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Sergey Lavrov

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Chairman of Board of Trustees of RIAC

Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told Kommersant correspondent Yelena Chernenko why the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was expelled from Russia recently, what the fate of the "reset" will be, and the dangers with which the West's support for the "forces of change" in the Middle East is fraught.

[Chernenko] Your address at the recent UN General Assembly session repeated several times the thesis of the impermissibility of interference in states' internal affairs. Were you speaking only of events in the Middle East? Or is this important for Russia itself too?

[Lavrov] Absolutely. I shall not even try to be particularly original, because it is not my invention: The principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states is enshrined in the UN Charter. It is needed not to ensure that Russia feels better or worse in some way. The world order rests on it. This is a very important provision, the fundamental principle of international law. If we allow this principle to be violated or if we treat lightly the violation of this principle with respect to any country incapable of defending itself, there will be a chain reaction. The world will simply be plunged into chaos. We can already observe this tendency in the Middle East.
[Chernenko] The thesis of intervention in foreign affairs was also heard when it was announced that USAID was ending its activity in Russia. What precisely angered or perturbed Moscow in the agency's work? Why in fact was USAID expelled?

[Lavrov] Nothing is angering us and nothing is perturbing us. Any state has the sovereign right to decide with whom to cooperate and in what forms. We had an agreement dating back to 1992 on whose basis USAID's activity in the Russian Federation was set up. You can imagine what kind of a period it was - 1992. The country was in pieces, and at the time people probably did not pay very great attention to the documents signed with foreign partners. The agreement which became the basis for USAID's activity was absolutely discriminatory with regard to Russia. It gave our American partners rights which in a different situation a normal state would scarcely grant. Without any responsive moves in our direction.
A year ago we denounced this agreement. The American side took this normally. After the denunciation, the legal basis for the agency's activity on Russian Federation territory disappeared. The reasons why we asked for this activity to be ended on the practical plane were published in a recent Foreign Ministry statement. There is no legal basis or need for us to receive grants, since the country itself has now become a donor. And the Russian state itself allocates substantial funds for the activity of noncommercial organizations - an instruction from President Putin recently tripled these funds.
And apart from anything else, there were dubious projects which the agency was implementing - without agreement with the Russian side - which had an obvious political colouration.

[Chernenko] Which, for instance?

[Lavrov] In particular the projects in the North Caucasus, where the agency was not very discriminating in its choice of partners. Very dubious people there were the recipients of grants. We told the Americans this repeatedly.
I want to say one simple thing: There are no obstacles to the noble goals pursued by USAID's activity in Russia continuing to be implemented. Whether this is aid for the handicapped and children, education projects, or other social projects. The US Government can calmly redirect all this money through different channels. The Agency is part of the State Department. And there are no obstacles to the same sums being directed through other channels to organizations in accordance with the new law on noncommercial organizations. Those engaged in social programmes and issues of health care, support for the handicapped, and similar things do not even need to register as "foreign agents." This is all enshrined in the recent law.

So I do not think there are objective reasons for such a jittery interpretation of this situation. I saw no jitteriness in Hillary Clinton either in June, when I first warned her of this, or in Vladivostok, when we met 8 September and when I mentioned this once again so that they could prepare in advance for the closure of the agency's activity in Russia as of 1 October.

It is also worth noting that the agreement we have denounced granted agency employees the right to work as diplomats at the US Embassy in the Russian Federation. And there are several dozen of them there, as far as I understand it. We are not asking them to leave. They can remain, but let them perform the functions stipulated by the diplomatic status they have. Our cultural centres abroad do not have the same immunity and privileges. In rare instances the leader of a cultural centre alone has a diplomatic passport if the host country agrees to this. All the others work without diplomatic status.

As a whole I want to say that we simply want to bring the legal basis of our cooperation and mutual relations with other states in all spheres - economic, political, cultural, humanitarian, and in the sphere of contacts through civil society channels - into line with the principles of equal rights and mutual respect.

[Chernenko] And does the same fate not threaten the European foundations operating in Russia? German foundations, for instance.

[Lavrov] No. These foundations operate on the basis of inter-government agreements which have been checked and are mutually acceptable, based on the principles of reciprocity and equal rights. I see no reason to try to extrapolate this situation to other cultural centres and countries. The Americans have nothing like the Goethe Institute, the Cervantes Institute, the British Council, or the Alliance Francaise. As I have already said, USAID is part of the State Department. The institutions I have listed, however, although they are state-funded, are autonomous structures.

[Chernenko] There is an opinion that now that the Russian Federation has decided to end USAID's activity on its territory, the United States will certainly adopt the Magnitskiy law, which introduces visa and economic sanctions against a number of Russian officials. And that those who suffer from this law will be those who wanted at the price of this law to secure the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment that is discriminatory with regard to the Russian Federation.

[Lavrov] That is an absolutely incorrect opinion. The Magnitskiy law will be adopted in any case. And this is in no way the no price for the repeal of Jackson-Vanik. The Republicans, and indeed many Democrats in Congress, have stated publicly that the Magnitskiy law is necessary of itself. And many supporters of this law say that Russia does not deserve the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment.
We can talk a lot on this subject, but the Jackson-Vanik amendment was introduced in connection with restrictions on citizens of Jewish ethnicity leaving the Soviet Union. Those problems have not existed for a long time now. Natan Sharansky, when he learned that the Jackson-Vanik amendment was still being retained under the conditions of the new Russia, had something witty to say: That he did not go to prison for the sake of "Bush chicken legs." The point is that the operation of the Jackson-Vanik amendment has been extended on various pretexts. One such pretext was that at a particular stage Russia halted the import of American chicken legs, popularly known as "Bush chicken legs."

As for statements that the good American legislators wanted, at the price of the adoption of the Magnitskiy law, to ensure the guaranteed repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, that comes from the realm of a sick imagination. Jackson-Vanik is now a problem for the United States itself. If they do not repeal that amendment, the United States will not enjoy the advantages which it could enjoy within the framework of Russia's entry to the WTO.

To say that the events around USAID have driven the last nail into the situation and that the Magnitskiy law will now be adopted for sure means to have absolutely no information about what is really happening on the Capitol Hill. This law is already in fact becoming a symbol for those who essentially want to spoil Russian-American relations. And they will not renounce it. We warned that the adoption of the Magnitskiy law would seriously damage our relations, and the Administration (of the US President - Kommersant) understands that, but they say they will be obliged to support this bill and that Barack Obama will sign it.

[Chernenko] The Americans say that, without outside pressure, the Russian authorities will not see through the investigation into the Sergey Magnitskiy case and will not punish the culprits.

[Lavrov] Russia is interested as no other state is in the speediest clarification of the circumstances of the Sergey Magnitskiy case. The death of any Russian in detention is a tragedy in need of painstaking investigation. Which is what is being done. There are precise instructions on this score from the Russian Federation president to the General Prosecutor's Office and the MVD [Internal affairs Ministry]. The criminal investigation is continuing. Let me remind you that the Russian branch of the Hermitage International fund, where Sergey Magnitskiy had worked since 1995, was suspected of tax evasion in 2007. He was a key protagonist in this case, holding the post of leader of the taxation and auditing department at the company. Nor has the investigation been completed into another case aimed at establishing the circumstances of Sergey Magnitskiy's death and officials' degree of responsibility. Violations of the conditions for Sergey Magnitskiy's detention in custody, expressed in the failure to render him proper medical aid, reflected the overall poor state of the medical services at Moscow's detention centres. In this connection the country's leadership, in collaboration with human rights organizations, promptly took steps to improve the situation.

The playing with facts, their deliberate distortion, and statements and actions verging on interference in our country's internal affairs have nothing in common with the declared "concern for human rights" and the "building of a rule-of-law state." Attempts to bring pressure to bear on the Russian Federation's investigating and judicial bodies are also unacceptable to us.

[Chernenko] And how might Russia react to the adoption of the Magnitskiy law in the United States?

[Lavrov] Unfortunately, Sergey Magnitskiy's tragic death is being purposefully used by some political forces in Western countries which still think in terms of ideological confrontation to artificially fuel anti-Russian hysteria. And this when in the United States itself there is the world's largest "prison population" - over 2 million people are behind bars there - and people die in US prisons every day. And at the American base in Guantanamo hundreds of prisoners have already been in detention for 10 years without any trial in an absolute legal vacuum, including Russian Federation citizen Ravil Mingazov. Our repeated appeals to Washington on this matter are producing no result.

The behaviour of the authors of the Magnitskiy law in US Congress accords precisely with the Gospels saying about the moat in your brother's eye and the beam in your own. This is like the sanctions blackmail tactic they propose - instead of expanding contacts between Russians and Americans to the maximum, right up to the complete repeal of the visa regime between our countries, which is what Russia advocates, they are demanding the expansion of blacklists and the introduction of entry bans. Someone obviously wants to spoil relations with Russia and to revive the phobias of Cold War times. That is not our choice. We are op en to the deepening of trade and investment ties and partnership with the United States in other spheres.

But if anyone in America has illusions that they can develop cooperation and at the same time surround us with a new sanctions barrier, it is better to part with them beforehand. Attempts to mix trade and politics and to put pressure on Russia will seriously worsen the atmosphere both for bilateral political dialogue and in the field of economic collaboration.

[Chernenko] Considering the differences between Russia and the United States on a whole range of important issues - missile defence, human rights, and international topics - can it be said that the "reset" has failed?

[Lavrov] When a few years ago US President Barack Obama and his team voiced the readiness to engage in earnest in the renewal of bilateral relations and the settlement of the problems that had accumulated, we received this signal positively. And we made clear from the outset that the tasks facing our countries could be effectively resolved only on the basis of the principles of mutual respect, a real consideration for each other's interests, and noninterference in internal affairs.
The direction of collaboration initiated at the time has given a good account of itself. We have succeeded in expanding the scope of bilateral dialogue and achieving substantial practical results. Here are a few key milestones: the conclusion of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, Russia's accession to the WTO, the recent entry into force of the Russian-American agreement on simplifying the visa regime.

Of course, there are also quite a few problems. Thus, unfortunately, the American decisions on missile defence are made without a consideration for our interests. The main thing for us is that the missile defence facilities the United States is creating should not disrupt the balance of forces which has formed over decades and should not undermine Russian nuclear deterrent forces. Clear guarantees are needed, backed up by a reliable verification mechanism. So far Washington is not prepared to provide them.

If we are speaking of the "reset," then considering the term's computer provenance, it immediately becomes clear it cannot last forever. Otherwise it is not a "rest," but a glitch in the programme. We should not become fixated on the name of a particular stage. It is better to think about how to develop relations. Or, to use the language of computer specialists once again, to update the software.

That is precisely what we are doing. We and the United States have a full agenda. For the long term we plan to pay special attention to imparting a qualitatively new dynamic to trade and investment cooperation. The deeper our economic ties become, the stronger the "safety net" will be protecting Russian-American relations against the vicissitudes of the political situation.

It is obvious that some important matters will have to be deferred until the end of the US election marathon. But our American partners are practical people. Pre-election rhetoric across the ocean will soon come to nothing and will give way to painstaking daily work. We are ready for it.

[Chernenko] In his address to the UN General Assembly, US President Barack Obama made clear that despite the growth of anti-Western sentiments and the strengthening of the role of radical Islamists in the Middle East, the United States nonetheless "will support the forces of change." What is your attitude towards this?

[Lavrov] I would not like to comment on this, but we are already feeling the "beneficial" influence of the forces of change. At the General Assembly I met with the Libyan acting foreign minister and again raised the question of our citizens who, we are convinced, were unjustifiably sentenced to long prison terms there. And my counterpart replied: You must understand that we have no state, and we are trying to help you, but we lack levers of influence over the most diverse structures.

In other words, we have still not sorted out the consequences of the Libyan operation. And these consequences are expressed not only in the fact that there is no centralized state in Libya and that there is still a lot to do there to subordinate all clan leaders to the central power. The consequences are also felt in what is now happening in Mali, where two thirds of the country is under the control of the people who were fighting in Libya and who clearly have nothing to do except fight. If they sincerely wanted their country to find peace, well, then, they have carried out their revolution, whatever your attitude towards it, and it is time to calm down. No, those people are engaged in something completely different. Right now they are in Mali. Who knows where they will turn up later? President Vladimir Putin recently described this as a situation of mounting chaos in the region. That is a very apt definition.

It seems to me that our Western colleagues, including the United States, are somewhat bewildered. They have sown the wind and they are reaping the whirlwind. We are doing everything to stop that whirlwind. For that what we need to do is not to egg on the opposition - for instance, not to encourage them in Syria to continue the armed struggle to a victorious end - until they get the head of Bashar Al-Asad - but to make everyone sit down and start peace negotiations.

[Chernenko] How will the situation in Syria develop?

[Lavrov] It is all very simple here. There are two scenarios. If assurances that the number one priority right now is to save people's lives are sincere, then we must do what was agreed on in Geneva (in late June - Kommersant). That is, make everyone stop shooting and sit down at the negotiating table. But if in actual fact the number one priority is to overthrow the regime and Bashar Al-Asad, then we will not be able to help in any way. The UN Security Council by definition does not do that. And then this is incitement to continue a fratricidal war, and we will simply have to understand that the cost of this obsession with the geopolitical task of replacing the regime in Syria will be hundreds and thousands of lives of the Syrians themselves.

The choice is very simple but, of course, terrible. In my talks with my counterparts, I could sense that they understand the lack of alternatives to these two scenarios, but so far they are not ready to grab their own geopolitical song by the throat. That is sad.

[Chernenko] You have frequently talked of the distortion of Russian reality in the West. President Putin recently instructed the Foreign Ministry to work on improving the Russian Federation's image abroad. Why is Russia's image predominantly negative in the majority of Western countries? And can the Foreign Ministry improve it - given the way the West perceives events like the Pussy Riot case, for instance?

[Lavrov] In the world today the image of any country is formed from a whole range of components which, taken together, it is customary to define as soft power. This concept includes a state's cultural and scientific presence in the world, participation in aid programmes, successes in sport, the development of a civil society, the level of the presence of its national media in the international information space, the prevalence of its national language, achievements in education and health care, and much, much else.

In terms of a whole series of the components of soft power, Russia does not look bad at all. Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry is paying great attention to work to strengthen them.

But a country's image in the world information space has one more important dimension: The degree of honesty and objectivity with which a state's positions, achievements, and failures in domestic and foreign policy are assessed from outside. Unfortunately, Russia quite often comes up against gross distortions of the truth or outright lies by a number of wor ld media. For instance, you only have to recall how events connected to Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia in August 2008 were covered.

The propaganda campaign hyped in the West over the Pussy Riot case is along the same lines. The haste and lack of objectivity of the majority of commentaries from the EU countries and the United States force us to conclude that their authors did not take the slightest trouble to study the circumstances of the case, the course of the court session, or the norms of Russian legislation.

[Chernenko] People in the West have concluded that this was a politically motivated trial.

[Lavrov] At no stage of the judicial investigation did the investigation level charges of a political nature against the Pussy Riot members. They were tried for acts of hooliganism in Russia's most important Orthodox church. The fact that the so-called punk prayer in the Church of Christ the Saviour not only comes under a number of articles of the Russian Federation Criminal Code but also generated an overtly negative response in Russian society to all appearances in no way embarrassed those who came up with statements about "the infringement of freedom of speech" in Russia and "the restriction of human rights." Attempts to link the court verdict to some "general pressure by the regime on the opposition" ignore present-day Russian realities which are, on the contrary, characterized by the liberalization of political life.

[Chernenko] Returning to the Middle East: How powerfully have the Syrian events affected the Russian Federation's relations with those Arab countries which most resolutely oppose Bashar Al-Asad? Primarily Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

[Lavrov] Of course, the acute domestic political crisis in Syria, which has been continuing for 18 months now, has made certain amendments to our collaboration with a number of Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, revealing certain differences in approach between us. At the same time I would not absolutize these differences in our views.

On the contrary, all recent events graphically demonstrate that the Arabs themselves, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are interested in the exchange of opinions with us on Syrian problems and the joint elaboration of ways of resolving them. This is also emphasized during our regular contacts with them in both a bilateral and a region-wide format.

In particular, in July I had a very substantive and productive telephone conversation with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faysal, who confirmed Riyadh's inclination to further strengthen and develop relations on various planes with the Russian Federation. By the end of this year it is planned to organize a second round of the strategic dialogue between Russia and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Persian Gulf [GCC] in the Saudi capital. On 27 September I had a meeting in New York with ministers of the GCC countries at which we discussed preparation for this event. Naturally, we pay great attention to Syrian topics. And I venture to assert that our position is meeting with increasing understanding, and all my Arab counterparts stress the importance of preserving Russia's active presence in the region.

No one wants the continuation of armed confrontation in Syria, and helping the speediest end of the bloodshed and fratricide in that country is our common task. For that we must compel everyone fighting there to stop and to sit down at the negotiating table.

In addition, it is essential to consider the fact that the situation around Syria, although it is a priority today, is far from the only point on the agenda of Russian-Arab political dialogue. There are also other important issues on which our positions are traditionally close. There is a Middle East settlement, primarily the solution of the Palestinian problem, and the safeguarding of security in the Persian Gulf zone, the creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, inter-civilization collaboration, and the countering of terrorism. Finally, we should not discount the fundamental area that is trade and economic cooperation.

[Chernenko] The APEC summit was held in the Russian Federation recently. But why is Russia not being very active in building the infrastructure for the export of raw material to Asia - far less active than, for instance, Australia and Central Asia. What is this linked to? Is Russia afraid of finding itself in the role of raw-material appendage? On the other hand, restrictions are being introduced on Asian investments in the Russian Federation's infrastructure and agriculture. Does the Russian Federation have a long-term strategy for developing Siberia using the resources of its neighbours?

[Lavrov] Today our hydrocarbon exports go almost exclusively Westward - the European Union accounts for about 85 per cent of Russian oil and gas exports. The European salient, although it is traditional for us, has a number of specific features - the consumption of energy barriers is rising only slowly there, competition is tougher, while prices can sometimes be comparable with East Asia. There are regulation problems too. We are concerned primarily by the deteriorating investment climate in the EU, the so-called EU Third Energy Package.

In that context the Asia-Pacific Region salient appears extremely promising in energy terms. The demand for hydrocarbon resources in this region is growing considerably faster than in Europe. I shall cite just one example - the demand for gas in Asia, according to the International Energy Agency, will treble by 2035, exceeding 1 trillion cubic meters a year. In developing this salient, we are resolving two tasks in one - on the one hand, we are striving to secure the role of a reliable supplier of energy resources there, on the other we are seeking to stimulate economic growth in the East Siberia and Far Eastern regions and to create an infrastructure linking the east and west of Russia.

Russia has every chance of becoming one of the most important suppliers of energy resources to the Asia-Pacific Region. But in developing the European and Asian energy vectors, Russia does not intend to set them against each other. We are not setting playing on differences in the prices situation as our main task. Our main aim is to ensure the integration of these markets and their stability and predictability. That is what will enable us to create conditions for the sustainable socioeconomic development of our country's Siberian and Far Eastern regions and to improve the living standard of the citizens living there.

In that sense the results of Russia's chairmanship at the APEC forum in 2012 are indicative. It was one link in the strategy for the development of the Siberian and Far Eastern regions. We were aiming primarily at our country's organic insertion into the integration processes in the Asia-Pacific Region in the interests of promoting national socioeconomic development, primarily that of Siberia and the Far East. In Vladivostok - that Russian window on the East - quite a good infrastructure has been created which can and must be used to consolidate contacts with the Asia-Pacific Region countries. But, of course, that is only the beginning.

We shall continue to work on the development of the results of Russian chairmanship in APEC. Our proposals have been approved for the use of the Russian Federation's transit potential to diversify regional transport corridors, to create "smart" chains of delivery using modern satellite and computer systems, including GLONASS, and to introduce multimode terminal complexes. The final documents of the APEC summit in Vladivostok also reflected approaches according with Russian interests providing for the build-up of cooperation with a view to increasing the share of natural gas in the regional energy balance as the most environmentally clean mined type of hydrocarbon fuel and to developing the corresponding infrastructure. Clearly some projects, including those for the development of alternative trade routes (the Trans-Siberian railroad, the Arctic Sea route), are geared to the long term and require substantial preparatory efforts, but our partners' interest in taking part in their implementation has been stated - and at this stage that is the main thing.

[Chernenko] Active work is currently under way on the blueprint for Russian Federation's Foreign Policy Concept in its new draft. How will it differ from the previous Concept?

[Lavrov] In accordance with President Vladimir Putin's 7 May 2012 edict "On Measures To Implement the Russian Federation's Foreign Policy Course," the Russian Federation Foreign Ministry must prepare a new draft of Russia's Foreign Policy Concept by December 2012. The setting of this task is more than natural when you consider the rapid changes taking place in the world. Profound transformations to the international landscape and tectonic changes in the redistribution of power and influence at global level can be noted. In the four years since the approval of the current draft of the Concept, many events have taken place: the crisis in the world economy, the upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa, the development of regional integration, including, of particular importance to us, in the CIS space.

In accordance with established practice in our country, the updating of the Foreign Policy Concept is linked to the start of a new presidential term - accordingly we are now talking about specifying foreign policy priorities for the forthcoming six-year period.

But I should like to stress that it is a case of a new draft, not a radical revision of this key document in the sphere of Russia's foreign policy. The continuity of the country's foreign policy philosophy, founded on basic principles such as pragmatism, openness, a multi-vector approach, and the consistent but nonconfrontational defence of national interests, is preserved in full.

Of course, in the new draft of the Concept we will reflect the more active involvement in diplomatic work of the full range of available foreign policy instruments including, alongside traditional methods, methods like the more vigorous promotion of the economic interests of the state and business, the use of soft power mechanisms, effective information support for foreign policy, and a number of other important aspects.

One distinguishing feature of work on the document is the involvement in it of the community of experts and civil society institutions. This reflects the overall trend towards expanding their participation in the process of the elaboration and implementation of foreign policy decisions.

Work on the new draft of the Concept is focused on filling it with verified and precise ideas about the practical actions needed under the conditions of the underlying processes taking place in international relations, to provide appropriate backup for Russian priorities in a changing world.

Source - Kommersant.

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