Russia’s Priorities in Europe and the WorldLogin Subscribe now Download PDF
Sergey Lavrov is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
I APPRECIATE the opportunity to address the readers of Horizons, published by the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD). CIRSD makes valuable contributions to analyzing the most important issues of our time and to searching for effective ways to respond to common global challenges.
International relations are going through a complicated stage of development—as one historical epoch replaces the other, with a new polycentric world order now taking shape. It is a process accompanied by increasing instability—both at global and regional levels. Risks of deeper inter-confessional and inter-civilizational splits are growing. The world economy remains unstable, and might still relapse into crisis.
The global situation has been deteriorating recently, with new dangerous hotbeds of tension emerging, in addition to old conflicts. An upsurge of terrorism and extremism, both in the Middle East and North Africa, are causes of serious concern. The security situation in Europe is all but satisfactory.
We had hoped that a Europe that had endured two World Wars and then the Cold War would finally embark on a road to prosperity, mutually beneficial partnership, and peaceful sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations. All the necessary prerequisites were in place. Irreconcilable ideological differences that had divided our continent in the twentieth century had been removed. In November 2014, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had symbolized them.
Unfortunately, at that juncture the chance to overcome the dark legacy of the previous era, and decisively erase the dividing lines, was missed. The principles set forth in the Helsinki Final Act have not been translated into legally binding documents. Despite Russia’s repeated calls and decisions adopted by the OSCE and the NATO-Russia Council, the task of creating a common space of peace, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area has not been accomplished.
The United States and its Western allies—having proclaimed themselves the “victors” of the Cold War—have repeatedly breached key provisions of international law—attempting to impose their own will across the world. They have since continued the vicious practice of dividing nations into “friends” and “foes,” whilst playing dubious zero-sum geopolitical games. Assurances that the North Atlantic Alliance would not expand eastward—which had been given to the leadership of the Soviet Union—turned out to be empty words, for NATO’s infrastructure has continuously drawn closer to Russian borders. Under the EU Eastern Partnership program, attempts were made to force the “focus states” to face artificial and false choices (“you’re either with us or against us”) and destroy their historically diverse ties with Russia. Moreover, visa barriers remain, as an anachronism that hampers the expansion of trade, economic, humanitarian, and cultural ties, and contacts between people. This is by no means Russia’s fault.
Russia is trying to do its best to promote positive and unifying trends in international affairs. That is the main objective of our efforts to foster Eurasian integration processes. The January 1st, 2015 launch of the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia—Armenia will join soon, to be followed later by Kyrgyzstan—is a major contribution to the development and stability of the post-Soviet space and neighboring regions.
With considerable attention being paid to ensuring the sustainability of global growth, Russia is taking an active part in various multilateral fora. In 2013 our country chaired the G20, and a number of our innovative initiatives on ways to accelerate economic growth were approved. The priorities of
Australia’s G20 Chairmanship in 2014 were largely based on decisions taken at the St. Petersburg Summit.
In 2015 Russia will chair the BRICS—a group playing an increasingly significant role in world affairs. The outcomes of the Fortaleza BRICS Summit enhanced global stability across its diverse dimensions. The establishment of the New Development Bank, with initial authorized capital of $100 billion, as well as the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement of the same initial size, is designed to maintain a balance within the complicated situation of today’s international monetary and financial system. A commitment to enhanced, full-fledged, open, and inclusive cooperation—in particular within the economic and financial domains—was reaffirmed at the meeting held by BRICS leaders in Brisbane on the sidelines of the recent G20 Summit. We are making preparations to host the next BRICS Summit in Ufa in July 2015.
Lately, a lot has been said about Russia’s pivot to the East. It was, among other things, portrayed as an alternative to the development of our contacts with the West, which have seen a downturn.
In this context, I would like to emphasize the importance of the multiple-vector principle that is the backbone of our country’s foreign policy—which is quite natural for a state with a vast territory, history, and traditions, such as ours.
Turning our country towards the Pacific is a national priority for the twenty-first century, and is directly linked to the dynamic development of Russia’s eastern regions. We would, of course, prefer to take this step in tandem with steps to strengthen our links with Europe, rather than instead of that. On this issue, however, we cannot but take into consideration the decisions adopted by our European partners.
A positive example of building productive, future-oriented relations is the intense development of Russian-Serbian cooperation, which has by now grown into a strategic partnership. President Putin’s October 16th, 2014 visit to Belgrade was the occasion to reach new agreements. Once again, total coincidence or similarity of our approaches to the agenda under discussion was manifest. The profound and durable nature of the historical ties between the peoples of our two countries was reaffirmed by the official visit of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to Serbia, which took place a month later, on November 14th to 16th, 2014.
In this regard, I would like to comment on increasing attempts to impose on Belgrade the false choice of opting for either the EU or Russia. We proceed from the fact that Serbia is a sovereign state pursuing an independent foreign policy, including in respect to the European integration.
It is clear that there are numerous obstacles along the way to potential membership, from unresolved issues stemming from the Yugoslav conflict (which are being felt across Serbian society), to major and painful reforms being undertaken in various fields. Hence, these and other questions come to mind: to what extent can the European Union—growing weary of its own enlargement—take all these aspects into account, and to what extent can it show patience and tact? The Kosovo problem remains a serious challenge, since Priština’s patrons view Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo statehood as the “price of admission” to the EU. Belgrade should make independent decisions on all these aspects.
As for Russia, we have said candidly to our partners—in both Serbia and the EU—that, as a matter of principle, Belgrade’s advancement towards European integration is not rejected on the premise that this must not undermine Russian-Serbian relations and our joint projects—all the more so since they constitute no threat to Brussels.
The choice to which Serbian leaders refer means both EU membership and maintaining relations of friendship and cooperaton with Russia. This is a sovereign choice which deserves respect. It is based on the opinion of the majority of Serbia’s citizens, and fully meets the country’s political and economic interests.
We call on our partners in Brussels to behave adequately, and to avoid linking progress in the accession negotiations to breaking Serbia’s natural bonds with Russia. Rather, we believe that respectful dialogue and constructive cooperation involving all stakeholders, including contacts between Moscow and Brussels, would help eliminate unnecessary tension, whilst ensuring that Serbia’s EU integration process is beneficial for everyone. Should this approach prevail, rather than being perceived as an apple of discord, Serbia could become a bridge linking the West and the East of our continent.
I am convinced that centuries-long traditions of our peoples’ kinship, deep mutual feelings of friendship, understanding and trust—which we highly appreciate—will further contribute to developing cooperation between
Russia and Serbia, while enhancing our joint participation in finding solutions to the numerous problems of the modern world on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
In conclusion, I would like to wish the staff of Horizons further success in their creative work, as well as to wish all the best to the magazine’s readership.
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