An interview with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Sergei Lavrov: “The geopolitical triangle of Russia, the European Union, and the United States could become a bulwark for collective leadership by the world’s leading states, contributing greatly to restoring manageability to global development, in concord with other centers of power.”

Question: What kind of position would be most favorable for Moscow in the Russia-USA-EU triangle? Who is likely to be the most reliable and advantageous partner for us?

Sergei Lavrov: Naturally, relations between Russia, the European Union countries, and the United States are particularly significant in maintaining global security and stability. I think this “triangle” configuration reflects the current state of affairs – political developments in this area since the Cold War era. It’s fundamentally important for us to arrange practical cooperation across the area from Vancouver to Vladivostok: developing constructive, open, and forward-looking relations in this region, based on acknowledging each other’s interests and the principle that security and prosperity are indivisible – relations that bear no resemblance to the erstwhile ideological split in Europe and the whole world.

This kind of cooperation would also serve as a material guarantee for those who fear that Russia might seek to drive a wedge between the United States and Western Europe. For Russia, this would provide a new reading of trans-Atlantic relations: not excluding Russia, not developing at Russia’s expense.

In future, the geopolitical triangle of Russia, the European Union, and the United States could become a bulwark for collective leadership by the world’s leading states, contributing greatly to restoring manageability to global development, in concord with other centers of power. With globalization increasing, there is less demand for monocentric leadership and old alliance commitments are being devalued. Increasingly, this day and age requires targeted interest-based alliances with changing shapes, rather than cumbersome alliances with fixed commitments. “Network diplomacy” is more necessary than ever – providing flexible forms of participation in multilateral associations.

In practice, cooperation in the Russia-EU-USA format is already happening in the G8, the Mideast quartet, the six-country negotiation team for the Iranian nuclear problem, and other forms of dialogue. There are good prospects for cooperation among foreign affairs ministers.

Question: What about China’s influence on this triangle, now and in the future?

Sergei Lavrov: China is our strategic partner, of course, for reasons including its growing economic and geopolitical influence. China influences regional and global processes on many levels. We take its interests into account in our contacts with our Western partners. With Russia’s support, it is becoming usual for delegations from China – as well as India, Brazil, South Africa, and a number of other countries – to attends G8 summits. We are cooperating with China within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Together with the USA and the EU, we are cooperating with China within the Asia-Pacific region’s integration and dialogue organizations. And we are cooperating with China within the UN Security Council, where the EU is represented by Britain, France, and rotating members.

Russia, the USA, and the EU have an interest in increasing cooperation with China. Washington also maintains strategic dialogue with Beijing. The interests of both Washington and Beijing overlap in the question of regulating the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula. And China, in turn, assigns great significance to developing relations with Moscow, Washington, and Brussels. Thanks to these mutual interests, the fabric of relations between us is thickening, and this facilitates enhanced regional and global stability.

In any event, there can be no question of the Russia-EU-USA triangle’s interests being directed against China’s interests – just as Russian-Chinese-Indian cooperation, or BRIC format dialogue, is not aimed against the USA, the EU, or anyone else. Russia is not working with anyone against anyone else. It is working in the interests of achieving common objectives. This brings us back to the idea of “network diplomacy,” where there is always room for any diplomatic combination based on positive coinciding interests.

Question: How might Russia’s security interests be affected if the Americans and their allies fail in Iraq?

Sergei Lavrov: Indeed, current trends in the military-political situation in Iraq don’t inspire optimism, unfortunately. The situation there is balancing on the brink of civil war. Religious violence and terrorist group activity affect most of Iraq’s territory. There have been tens of thousands of civilian casualties.

Despite this, we consider that the negative processes in Iraq are not irreversible. Normalization is possible, based on achieving national reconciliation via broad intra-Iraqi dialogue, taking into account the interests of all ethnic-religious groups and political parties. We have long called for this. It’s important that the Iraqis themselves understand this. And the most important thing now is that the authorities and the opposition should lose no time in sitting down at the negotiation table to start a constructive discussion of all the accumulated problems.

On our part, Russia is prepared to do everything it can to facilitate normalizing the situation in Iraq – whether on a bilateral basis or via collective international efforts.

Question: Can we trust the assurances of Western leaders that the NATO bloc, expanding eastward, can counter present-day global threats and challenges – especially terrorism and extremism?

Sergei Lavrov: Our opinion to NATO’s inertial eastward expansion is well-known. Of course, each country is entitled to choose its own ways and methods of ensuring its security – including membership of military alliances. No one is disputing that right. However, we believe that the nature of new risks and security threats requires different ways of international cooperation – not expanding military-political alliances created in the Cold War era. New cooperation methods would help us respond more effectively to security threats which are real, not imaginary – terrorism, WMD proliferation, drug trafficking. We can’t see any positive aspects to NATO’s eastward expansion. But this process does create substantial risks – primarily for regional stability.

We take a constructive approach to developing cooperation with NATO. Within the Russia-NATO Council, we are developing our capacity for collective response to the escapades of terrorist groups – their attempts to obtain WMD and delivery means – as well as responding to crises, natural and man-made disasters, and the drug threat from Afghanistan. We are gradually making progress in operative cooperation, although progress isn’t as fast as the scale of common threats and security challenges requires.

Question: Isn’t it time for a substantial restructuring of all international institutions established for the purpose of upholding worldwide peace and stability?

Sergei Lavrov: It’s a fairly acute issue – whether the existing system of ensuring international security is adequate to the challenges and threats we are encountering in a globalizing world. Global challenges and threats are now taking priority. The response to them should also be global. This situation leaves no room for national egotism or civilizational exclusivity. Old-style bloc-based approaches no longer work – as evidenced by signs of crisis in NATO, the OSCE, and other organizations we have inherited from the Cold War era, along with stagnation in the area of disarmament, new risks in the area of WMD proliferation, the growth of regional and local conflicts, and the overall expansion of the world’s conflict arena. This is primarily due to the reluctance of a number of states to recognize objective development trends in present-day international relations. I mean the strengthening collective and multilateral principles in world affairs, based on international law. In the wake of Iraq and Lebanon, it’s becoming clear that relying on the use of force and unilateral responses is a lost cause.

Question: The situation in the OSCE doesn’t inspire optimism either.

Sergei Lavrov: Russia is proposing a positive agenda for the OSCE. We want to give this most representative European forum its second wind – restoring the OSCE’s initial function as a mechanism for political dialogue among equals and collective decision-making on the most important security problems in the Euro-Atlantic region. The key to realizing the OSCE’s potential, in our view, are reforms aimed at achieving two objectives. First, we need to overcome the geographical and functional imbalances in the OSCE’s activities – redirecting its agenda toward the new challenges and threats which are common to all member states. Secondly, we need to turn the OSCE into a full-fledged international organization, ensuring that the prerogatives of inter-governmental bodies take priority within it.

The OSCE offers an example of Russia’s consistent support for transforming regional and international institutions active in the area of upholding peace and security, to bring them into line with contemporary realities.

Question: How do you see the immediate future of the United Nations and international organizations which have arisen since the collapse of the USSR?

Sergei Lavrov: Within the CIS, the key role in enhancing stability and security is played by the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is increasingly developing as a multi-functional organization aimed at countering the whole range of present-day threats and risks. We also attach great significance to the activities of other international organizatiosn that facilitate upholding peace and stability in the Eurasian region. This primarily concerns the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

In my view, this integrated, multi-level approach to the tasks of transforming international security and stability architecture is precisely what corresponds to Russia’s national interests, as well as proposing a realistic action plan to our international partners.