I’m delighted to attend the marathon again, as I was delighted to speak before you in the spring and autumn of 2021. I believe recreating the Knowledge Society in a new format without any formalities was a great decision. A format without formalities is important. It’s wordy, but it carries a deep meaning.
I was asked to talk about multipolarity. In one context or another, the President’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov touched upon international problems and what Russia is currently facing in the international arena. The term “multipolarity” has an established presence in international diplomatic vocabulary courtesy of Russia. It was first used by one of my great predecessors, Yevgeny Primakov, in the mid-1990s, when he headed our Ministry. Back then, this term was met with skepticism, because just a few years had passed since the end of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp. The West announced it was the “end of history” meaning that Western liberal ideology would dominate our planet from then on.
NATO’s eastward expansion was one of the tools that the West used to consolidate this goal in practice contrary to the verbal promises that it gave to us. At Yevgeny Primakov’s initiative, the Founding Act was concluded in our relations with NATO in 1997, which clearly stated that we are not adversaries and none of us will strengthen our own security at the expense of the security of others. Equal and indivisible security was proclaimed as the goal and the underlying principle of our work. The same principle of indivisible security was enshrined in a broader context for all countries in the Euro-Atlantic region at the OSCE summits. A specific formula was set out there: security must be equal and indivisible, each country has the right to choose alliances, but at the same time, no country has the right to strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others. At the same time, it was stated that not a single organisation in the Euro-Atlantic space should be entitled to claim dominance in security matters throughout the vast geopolitical field. Clearly, there’s no point in highlighting the fact that our US-led NATO colleagues (the United States has brought to heel the entire West which everyone can clearly see now) have grossly violated the obligation not to strengthen their security at the expense of others and the obligation to prevent any one organisation (in this case NATO) from claiming the mantle of leadership and dictating its will to everyone else.
The practical outcome of this Western policy was unrestrained NATO expansion to the East. We have been warning all these long years that this will not end well and that threats are being created to our security, despite the numerous promises and commitments made by the West. We proposed making legally binding a commitment not to strengthen one’s security at the expense of others that we wrote down as a political commitment within the OSCE back in 2009. We proposed concluding a European Security Treaty. We received a polite and condescending answer to the effect that this would not work, because the West is prepared to provide legal security guarantees only to NATO members.
This led neutral states to believe that joining NATO will make things good for them. That approach of ours in 2009 was ignored just like the draft treaty that we came up with in November 2021.
Speaking at the expanded board meeting in our ministry, President of Russia Vladimir Putin proposed concluding a Russia-US and Russia-NATO treaty. It would affirm security guarantees for all countries of the region, including Ukraine and other states that are not members of any military-political bloc. Blocs will not be expanded. The participants will outline reliable guarantees that will not create a feeling of danger or threat for anyone. This was arrogantly shot down as well. In the meantime, Ukraine was being physically drawn into NATO. The perpetrators made public statements about the lack of any obstacles to Ukraine’s accession and said this wasn’t Russia’s business. They planned to deploy strike weapons in Ukraine. Our British colleagues were building a naval base in the Sea of Azov. Much was being done to turn Ukraine into “anti-Russia” as President Vladimir Putin put it. All this was going on against the backdrop of the processes unleashed by the coup d’etat in 2014 when undeniable radicals and neo-Nazis came to power. They demanded the end to the status of Russian language in Ukraine. They wanted to oust Russians from Crimea and sent units of militants to storm the building of the Crimean Supreme Council. As a result, people in the east of Ukraine (particularly in Crimea) expressed their own opinion. They rejected the perpetrators of the coup d’etat and decided in referendums that they would live according to their own rules and values. This was followed by a war that was stopped in February 2015 by the Minsk agreements. They merely provided for a special status for the regions of eastern Ukraine with respect for the territorial integrity of that country. For eight long years, presidents of Ukraine, up to and including the current one, flatly refused to honour these agreements in public and continued using force against Donbass. The West that guaranteed the Minsk agreements and voted for them in the UN Security Council, rather than encouraging Kiev to abide by what it had signed, did everything it could to persuade it to avoid direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk. President of Russia Vladimir Putin spoke about this several times. We had no other choice than to recognise these republics and rally to the defence of Donbass, Russian culture and language, and Russian media that were banned in Ukraine in the past few years. That country codified in law efforts to encourage neo-Nazi theories and practices.
NATO member countries led by the United States won’t even hear of a multipolar world. Interestingly, during talks in the UN they propose the wording of final documents for some conferences and write that all of us undertake to observe human rights, the rule of law and democratic values. We are not arguing against this because all of it is part of the universally accepted documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Just the opposite – we are committed to having the universally applicable and accepted agreements remain the foundation of our joint work to promote the observance of human rights. We do not want absolutely unassailable values to be stretched to embrace modern neoliberal requirements that respect be shown for all things that cannot attract support now and that go against our cultural, ethnic and religious values. Human rights, the rule of law – who could oppose that? However, as soon as we offer, in the course of coordinating with Western countries, documents with the wording like this, to stress that the rule of law and democratic values also need to be encouraged in international relations – not inside a country but in the international arena – we are told that they will not do it for the time being and they refuse to reaffirm a commitment to a democratic approach to world affairs. This directly contradicts the principle written into the UN Charter that is the precursor of a multipolar world and that serves as a pillar on which respect for the sovereign equality of countries rests. Our Western partners do not respect the sovereign equality of countries and do not want to have a multipolar world. They have declared a unipolar world.
US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said recently that it is necessary to deter China because it has gained too much influence in the world economy, finance and trade. It is essential to reform the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank to make unipolar these currency, trade and monetary systems. It is supposedly necessary to explain to China that a bipolar world is not required. The West established all these institutions based on the mechanisms suggested by the United States to all others that were forced to accept them. China has used these mechanisms and rules of global trade and finance to “defeat” the United States and become the world’s leading economy. This is why they are not happy now. Globalisation, which was presented as multipolar, in reality created conditions for all the rest to work on the foundation thought up by the West. Everyone was prepared to live with this: the WTO which we sought to enter and did; the IMF and the World Bank – all worked on these conditions. But as soon as the countries that did better in these areas started appearing in these conditions, following the Western rules of the game, the countries that will establish a multipolar world (China, India and other large states), the West immediately decided to rewrite the rules. As we say, they decided to move the goalposts during the game. But objectively this trend is not going anywhere and is only growing stronger. The trend consists of the strengthening of this multipolar character, because new centres of economic growth and financial might are appearing in reality (have already appeared). This process is accompanied by increased political influence: China, India, Brazil and South Africa are BRICS countries. They are part of the G20 where both G7 and BRICS are represented, as well as other states that are gravitating towards BRICS. This is the format where the West has to talk with the new centres of the world growth. There is no doubt that the final victory will belong to life rather than artificial attempts to curb the advance of a historical process. They can reach their targets for some time. Now the West is feverishly trying to impede these processes agonising in its response to Russia’s actions in defence of its lawful interests but life will gain the upper hand. There is no doubt that the world will be multipolar. The large self-respecting nations will not settle for the role that the West wants to allot to them, the role of obedient observers. No colonial regime in history lasts for a long time and remains sustainable. From the standpoint of history and global politics, our cause is just.
Question: Often, when people talk about foreign policy they mention hard, soft and young power. Can you let us in on what these words mean? Are there any specific examples?
Sergey Lavrov: There are enough examples in world history to fill hundreds of volumes. I will talk about our time. Hard power is the use of military force to resolve international problems. The United States and its allies are notorious for using hard power. Competing with them is an exercise in futility. The United States considers itself entitled (it refers to itself as an exceptional nation, even Barack Obama and presidents before him described themselves in such terms) to determine what and where they can do, regardless of whether their desire is consistent with the obligations under the UN Charter which says that countries should refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs, using force or the threat of force, except in cases provided for by the UN Charter, of which there are two. The first one is individual or collective self-defence, which is our case, since we are protecting the residents of Donbass, since we recognised their independence and did so in response to their legitimate requests to protect them against constant and mounting attacks by the Ukrainian armed forces and national battalions. The second case when force can be used in accordance with international law is by UN Security Council resolution. The United States (even if we focus on the last 20 years starting the late 1990s) bombed Yugoslavia without UN Security Council authorisation only because they wanted to protect the Kosovo and Albanian people’s rights which were allegedly violated by Belgrade. Within a span of two and a half months, they bombed residential areas, railway bridges and passenger trains, destroyed a television centre (they did so publicly and without thinking twice), and hit the Chinese embassy “while they were at it” (killing several employees). Then, in 2003, the United States thought that someone was manufacturing some kind of powder in a faraway Iraq. They had suspicions that it was a biological or chemical weapon. It turned out later it was all a lie, but under the pretext of eliminating the threat, a war was unleashed in Iraq. Iraq was destroyed and has not yet restored its territorial integrity as a nation state. No weapons of mass destruction were found there. That country, which lived in a strict, authoritarian, if you want, centralised regime, was thrown many years back. Then there was Libya with dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a country where no one had any problem with prices, or the standard of living, or with the opportunity to get an education abroad. Someone thought their life was good, but undemocratic. They bombed Libya, which, compared to Iraq, is in a desperate state. We are trying to help restore unity, but it doesn’t work. They wanted to do the same to Syria. All of that is happening thousands of kilometres away from the United States. But they think they are entitled to force their way anywhere they please. By the same token, they are now demanding that NATO not only expand, but take on global responsibility. They are clearly trying to get closer to China in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. This is brute force or hard power.
Soft power is about diplomacy, media opportunities, and non-governmental organisations or associations focusing on historical, cultural and other issues. In a number of cases, soft power can be no less effective. In terms of achieving geopolitical goals, take the infamous colour revolutions staged by the United States in the Middle East, Georgia, and Ukraine starting back in 2004. Then, working through non-governmental structures, the United States insisted on holding a third round of elections, because the candidate who did not suit the United States won in the second round (according to the Constitution, there may be only two rounds). There are many ways to make soft power no less dangerous than outright military force.
We are for peaceful solution to the problems. We have our ways of upholding our values, ideas and approaches before the international community. We have things to say. We are not shy about doing so. We are the ones who have the answers to the false concepts and theses that are promoted by Western soft power. An excellent example is what the Kiev regime is now saying about the developments in Ukraine claiming that the country is not Russophobic (while all laws to that effect have been introduced there) or neo-Nazi. However, the facts speak for themselves.
I think that meetings like this one are, to a certain extent, a way to form our soft power capability (I don’t like this term), the capability of bringing information to the people that makes them think and make assessments and decisions for themselves. This is our strength: our people are not zombified, but instead strive to creatively process information and independently form their position.
Question: Not so long ago, the Ambassador of Ukraine to Germany called the German Federal Chancellor a “sulky liver sausage.” He wasn’t even expelled for this. Moreover, Germany continues rendering Ukraine comprehensive assistance by sending it weapons and offering financial aid. I have a question in this context. Can Kiev get away with anything? If so, why?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, it gets away scot-free with anything. You have correctly described the West’s attitude to its clients in Ukraine. Nobody needs Ukraine. It is expendable in the total hybrid war against the Russian Federation. Nobody doubts this anymore. This has been announced in public. The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell says this war must be won on the battlefield. The British, Americans, presidents, prime ministers and ministers declare that they have no right to let Russia win – it must be defeated. They have declared war. This is a war not at all between Ukraine and Russia, but between the West and Russia. There is a popular saying: “The West is prepared to fight to the last Ukrainian.” Just so. Ukraine is expendable in the fight against the Russian Federation and so all is acceptable. This is why neo-Nazism is flourishing and the Western sponsors are ignoring this. Moreover, they are taking part in training neo-Nazi units and motivating them to engage in anti-Russian actions. They have already banned the Russian language, starting with the fifth form, all Russian media and even the Ukrainian media in Russian, which are upholding the views of the opposition party. The Russian language is prohibited even in everyday life. During all these long years of blatant excesses, we couldn’t bring this home to NATO, the EU, the US, the OSCE or the Council of Europe. We couldn’t get them to notice the fact that this contradicts all the conventions that form the foundation for the defence of human rights in the international community.
After the current government came to power, Germany lost its last vestiges of independence. In the EU President of France Emanuel Macron is the only leader who is trying to talk about the EU’s “strategic autonomy.” I am sure that they won’t be allowed to have it. The EU is increasingly integrating with the North Atlantic Alliance and they don’t conceal this. Now Finland and Sweden are in the news. President of Russia Vladimir Putin said yesterday that we do not see any need for them to be concerned about their security. We see their decision, which was surely actively lobbied by Washington and NATO itself, as merely a geopolitical move to deter Russia and implement NATO’s plan to spread its actions to the Arctic region. President of Finland Sauli Niinisto and Finnish ambassadors are saying everywhere that their country does not see any threats coming from Russia while its accession to NATO is determined by the change of the security situation in Europe. There is no logic in this. You don’t see any threats from Russia but the security situation is changing because Russia is “aggressive.” It is inappropriate to make such statements. Finland, Sweden and other neutral countries have been taking part in NATO exercises for a long time. NATO is taking into account their territory in its military planning of eastward expansion. This doesn’t make much difference in this sense. We will have to see how NATO will use their territory and we will draw conclusions. But the EU as such, now that Germany has lost its independence and France is trying futilely to promote its strategic autonomy theses, is already merging with NATO in practice. Now as regards its membership as well.
As for the insult of Germany by the Ukrainian Ambassador. He is notorious for this. His rudeness has long been the talk of the town and German politicians with any sense of dignity have raised it more than once. But when Chancellor Olaf Scholz was asked to respond to the insult of being called a “sulky liver sausage”, he said he would leave it up to journalists to draw their own conclusions. In other words, he didn’t take offense. So, the word “sulky” can be removed from the phrase.
Question: Youth in the Donetsk People’s Republic can already take part in the activities of the Knowledge Society. When will young people in Kherson be able to join it?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe this will happen as soon as Kherson citizens take that decision. I do not consider it necessary to officially give permission. It seems to me that the value of this organisation, which was recreated deliberately in an entirely new, open and democratic format, is that it offers an opportunity to promote public diplomacy and contacts without official authorisation. So, it is for civil society in each region to decide.
Question: What will happen to the internet? Does the West have technical means to disconnect Russia from the internet?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not possess the knowledge to forecast how internet-related technology will develop in the future. However, I have no doubt that Russian brains, Russian young people, who regularly win all sorts of competitions involving the internet and other modern technology, will ensure normal life for us and an advanced position in all these processes.
The UN has an agency, which is called the International Telecommunications Union. It is over 10 years now that we together with a group of countries have been urging this agency to begin a serious, honest and fact-based discussion on democratising control of the internet. One way or another, the majority of Western countries led by the United States torpedo the discussion of this issue. The internet has always been presented as an essential part of globalisation. Now that the West, instead of taking a multipolar approach – which is the topic of the current session and where we began – is moving toward establishing its dominance in all areas, we and China and all other countries who respect themselves and are unwilling to be obedient errand boys for the West, are doing their utmost to make sure that key industries responsible for the functioning of a country and its security, and the well-being of its people, do not depend on those who have proved their complete inability to deliver on their obligations. I assure you that these tasks, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has now clearly formulated, will be accomplished. You will not be left without the internet, neither will I.
Question: Is the expulsion of Russian diplomats a mere demonstration or a serious blow to international communication?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, it is evidence of arrogance, frenzy and impudence of our Western partners, who think they can act with impunity. Washington said, “Attack!” and all the countries that are expelling our diplomats saw that anything goes, that they can thrash and ban Russia, cancel its culture, and so on. Actually, there is nothing we can talk about with the Western countries. Our embassies, although depleted, have kept on some staff. But there is nothing to talk about, because the West is boycotting any contacts and has shut down all channels of communication, which were once numerous between Russia and the EU and between Russia and NATO. Instead of using these channels, which should be used at a time of crisis first of all, they have shut them down. It’s their loss. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, as the saying goes. Sanctions and bans are adopted, and we hear their haughty and pompous shouts that the sixth, sevenths and eights packages of sanctions are coming. Do you think we will want to meet with them or discuss anything with them in this situation? No, we won’t. We have other partners we can talk with.
The diplomats who have returned from unfriendly and even hostile states will be offered posts at the Foreign Ministry and at our foreign missions in other countries, first of all in Asia, Africa, Latin America and, most importantly, in the CIS countries. We will dramatically increase the number of embassy personnel in all of these regions. The structure of departments in the Central Office will be thoroughly overhauled. Our priorities are clear. They are not anti-Western. They are focused on the accelerated development of relations with the countries that respect the principles of the UN Charter, first of all, the sovereign equality of states. The countries that have no respect for these principles and want to act from the standpoint of the world’s only sovereign ruler who the rest of the world must obey should know that Russia doesn’t accept the use of such language.
Question: Replying to one of the previous questions, you said that proxy wars have been a traditional Western method since WWII. It has also been described as “pulling chestnuts out of the fire” in the case of Winston Churchill. Does it make sense to conduct direct talks with Ukraine and Kiev? Doesn’t Kiev see that they are Western stooges?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, you’re quite right. I don’t know what President Zelensky thinks about himself or how he feels at any given part of the day. This is not for me to say, although there are rumours. But no matter what they think about themselves, it is a fact that they are not independent players.
You mentioned talks. Yes, when they suggested talks, which was soon after the special military operation began, President Putin instructed us to hold the talks. Moreover, we suspended the operation as a gesture of goodwill during the first round, but the Ukrainian side did not reciprocate, acting unscrupulously as usual. Therefore, our troops and the Donetsk and Lugansk militias did not stop the fighting during the subsequent rounds of talks.
There were several rounds of talks: first in Belarus, then online, then there was a meeting in Turkey, where, as it seemed to us, we witnessed a breakthrough, since Ukraine, for the first time in the entire period of our contacts, tabled a paper initialled by the delegation head, rather than some ideas communicated by word of mouth. The paper contained principles, which Russia was ready to take as a basis, stating that this was a text we were ready to work on and the principles that we, generally speaking, were ready to accept. We started translating these principles into legal language, but virtually a day later the Ukrainian side backtracked. What is more, before they backtracked, a stage-managed provocation occurred in Bucha, and the West, without seeing into the matter, immediately urged an investigation. But even before the investigation began, they introduced sanctions, yet another package, and this was a clear signal that the West did not support the Ukrainian initiative that had been displayed in them passing us some acceptable principles for an agreement. We have information coming via different channels that the Ukrainian negotiators are being controlled by Washington and particularly by London, which “regulate their freedom of manoeuvre.” Possibly, they can even do this directly, having as they do, their representatives in Ukraine.
Many people say: Why continue this senseless process? The United States, London and Brussels have declared that their goal was to inflict a defeat on Russia. Suddenly, they saw somewhere that the Ukrainian army was launching an offensive. I leave these statements on their conscience; all the facts are provided on a daily basis via the Russian Defence Ministry. They want to drag out the conflict. The longer it lasts, they think, the heavier losses for the Russian military and the Russian Federation. Their aim is to exhaust and weary us. Therefore, I have no hope that taking the conversation to the level of Washington or London will change anything. Besides, neither London, nor Washington, nor the West as a whole has put forward any proposals. Even the initial approach that Ukraine offered us in Istanbul implied that the relevant document would be signed by countries which would guarantee Ukraine’s security, namely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Turkey and Germany. After they backtracked, they withdrew this proposal, too. According to our information, they did not receive assurances from the West that it was prepared to subscribe to those security guarantees. This also indicates that the West does not particularly need Ukraine except as a permanent irritant to the Russian Federation and a source of security threats.
We always say that we are ready for talks. My predecessor, Andrey Gromyko, coined the famous phrase: “Better ten years of negotiations than one day of war.” But we were left with no other choice. We have had not 10, but 20 years since the late 1990s, when the West started preparing tools, including the use of NATO and Ukraine, to contain Russia. Throughout these years, we insisted on talks. But they disregarded our proposals.
Today, we will solve problems depending on how we see them. I will always emphasise that we are ready to address humanitarian issues, as happened yesterday, when thanks to the initiatives of the Russian military on the ground it proved possible to evacuate hundreds of wounded soldiers from the Azovstal plant. These are the principles that form the basis of the Russian army’s ethos.
Thank you very much. I see that the questions were asked by MGIMO students. My most sincere respect to all others! Lads, take an interest in local politics. To be honest, this is of great help in life, no matter what you become later. Goodbye and all the best.