helping the parties in conflict to tackle problems peacefully, through a national dialogue involving all political, religious and ethnic groups. We are ready to continue to develop partnerships with the states of the region on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, with full respect for their traditions, history and culture. At the same time we are against the use of the slogan of protection of civilians to support one of the sides in a civil war, against the use of “the Libyan precedent,” which consists in flagrant violation of the relevant UNSC resolutions, for the settlement of other conflicts.

The current state of affairs in Syria is particularly worrying. In the context of the search for a political and diplomatic solution, we support the Arab League initiative aimed at helping resolve the internal crisis in the country. We hail the signing of the protocol for the LAS Observer Mission to monitor the situation in Syria, which makes it possible, by using a mechanism of independent control on the ground, to ensure the protection of all Syrian citizens and stabilize the situation. This is the exact purpose of the draft resolution we have sent and distributed to the UN Security Council. Its aim is to help end violence, from whatever quarter, and forge a broad national dialogue.

Nor did we forget in the outgoing year about the need to resolve the old conflicts in the region, above all the Palestinian problem, which could be a major contribution to regional stability.

A few days ago saw an event of political importance, for which we had been waiting long 18 years – the WTO approved Russian accession. After ratifying the accession agreement, our country will become a full-fledged member of the Organization. This opens a qualitatively new stage of Russia’s integration into the world economic system. For our part, we are ready to help facilitate international economic stability, finding effective solutions to crisis phenomena and strengthening multilateral international institutions.

One of the key directions of our foreign policy was to strengthen cooperation with the US. In the outgoing year we managed to accomplish a lot – the New START treaty and the Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation entered into force; the Bilateral Presidential Commission worked actively; and cooperation expanded on the international agenda, including the question of Russia’s accession to the WTO. At the same time in our dialogue there are a number of sensitive themes on which the two countries do not see eye to eye. Crucial to our relationship with the US will be Washington’s ability to hear our legitimate concerns about the plans for a global missile defense system, which in its present form carries risks for the security of Russia.

Despite the existing differences, we developed cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance. The focus of our dialogue was creating a Euro-Atlantic architecture of equal and indivisible security. By solving this problem on the basis of mutual consideration of interests, we will reach a qualitatively new level of partnership.

We watched closely the processes taking place in the EU. We presume that the successful resolution of the difficult financial and economic situation in the eurozone would contribute to the overall stabilization of the global economy and would open new opportunities for deepening our strategic partnership with the EU. The outcomes of the recent summit in Brussels have confirmed the serious potential for expanding many-sided interaction between Russia and the EU. Joint work was stepped up with the EU on facilitation of the visa regime, which aims to accelerate the conclusion of an agreement for its abolition. The launch of the first line of the Nord Stream gas pipeline demonstrated our willingness to strengthen the energy security of Europe, and opened a new chapter in energy cooperation between Russia and the EU.

Significant progress was achieved in developing cooperation in the Arctic. May saw the signing in Nuuk, Greenland, of the agreement on cooperation in marine and air search and rescue (the first legally binding document in the region’s history), along with the decisions to strengthen the Arctic Council. The Russian-Norwegian treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean took effect in July.

In 2011 Russia’s position continued to grow stronger in the Asia-Pacific region. We paid special attention to the development of partnerships with China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, the ASEAN countries and other Asian-Pacific states, to the formation with them of technological and investment alliances and to participation in the multilateral regional associations.

Of course, this is a far from complete list of what we succeeded in accomplishing. In general, we worked proactively, promoting the interests of Russia in various areas of our multi-vector foreign policy. Even though we have something to write on the credit side of the ledger, we are well aware that the world still faces many problems. Archaic perceptions from a bygone era about the struggle for spheres of influence, about reliance upon the power factor in politics and about the imposition of one’s own standards on others still hold sway. We continue to strongly resist such tendencies.

Q: What foreign policy challenges will Russian diplomacy encounter in 2012? Many experts predict a worsening of relations with the US because of differences over missile defense and a possible change of administration after the presidential elections in the country. To what extent do you think this scenario is realistic?

A: Today, the diplomatic service faces complex and responsible tasks. The results of the elections to the State Duma have confirmed the commitment of the citizens of Russia to the policy for stable and dynamic development of our state. This creates the necessary prerequisites for Russia’s further advance along the democratic road, for continued work on development priorities and for the creation of conditions for a reliable foreign policy to secure our national interests.

As President Dmitry Medvedev emphasized in his address to the Federal Assembly on December 22, our country is keen to find mutually acceptable solutions on all key issues on the international agenda. I can predict with a considerable amount of certainty that missile defense problems will remain one of its key points in 2012, particularly in Euro-Atlantic affairs. Obviously, the situation in this sphere will continue to significantly influence the domestic political landscape in the United States. At the same time, in our view, the success or otherwise of the ongoing dialogue with Washington on missile defense should not be linked to the outcome of the upcoming elections in the country – the American position is determined by a broad spectrum of factors not limited to the views and attitudes of parties or individual politicians.

Russia seeks to ensure that our concerns about US plans to deploy missile defense components in Europe are taken into account properly. Otherwise we will have to respond in the way President Medvedev stated on November 23 – regardless of who will be in charge in the White House.

Lack of progress on this issue does not add optimism. Still, the dialogue on missile defense between our two countries continues. Our goal is still to find a positive solution that takes into account the security interests of Russia. We hope that in Washington, too, common sense will ultimately prevail.

In any case, US presidential elections will be held in November, so that the incumbent US president will remain next year’s partner for the Russian leadership. Presidents Medvedev and Obama have repeatedly and publicly confirmed the interest in maintaining the positive momentum and constructive direction of bilateral dialogue. Big work lies ahead – to establish closer cooperation on the innovation track and create an enabling environment for humanitarian, educational, scientific and cultural exchanges. Russia’s WTO accession opens up many new possibilities for the intensification of business contacts and for a qualitative change in the whole range of our economic ties, of course, subject to cancellation by the US Congress of the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment, of which the hostage, in fact, is American business.

For our part, we will continue to help improve the atmosphere of cooperation between the two countries, strengthen mutual trust and understanding, and are well predisposed for honest dialogue on all, even the most complex topics.

Facilitating the prevention and settlement of conflicts and crises is traditionally among the priorities of our foreign policy work. The focus of our attention will be the situations in the Korean Peninsula, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We intend to continue to exert active efforts toward the political settlement of the conflicts in the CIS space, primarily the Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistrian.

The situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear program remains a serious problem. Unfortunately, a quick solution is not in sight here. Iran continues to ignore the demands of the resolutions of the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors, and Western states are increasingly on a path of confrontation with Tehran, imposing new sanctions that go far beyond the framework of solving the non-proliferation tasks. In addition, threats to use force against Iran are increasingly heard of late. Under these conditions, we will continue to pursue an active policy aimed at involving Iran in a politico-diplomatic settlement of the situation surrounding its nuclear program. We see no alternative to this; we stand for a comprehensive and lasting solution to the problem via dialogue on the basis of reciprocity and a step by step approach.

We will continue to devote heightened attention to strengthening the position of Russia and to reinforcing stability in different parts of the world, including in the Asia-Pacific region. We intend to actively use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Russia’s participation in East Asia Summits to advance towards the construction in the region of a transparent, open, comprehensive and balanced architecture of security and cooperation. The holding of an APEC summit in Vladivostok in September 2012 is designed to help expand mutually beneficial economic ties between our country and the regional partners.

An important resource of our work is making effective use of the whole set of elements of “soft power” in foreign policy. We believe that greater cooperation with civil society institutions, the expert community, business circles and the media will contribute to strengthening the consensual nature of Russian foreign policy and raising its effectiveness. Toward this end, we intend to actively use the potential of the Russian Council on International Affairs and Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, which were newly established this year, and the opportunities provided by the launch of the International Cooperation Agency and the Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Abroad.