Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions During The Russia-Vietnam Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took part in the plenary session of the Russia-Vietnam conference of the Valdai Discussion Club in Ho Chi Minh City on February 25. Here is the transcript of his speech and QA session.



Thank you for the invitation. The Valdai Club has earned a reputation as a respected platform. We support the interest of the Russian and Vietnamese expert communities in researching topical security issues in Asia.

These discussions are particularly relevant today when the world has entered the post-bipolar stage in its development. At this stage, a more just polycentric, stable and democratic system is being established. I am aware of the disputes regarding whether this is good or bad. A unipolar or bipolar world was far more reliable as everything was clear and there was no room for improvisation. Now the world is a mess with everybody protecting their own interests, and there is no new understanding of how to proceed from here. Still, I agree with those who say that this is a period of perturbation which will eventually end. It will be lengthy. It is the beginning of a new era. These stages are never short. I have no doubt that as a result, we will get a more reliable and secure system that allows countries to use its opportunities for their economic and social development. Although I do not know who will be around to check to see that it is so, since it will happen in several decades.

However, it appears to me that the most important thing now is to watch the re-configuration of the global geopolitical landscape, which is happening in two ways. One is natural as new centres of economic growth and financial power emerge, bringing political influence. These centres are starting to see the benefit in unifying based on the demands of the present and future, their people and countries. This is how the RIC association (Russia, India and China) started. The next RIC ministerial meeting will be held in China the day after tomorrow. BRICS also emerged naturally. The SCO was also created in response to demands of the time when, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was necessary to provide some understanding of border security in Central Asia, Russia and China. Subsequently, the SCO expanded to other forms of cooperation. But once again, it was a response to demands of the time. This is also how ASEAN was formed by ten countries (it started with less than ten) that realised their mutual interest was in working together and promoting economic and security cooperation.

Unlike these natural processes, there are attempts to reconfigure the geopolitical landscape in order to prevent the natural course of things and the emergence of new centres of growth. For example, the Middle East Strategic Alliance, the so-called Middle Eastern NATO which US President Donald Trump’s administration, working to overcome the serious doubts of potential participants, is trying to impose on the countries of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt. Of course, Israel is also guarding its interests when it comes to this initiative.

The Indo-Pacific region is another artificially imposed construct which I just discussed with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Vietnam. The United States, along with Japan and Australia, has begun to promote this within the far-reaching context of containing China. This is a clear attempt to get India involved in military-political and naval processes. This concept undermines the ASEAN-centricity of the formats that have been created in that region. So, ASEAN is now thinking about how to respond to these developments.

In this portion of my remarks, I would like to contradistinguish natural processes that integrate countries based on coinciding interests, from artificial ones which try to force countries into some kind of cooperation in the interest of one geopolitically driven power. We would like our respect for peoples’ determining their own future to manifest itself in our approaches to the processes unfolding in this region and the rest of the world.

So, we prefer to call it the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), which has become the driver of global growth. It is distinguished by unprecedented integration processes, accelerated economic growth and, of course, extensive experience, which, primarily, thanks to ASEAN, has been gained in cooperation and constructive partnerships between countries with different political and socioeconomic systems.

Russia is part of the APR. I believe there is no need to prove anything to anybody here. We have traditions of cooperation, friendship and alliance with the states of the region, like Vietnam, which go way back.

Clearly, the future of this region directly depends on our ability to take on multiplying challenges and threats, including the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula, which has seen positive shifts, but remains largely unresolved. I think professionals know what I am talking about. This also includes terrorism, drug trafficking, cybercrime and other types of cross-border crime, such as piracy, illegal migration and territorial disputes. So, a reliable architecture of equal and indivisible security here ne to be built by joint efforts, taking into account the balance of interests of all countries in that region and on the basis of the UN Charter and other principles of international law, including, of course, exclusively peaceful settlements for disputes and the non-use of force or threat of force.

ASEAN is a solid foundation for building such security and cooperation architecture, which has created many useful mechanisms around itself. Our Vietnamese friends initiated the creation of the ASEAN Council of Defence Ministers and Dialogue Partners (ADMM-Plus). A very useful format, indeed. In conjunction with Cambodia, we are now chairing the Mine Action Centre. We proposed to Vietnam jointly heading the ADMM-Plus working group on peacekeeping in 2020-2022. We hope that such a group will be created and help promote efficient and practical forms of cooperation.

I believe that the East Asian Summit is one of the most progressive decisions ever made by ASEAN, where key regional players are invited to participate in annual meetings and discussions, which, including at Russia’s initiative, have been used  in recent years to discuss matters such as creating and forming an architecture of equal and indivisible security.

I mentioned the Indo-Pacific region concept, which clearly competes with the central role of ASEAN. We do not welcome these kinds of concepts, partly because we consider it wrong to undermine ASEAN’s pro-active role. Today, the Russia-ASEAN strategic cluster has become a key factor in ensuring regional security. Statements adopted at Russia’s initiative by leaders of the countries participating in the East Asian Summit on countering ideological challenges of terrorism (2017) and countering the threat of foreign terrorist fighters (2018) reiterated the commitment to work substantively and intensively in this critical anti-terrorist area. We run regular refresher courses on counter-terrorism and countering radicalisation and extremism for ASEAN law enforcement agencies.

We focus particularly on foreign terrorist fighters at the ASEAN Regional Security Forum as part of Intersessional Meetings on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, which we co-chair with Indonesia. We have invited ASEAN countries to join the Foreign Terrorist Fighter Databank created by Russia’s FSB, which contains corresponding information, and then use it to track these people as they move, say, from Syria or Iraq to Asia Minor, Indonesia, Central Asia or Russia. They were quite responsive to this idea. These are not just some paper decisions, but a series of solutions that are implemented and bring concrete results for all participants.

The regional security system is growing stronger thanks to the efforts taken by ASEAN and China to draft a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. As far as I know, they are working on it.  We welcome these efforts. We believe that this is how concerned countries should address such problems, without interference from beyond.

We have said more than once that the notion of indivisibility should be applied not only to security but also to economic development if we want it to be inclusive and not to threaten security through poverty, misery and other problems. Russia and its partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are advocating the idea of harmonising integration processes, and these efforts have already yielded fruit. As you know, the EAEU and Vietnam have signed a free trade agreement. A similar agreement is being drafted with Singapore, and discussions on this matter are being held with Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Brunei. ASEAN as an organisation has shown interest in the EAEU. Last year, ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Economic Cooperation.

One more step forward was taken in May 2018, when the EAEU and China signed an agreement on trade and economic cooperation in the context of efforts to align Eurasian economic integration and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The SCO, which is well placed to create transit economic corridors between the East and the West, is working to promote ASEAN’s vision of connectivity. As I have already said, the EAEU and the SCO are doing their best to expand cooperation with ASEAN.

President Vladimir Putin said at the Russia-ASEAN summit held in Sochi in 2016 that plans should be based on practical work and called for looking at the processes underway in the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN, which have common aspects that can be fruitfully applied in collective work. He described it as a Greater Eurasian Partnership, to which all members of the EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN can contribute, as well as all the other states of this huge and highly competitive Eurasian space, which is our common continent.

We want to promote a common security and economic agenda in Asia Pacific that can bring nations together in the pursuit of such goals as peace, sustainable development and stronger foundations of interstate relations.

It is on these foundations that we are developing relations with Vietnam, strengthening our comprehensive strategic partnership that is working effectively in all spheres, from politics and the economy to military-technical cooperation, military interaction, education and tourism. Our strategic partnership is playing a major role in creating a multifaceted and effective architecture of regional cooperation.

Our positions on the key international topics coincide or are very close. We are committed to international law, the key role of the UN and the principles of the UN Charter.  We are closely cooperating and coordinating our moves at the main multifaceted platforms such as the UN and the venues inspired by ASEAN, including APEC, the Asia-Europe Meeting and regional inter-parliamentary conferences.

In the context of unacceptable Western actions at the OPCW last year, Russia and Vietnam, together with many other countries, mounted resistance against the attempts to hold a vote on amendments to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which by definition is based on consensus, just as any amendments to it. Russia and Vietnam keep up their resistance to the efforts to give the OPCW Technical Secretariat new powers to identify the perpetrators [of chemical attacks]. This amounts to a direct gross violation of the UN Security Council prerogatives.

I know that our Vietnamese friends would like their country to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. The five permanent members have a “gentleman’s agreement,” even though there are no gentlemen there any more, under which we do not disclose our candidates for non-permanent seats at the council. We honour this agreement, and Vietnam is a good candidate.

To be continued

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