An interview with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is representing Russia at the third Council of Europe summit in Warsaw. Here he discusses Russia’s relations with other CIS countries and the West, especially the European Union. He speaks of the West’s concerns about democracy, and Russia’s aim to be a strong state.

Question: A great deal was said at the summit today about the further proliferation of democracy around Europe, but Russia wasn’t mentioned directly, although it has been frequently criticized for lack of democracy of late. Do you think everything has become good with democracy in our country?

Sergei Lavrov: When we speak about proliferation of democracy and freedom everywhere, Russia proceeds from the following assumptions: firstly, it is impossible to instill these values in a society from without; secondly, this is dangerous due to potential consequences of such attempts. It is necessary to account for two circumstances. The first is: there cannot be a unified pattern of democracy; each democratic system in any spot of the world has its distinctions, especially in places where the religious traditions differ from Christianity. The second is: it must mature inside.

We acknowledge the concerns of our Western partners inside the CIS – this is linked to the terrorist threat which persists in Afghanistan and in Iraq nowadays; this is linked to the access to energy resources. These are legal national interests, but we want the methods of implementing these interests to be clear to us as well. If our colleagues from the EU and the USA have any fresh ideas on resolving the Trans-Dniester conflict, we shall be glad to listen to them. Cooperation is possible on the basis of concrete actions.

Most importantly, methods used to implement concerns of various countries in different parts of the world must be clear for understanding, transparent and be guided by international law. Our common task is to start really trusting one another, start explaining our interests in the utterly detailed and open manner. We need to move away from the traditions of Byzantine diplomacy, when everything was done indirectly and by means of half-hints, or even by misleading one another. Now is the time of open diplomacy, open foreign policy, when interests must be explained distinctly, rather than being concealed behind vague phrases.

Question: Is this feasible?

Sergei Lavrov: This wish won’t ever be implemented fully, but I know that this is how President Putin speaks to our colleagues. We acknowledged Georgia’s openly-expressed wish for us to withdraw our bases. We hoped they’d realize the technical specifics of withdrawal as well. We offered to have a dialog at the military level, and the military understood one another. For some reason, politicians cast doubt on this understanding. We offered to conduct a meeting between presidents, which we thought must accelerate the process of negotiations. However, our Georgian colleagues decided that an agreement must be achieved first and the presidents would “consecrate” everything afterwards. Hopefully, we’ll obtain an agreement.

Question: Why have former Soviet republics begun attacking Russia more often of late? Have they enlisted the support of the Elder Brother, acting according to the formula of “the weak are beaten?”

Sergei Lavrov: There’s another formula as well – “unwilling to see Russia strong.” Why didn’t anything of this kind happen in 1995, when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Victory Day? Just recall Russia at that time – insane debts, weakness, an endeavor to deviate from what many now call multi-directional international politics. The festivities of 1995 weren’t darkened by the historic digressions similar to what we are observing now. Why no issues which are on debating at the moment sounded then, when the Soviet Union’s disintegration was fresh in our memory? I think this is the reflection of our incumbent financial independence, of the fact that we are repaying the debts and understand what we must do in the economics: preserve our natural advantages – the supply of energy resources, the territory, transport abilities and diverge from extremely strong dependence of the oil and gas exportation. We must carry out the innovative economics. This path entails some problems, but it will be implemented. Some are sure to dislike this outlook and they want to have irritants around Russia which would distract our attention.

One more thing, concerning human rights and democratic liberties: only a strong state is able to ensure human rights, equality and liberties for everybody, rather than only those who got lucky in the privatization process. We are yet creating it – we are seeking for optimal forms of Russia’s pattern as a state. In my opinion, this needs no explanations.

Question: Are we above any criticism?

Sergei Lavrov: We are ready to accept specific criticism. One thing is interesting: we’ve heard the critical remarks concerning YUKOS, “appointment of regional leaders,” parliamentary election procedures and freedom of the media. All of these issues were provided with the most detailed explanations. They are now accentuating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the fact that the Soviet Union must seemingly equally share the burden of responsibility for the World War II with Hitler’s Germany. Had they been concerned for the fact that we had become less democratic since 1995, they should have criticized us for this – but we are being exposed to critique for the past with the transition into the future, adding the claims on monetary and territorial compensations.

Question: President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia told at the summit he discerns no advance in the settlement of conflicts inside the CIS and offered that the EU and OSCE be engaged in the process again…

Sergei Lavrov: We welcome any initiatives so that to adjust conflicts in post-Soviet territory, where Russia is playing the role of an intermediary or a peacekeeper, as soon as possible. Simultaneously, we must take care for the achievements so far. Appearance of parallel initiatives provides the conflicting parties with grounds to escape the pressure of intermediaries and promote their own agendas.

We are ready to discuss Ukraine’s initiative on the Trans-Dniester region, accounting for what has already been passed by the parties and the intermediaries; OSCE is among the latter, as well as Moscow and Kyiv. Hopefully, our cooperation with Ukraine in this sphere continues on the basis of mutual concord for our measures. This is the way for success.

Question: To what extent are the developments of Uzbekistan similar to what has happened in Kyrgyzstan? Does it feel to you that Russia’s warnings that the situation may got out of control in the entire region haven’t been heard?

Sergei Lavrov: I wouldn’t draw parallels between the color revolutions and the developments in Uzbekistan. No grounds existed in Uzbekistan – for instance, a contested election – to name this a revolution. According to reports, which need to be rechecked, a group of armed people, including Islamist guerrillas (Talebs as well), had long been preparing an invasion into Uzbekistan. They seized weapons in a military unit and used them to seize some governmental buildings and taking hostages.

To our deep regret, many innocent citizens have died. The causes of this must be ascertained. Reportedly, an attempt was made to use them as a live shield. Just recall: similar tactics were applied during the war at the Balkans. Many details must be specified to get to the point of these events and I’m confident that the UN Anti-Terrorist Center and anti-terrorist structures inside the CIS must play their parts.

A couple of more words on whether the rest of the world has heard our evaluations of the situation in the region following the developments in Kyrgyzstan: the events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan differ from, but could ultimately pour the water on the mill of those who are seeking destabilization in the region.