Sergei Lavrov: "We are trying de-ideologize our politics"

In a candid interview, head of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov addresses the issues of gas, relations with Russia's near neighbours, and why he believes that the current US administration is in urgent need of achievements on the world stage.

Question: There are serious contradictions between Russia and the United States over the Americans' intentions to deploy GMD in Eastern Europe. Does probability exist that the position of Washington will be readjusted with the coming of a new administration to the White House?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I would not like to somehow comment upon the pre-election campaign in the US. But I have been closely following what the candidates are saying. There are no strong differences of opinion between them on this question. I think that John McCain would retain the present course. The Democrats - I am not sure. I don't want to speculate on that score. I am convinced of only one thing: the current administration wants to do everything to ensure that their successors inherit an irreversible process.

The Democrats might have a slightly different position on strategic offensive arms, though. Right now the Americans are refusing to conclude an effective agreement to limit strategic offensive arms in exchange for the Start 1 Treaty, which expires in December 2009. They are saying: that was the Cold War era, this treaty took 12 years to prepare and we need a "treaty of the 21st century." And suggest only extending the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed in Moscow in 2007, by supplementing it with transparency measures and making it legally binding.

But this treaty limits only operational nuclear warheads; that is carrier-mounted warheads on operational duty. It leaves outside the framework the warheads in storehouses and does not concern any carriers altogether. And when we are told: but you signed the Moscow Treaty, didn't you, we answer: yes, but we, however, took that step when Start 1 was in force, which limits both the carriers and the total number of warheads. In this situation, limiting also the operational warheads would be a step forward. But when the logic of the Moscow Treaty is applied to periods in which there will be no limitations on all the rest, reducing the whole matter to the warheads on real carriers on operational duty only would be an enormous step back.

In addition, such a theme has appeared since the signing of Start 1 as non-nuclear warheads atop ballistic missiles. This is a new American development. We immediately sounded the alarm: well, it would be impossible to distinguish on radars what you launched - a non-nuclear warhead which must destroy Bin Laden spotted by you, or a nuclear bomb. This is a version when there will be only a few minutes for a decision. We are being told: we will be exchanging telemetry. But that's not serious. Because if this happens to be read by a tracking system as a nuclear attack, more than one score of missiles will fly automatically. Their response: well, do you think we will attack you? How can you take that seriously? At issue are not intentions, but the real emerging potentials. So these talks will be continued. We do hope that the regime of real reductions of strategic offensive arms will be retained after all.

Question: One has the feeling that the US partners are leaning on us with respect to many issues: MD and Kosovo and our direct interests in the CIS and relations with our closest neighbors. How long are we going to retreat? On one hand, we are strengthening our positions, and on the other - we are retreating all the time.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We are endeavoring to de-ideologize our actions. Let me recall the principles endorsed by Vladimir Putin in the very first year of his presidency in the Foreign Policy Concept: pragmatism; reliance upon national interests; upholding them firmly, but without confrontation; and the readiness to cooperate with all who are ready for this on an equal basis. And of course, when speaking about how the Americans' foreign policy affects our interests, it has to be acknowledged that the United States is a power with truly global interests. The Americans are seeking ways for ensuring the most reliable supply of energy for the US economy, and want to have access to any point of the globe in order to render harmless terrorists that may be planning to carry out actions against the US. And of course, they need partners whom they can always actively influence to mobilize resources of these partners for their own foreign policy aims. Say, for the support of actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are aware that this state of affairs is a reality which we have to reckon with. Yes, Washington is infiltrating into the post-Soviet space ever more actively: Ukraine and Georgia are graphic examples. If Ukraine and Georgia are brought into NATO, this will result in a substantial negative geopolitical shift. We see how the work is being conducted with the Central Asian states and Azerbaijan in order to put their energy resources on routes bypassing Russia, particularly those that are again controlled by the regimes closest to the US. How are we to act? Put counter pressure on the republics of the former USSR? That would be disrespectful. After all they are sovereign countries; they are entitled to choose their foreign policy and foreign economic partners.

I think the chief answer should be our attractiveness; attractiveness in all senses, in the economic and in the political and in the cultural and in the sense that we are a country that can offer an added value to someone's security. We are doing it both within the Collective Security Treaty Organization and within EurAsEC, particularly in the context of creating a customs union. There is economic attractiveness and attractiveness from the viewpoint of ensuring the tranquility and defense capability of these countries.

Now they want to build the Nabucco gas pipeline, an obviously artificial project. Same is Baku-Tbilisi-Jeihan - not that it is going to be unprofitable in advance, but so far not having enough product to fill it, with a very long payoff period, demanding investment of long-term money. And this is so even though there were options to obtain with short-term money the same additional energy resources for Europe.

We have answers that are economically more effective and we are going to realize them. Blue Stream is already operating. The Caspian gas pipeline, expansion of the Central Asia-Center gas pipeline, Burgas-Alexandroupolis, Nord Stream, and South Stream: all these rest on a rational economic base. And, probably, flexibility and farsightedness in questions of Central Asian gas pricing also has significance. I believe these are good examples of how we need to act. We must use our natural resource, geographic and transit advantages. To be ready for competition, but let it be fair.

Of course, the sharpest problems are Georgia and Ukraine. They are being unashamedly pulled into NATO, although, as is known, most Ukrainians are against this, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia won't even hear of it. But the course has been taken towards creating, by efforts of the current leadership and external forces, a strong pro-NATO movement with parallel massive brainwashing of the population.

We honestly say that this cannot but have consequences, primarily in geopolitics but also economically, because the closest ties of hundreds upon hundreds of our and Ukrainian enterprises in the military-industrial sector will, of course, be reviewed. This will occur also because NATO will demand a shift to its standards. And on the Russian side, questions are going to arise about the reliability of all these partner ties from the viewpoint of our security.

Against this background, the natural question arises: Why create such tension?

Maybe we shouldn't be looking for an entirely anti-Russian component here. Perhaps, the striving to score some foreign policy successes toward NATO's summit in Bucharest prevails, where they must by all means admit new members, and one way or other open the door for Georgia and Ukraine. This summit is to coincide with a conference on Afghanistan where some new approaches are planned; we are being asked to sign a military transit agreement not only with France and Germany, with which such agreements already exist, but also with NATO as a whole and to provide military transport aircraft.

We are open to cooperation, but we shall speak out firmly against any creeping advances that are detrimental to our interests.

We need to invest more in the CIS countries and accept reciprocal investment; need to concern ourselves more actively with such a key theme as the development of water and energy resources in Central Asia; and need to do more in the area of cultural cooperation. I regard as a major achievement in the CIS over the last two years the signing of a package of agreements on humanitarian cooperation and establishment of the Council on Humanitarian Cooperation. I think that as we gain further in strength, as we acquire more financial resources this work will be given ever-increasing attention.

Question: The impression is that the Bush administration will go down in history as the author of a most serious economic crisis that will entail an inevitable impact on the political role of the United States in the world. Do you think this crisis will influence the geopolitical alignment of forces?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The crisis has, of course, begun. They in the US are now arguing whether it is a slump or recession, but this is a question for economists. All this will doubtless tell on the global economy and global finances. The government is dealing with this question. But one has to look at the whole picture. This is a very important factor, particularly of a geopolitical nature. The consequences of this crisis, I think, will show themselves in a swifter acknowledgement of the realities of multipolarity. For example, the process of IMF and World Bank reform will accelerate.

Well, as to how this is going to weaken the United States' political influence, I am not certain the economic and financial crisis will lead to that. Neither in McCain nor in the Democratic candidates do I see any tendencies for isolationism in foreign policy. The Americans have a magnificent trait of wringing out whatever they want from the doubters, while promising little and giving even less as a result. Whoever is the president will doubtless think of America's interests in the first place. These are global interests. But that's why these interests can't be ensured single-handedly. For, the problems that worry the US today lend themselves to settlement only on a collective basis.

Everything is much more complicated than in the era of the two blocs, when it was all quite simple and there was a relative, if negative, stability. And now it is all pell-mell. By the way, that is why NATO just can't understand what they want in this world. And the reason is simple: the time of hard-line alliances blindly abiding by bloc discipline is all but gone. Today network diplomacy is required - that of flexible alliances that can undergo a modification depending on what problem is being tackled. We are endeavoring to work in just this way, and as a result we have built up sustainable partner ties with all regions of the world without exception.

Question: Why does Russian diplomacy, in spite of the most intense dialogue, not always manage to find a common language with official Kiev?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: As to Ukraine, we sincerely wish to cooperate in the most active manner. And you are absolutely right - we have got a most intense political dialogue, and economic cooperation. Thousands of enterprises operate in partnership, particularly in high technology spheres, in aviation and in outer space. Add the existing human, cultural and historical ties. We have largely similar mentalities, although, of course, nuances are also there. Disagreements arise; for example, the gas controversy. But, if you objectively sort things out, the principal reason is Ukraine's internal differences. I think this time Europe too has understood it all correctly. It turns out that a need has indeed ripened for implementing the energy security declaration adopted at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Energy security must incorporate guarantees of responsible behavior in all components of the chain: exporter - transit party necessarily - importer.

Question: But why such difficulties between the brother Slavs then?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: A whole array of actions by Kiev, both at home and internationally, are causing questions. They are, above all, the attempt to pull Ukraine into NATO contrary to the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the people. We are also concerned by the line on distorting history and ousting the Russian language. By the way, the Hungarian minority in Ukraine is also deeply concerned. One accusation being constantly leveled at us is that we supposedly close our eyes to the tragedy of the Ukrainian people and try to justify the crimes of the Stalin regime. Millions of people died of famine - Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Russians - there are archival materials that prove: "Holodomor" was not an ethnically driven act. The main reason was economic: the Soviet government needed the money for industrialization, and all the grain went for export. Those aims were being achieved at the cost of the lives of people who died of hunger. A Russian and international legal assessment of those events has already been given - we adopted joint documents at the UN General Assembly and at UNESCO. But Kiev continues to insist: "Holodomor was genocide of the Ukrainian people." I simply can't understand this. Probably some people want to stir up nationalist sentiment, not caring much either about relations with neighbors or about the internal problems of Ukraine.

We want to see Ukraine stable, united, not torn apart by artificially created problems.

Question: When are we going to have normal relations with Britain?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Now everything depends on official London. It was there that, all of a sudden, anti-Russian decisions emerged: they expelled our diplomats, froze the work on a number of agreements, including that on visa facilitation, renounced contacts with the FSB, which automatically meant the cessation of antiterrorist collaboration. At the same time they fitted the situation with the British Council into this, although it is an old and entirely separate theme. It consists of entirely legal issues and tax nonpayment. We are hearing signals from London: let us draw the line, normalize relations. We have long since been ready for this; it wasn't us who subjected these relations to tests. Those artificial problems not of our creation must simply be removed.

Source: Izvestia, March 31, 2008

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