Question: The pandemic has changed people’s lives this year. However, instead of cooperative international efforts against the pandemic next year we will likely have a war of vaccines. Where does our strength lie? Will the pandemic become the touchstone for international relations? Who has reaffirmed their friendly ties with us amid the 2020 calamities?
Sergey Lavrov: Our strength is that Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a unique geostrategic position and considerable military-political, economic and cultural potential, has a peaceful and predictable foreign policy. We remain open to joint efforts, based on mutual respect, with anyone who is willing to reciprocate. The main task for Russian diplomacy is to create favourable external conditions for sustainable domestic development, which means that we must build up multifaceted international cooperation and create a “good neighbourliness belt” around the country in the broad sense of the word.
We are not playing zero sum geopolitical games, and we are not acting in the spirit of an archaic concept of spheres of influence. Quite the contrary, we are taking practical action to implement the idea that large-scale trans-border problems can only be settled through joint efforts based on the principle of solidarity.
Guided by this logic, we have provided assistance to countries that have been hit especially heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic at the bilateral level and through multilateral organisations. We are ready to continue cooperating with all interested foreign partners to comprehensively overcome the consequences of this common tragedy. Incidentally, this is what distinguishes Russia from some Western countries, which have not only tried to politicise the purely humanitarian battle against the pandemic but have also used it to punish “undesirable” governments, contrary to UN calls for at least the temporary lifting of some of the unilateral restrictions, which are complicating the sanitary and epidemiological situation in these countries.
In this context, it appears logical that even under these circumstances we have built up and strengthened our friendly cooperation with the overwhelming majority of countries in a broad range of spheres this year, including with our allies, like-minded countries and partners in the CSTO, the EAEU, the CIS, BRICS and the SCO.
I would like to use this occasion to reaffirm that we remain open to dialogue with our Western colleagues, provided, of course, they give up lecturing and the policy of blackmail and ultimatums. This would benefit both our relations with them and international security and stability in general.
Question: The New START will expire within a matter of weeks, and any possible extension, if coordinated, will only be temporary because the treaty was signed in 2010 when the situation was completely different. Other arms control agreements are not effective either. How far do you think the nascent arms race might go?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe you have taken note of what President Putin said during his annual news conference on December 17 that the arms race is already underway. Just take a look at the US military budget and the number of programmes it has to create or upgrade weapons. Washington’s objective is to ensure its military superiority in order to prop up its weakening global standing at all costs.
The arms control system has fallen victim to that destructive policy. The Americans have destroyed a number of vital agreements and are doing their best to promote initiatives that would benefit them alone. At the same time, they have shown complete disregard for the security interests of other countries.
The New START is the last international agreement that limits the nuclear missile potential of the world’s two largest nuclear powers and ensures predictability and verifiability of their activities in this sphere. I would like to remind everyone that it expires next February. We expressed readiness on numerous occasions to extend it as it was signed and without any preconditions for up to five years. This would maintain the current level of transparency in our strategic relations with the United States.
In addition, in light of the deteriorating global conditions, we call for Russia and the United States, which have special responsibility for international security, to launch talks on a new security equation that will take into account all current strategic stability factors and modern military technologies.
As of now, we will wait for the new US administration to determine its approach to the New START and arms control talks in general.
I would also like to remind you about the Russian initiative for lowering risks after the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. President Putin has put forth practical proposals regarding this. In particular, he reiterated our commitment to the moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles until US-manufactured missiles of similar classes appear in the respective regions, and called on the NATO leadership to consider the possibility of declaring a reciprocal moratorium and specific options of reciprocal verification measures. The ball is now in NATO’s court.
Question: Throughout 2020, we have witnessed confrontation, attempts to stage revolutions and even wars near Russia’s borders, that is, in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh. The situation in Moldova also causes concern. Should we expect new unrest in the post-Soviet space next year, especially considering the traditional desire of US Democratic administrations to help democracies “triumph” all over the world?
Sergey Lavrov: President Vladimir Putin commented on this matter in great detail at his December 17 news conference.
Foreign interference in the domestic affairs of post-Soviet states did not begin yesterday. Suffice it to recall the February 2014 coup d’état and the armed takeover in Ukraine, supported by Washington and Brussels. In 2020, they tried to use a similar “colour revolution” scenario in Belarus.
We were repeatedly convinced that, in the pursuit of geopolitical gain, our Western colleagues easily sacrifice the stability of entire states, instil inter-ethnic discord and put fraternal nations at loggerheads. The West historically uses the divide-and-conquer approach.
At the same time, we hope that the situation in the post-Soviet space will mostly remain stable. We have reasons to think so. For example, Russia’s consistent efforts made it possible to reach a ceasefire agreement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Signed on November 9, the trilateral statement paves the way for the long-term and full-fledged resolution of the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh on an equitable basis and in the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples.
We believe that the people of Belarus themselves and their legitimate representatives, rather than impostors and their Western handlers, will decide the future of Belarus. We hope that Moldova will uphold its well-balanced foreign policy and will continue its non-alignment policy, aiming to steer clear of NATO and other military alliances.
On January 10, 2021, early presidential elections will take place in Kyrgyzstan, followed by repeat parliamentary elections in spring. We are confident that our Kyrgyz friends have drawn the appropriate conclusions from the October 2020 developments, and that all political forces will show a responsible attitude towards the future of their country.
In turn, Russia will continue to promote peace, security and stability in the post-Soviet space, including within the framework of the Union State, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Question: Quite recently, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia have adopted a statement on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, incidents involving shootouts are being reported in the region once again. At the same time, there are still no details about substantive talks on Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you anticipate that Russian peacekeepers may happen to be in the firing line between the warring parties next year?
Sergey Lavrov: We believe that it is necessary to unfailingly fulfil all agreements, formalised by the parties in the November 9, 2020 joint statement by Vladimir Putin, Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan. In this context, we continue our mediatory cooperation with Baku and Yerevan.
The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone is returning to normal. We are happy to note the commitment of Baku and Yerevan to fulfil their obligations and to gradually stabilise the overall situation. I would like to note that the parties remain highly cooperative in addressing matters on the ground. In turn, Russia continues to perform its duties responsibly and effectively as a guarantor of the ceasefire agreement. So far, no provocative actions against Russian peacekeepers have been recorded.
The only noticeable violation was recorded on December 13 in a section of the demarcation line where no Russian peacekeepers were stationed. Energetic efforts of the Russian peacekeeping contingent’s commanders during contacts with Azerbaijani and Armenian partners made it possible to prevent the incident from escalating. We will continue to do our utmost to prevent violations of the ceasefire agreement.
The agenda includes efforts to prevent any violations of the ceasefire, to remove explosive devices, to exchange prisoners of war and the bodies of the deceased, to facilitate the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons, to resolve acute humanitarian matters, to preserve historical landmarks, regardless of their religious affiliation, and to unblock transport and economic ties. Certain positive results have been reached in all these areas, but inevitable problems arise because of the extraordinary situation.
Regarding the discussion of previously unresolved political matters, I can reaffirm our readiness to help organise such meetings, as soon as the parties are ready for this, in our national capacity and also on the part of co-chairs of the OSCE’s Minsk Group.