Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's statement and answers to questions at a meeting with heads of large industrial enterprises of the Sverdlovsk Region, Yekaterinburg, September 2, 2021
2 September 202121:00
Thank you for the opportunity to meet you and visit Yekaterinburg, the very centre of our country. Your city is one of the faces of the Russian Federation. We are well aware of that and trying to actively promote it for our foreign policy interests.
It is gratifying that region keeps applying to hold international forums. At present it is already preparing to host the 2023 Universiade. Here, in the centre of our country, one gets a real and clear feeling of the might of our Eurasian power which is open to the west, east, south and north. When the West starts offering ultimatums and unacceptable conditions, trying to make us do only the things they consider right, the share of economic and commercial ties with the East increases for objective reasons. This creates new opportunities for Yekaterinburg as one of Eurasia's biggest hubs. Your role will continue to expand including in the context of the plans we are promoting in line with the Greater Eurasian Partnership concept proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Various integration processes are ongoing on our common huge continent β the EAEU, SCO, ASEAN, EU. In the era when global competition is entering a new round, it would be unwise to neglect the tremendous advantages of prospective transcontinental global projects, which will increase transit capabilities including those of the Russian Federation. As you know, we are currently aligning the EAEU's plans with China's One Belt One Road project. It is in perfect harmony with plans to set up the Europe β West China transport corridor. ASEAN countries are joining in. This is not about pushing something on somebody. The above integration associations retain their concepts for further development, however, any forward-looking person realises that nowadays it is unforgivable to self-isolate from the developments around you. As President Vladimir Putin announced, when proposing the concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, we consider it necessary to invite all countries, without exception, to join such common work, and to look for opportunities to improve the effectiveness of their own actions and efforts that are made within the framework of respective associations. The doors remain open to the EU countries. We know how they are being actively influenced, in particular, by them being prohibited from joining the One Belt One Road project. Italy showed independence and signed a corresponding agreement with China. I was in Rome, talking with my colleague. He admitted that they had withdrawn their signature. They were persuaded that it was best to stay away for now.
The methods of unfair competition have not vanished. On the contrary, at a time when our Western colleagues are trying in every possible way to slow down the formation of a more balanced and democratic world order - which we call polycentric, multipolar - and are artificially trying to maintain their dominant positions, various methods are being used that we have not seen to such an extent before. Sanctions have become commonplace. When some little thing goes wrong β here come sanctions. No one in the West is grieving the fact that this violates the UN Charter and the principles of international law.
We are committed to help Russian business in every possible way when we work in the international arena, especially those businesses that deal with industrial and innovative export. Our main goal of foreign policy (they are defined in the Concept approved by the President) is to create the most favourable external conditions for the development of the country, including ensuring its security, economic interests and the task of improving the well-being of our citizens, as well as protecting their interests and business interests in the international arena. This is a strategic direction, which is prescriptive. It is easier for us than for many others to defend our position in the world, given our geographical position, which we have just spoken about, and the status of a UN Security Council permanent member. All the factors that characterise the Russian Federation require an exclusively independent and self-sustained foreign policy in all directions. Independence by no means excludes but presupposes our engagement in developing the broadest international cooperation with everyone who is ready to do this on an equal, mutually beneficial and pragmatic basis. Such states make up the majority. So far, the minority represented by our Western colleagues is not ready for honest work. However, there are isolated examples when considerations of commercial benefits and long-term business interests take over. I believe you have many such partners. This must be supported in every possible way because we stand for clearing business relations from the taint of politicisation. In Ukraine, after the coup d'Γ©tat, carried out in gross violation of what was agreed between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition and guaranteed by European countries, including France and Germany, all this was trampled underfoot. The putschists who came to power first of all announced that they would undermine the position of the Russian language and that Russians should be expelled from Crimea altogether. When that happened, the natural reaction of the Crimeans turned into an expression of will, and the overwhelming majority spoke for rejoining the Russian Federation. The West made an obvious blunder, or it could have been a pre-concocted provocation. Be that as it may, we had nothing to do with that. The only thing we did was to stand up to defend the Russians and other ethnicities that lived in Crimea and rebelled against attempts to suppress their will by force. Then the EU announced sanctions. I remember very well how the German Business Association clearly stated that economy should prevail over politics while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that in this particular case we were talking about principles, international law, so the economy must submit to politics. I believe that this is a wrong approach. Now more and more voices are being heard saying that the sanctions did not achieve any of the goals set by the West. The only thing that happened was that we became more independent in providing ourselves with strategic goods and increased our ability to do the most important things on our own. Let me emphasise that no one slams the door on partnership, but in case there is another display of unreliable behaviour by our Western colleagues, we must be able to produce key things on our own.
Our position in the world must be propped up with a number of key factors. They include the high quality of our human resources, an ability to ensure technological leadership and efficient public administration, including in securing the economy's transition to a new technological base.
The fourth industrial revolution is currently underway. We are witnessing a significant acceleration of respective processes along the outside contour. The task to proceed to advanced technological positions is urgent. It is our sacred duty as Foreign Ministry personnel to render maximum support to the companies that are determined to solve these tasks. The state will continue supporting the processes of our business moving to advanced technological positions. In his Address to the Federal Assembly in April 2021, President Putin underscored the point of the key significance of science in today's world and reaffirmed the plan to deliver 1,630 billion roubles for creating modern digital and intellectual technologies. They include production of materials with programmed properties, development of the climate-saving energy industry, individualised preventive medicine, a task that takes medicine to an absolutely new level.
An example everyone is hearing about today is the fight against the pandemic. Wealthy countries, those that do not have all the necessary capabilities. became dependant on the states that had managed to produce a vaccine since they possessed a long and time-tested medical base. Now, not only developing countries have to stand in a queue. WHO Secretary General Tedros Ghebreyesus recently expressed his deep concern that the majority of developing countries have not even started their vaccination campaigns. Some Western countries also found themselves in a rather unpleasant situation due to the lack of their own industrial base.
I believe that our innovative sector has passed the coronavirus trial with dignity. Sputnik V in all aspects is the second most widely recognised vaccine in the world. Our vaccine has been registered in 70 countries. We can see attempts to slow down the recognition of Sputnik V in the EU. Regretfully, they have nothing to do with the interests of people's health and early resumption of contacts, including business contacts and cultural, humanitarian and educational exchanges.
Speaking about the pandemic, here is an interesting observation. It is not really ours. This is being talked about, pondered and discussed confidentially by many Western politicians. I am referring to the fact that the pandemic has clearly debunked the myth of no alternatives to the Western neo-liberal model of society based on individualism and unrestricted market forces. Western politicians admit in conversations with us that the countries that traditionally have a strong power vertical, which are capable of quickly mobilising their capabilities and taking the measures required under such emergency situations, are much more resilient to this kind of challenges. As a rule, these countries are committed to sovereignty and do not give it away in the hope that those who take it from them will resolve all their issues.
Globalisation is marching on around the world. Our policy consists of facilitating national development and serving the interests of our citizens as much as possible. The state is doing its part. On the other hand, this is a two-way process: the more we succeed in our policy to strengthen our economy and boost its competitiveness, the more confident we feel on the international stage. From a pragmatic standpoint, this is a win-win situation.
It is clear that an effective foreign policy would be impossible without a substantial, advanced, innovative technology potential at its core. At this stage, developing a wider range of innovative industrial products is a major priority. On the one hand, sanctions constitute an obstacle, while on the other, they force us to mobilise and come up with internal reserves. Russian manufacturers have been consolidating their standing not only on the domestic, but also on the international markets, despite everything the West is doing. The national programme to stimulate exports has been yielding results. Foreign trade revenue is up and is running a surplus, which proves that Russia and its products are competitive, and offering new opportunities for replenishing state coffers.
The task of promoting exports mainly falls within the purview of the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Russian Export Centre. Still, the Foreign Ministry also contributes to these efforts through the foreign policy tools available to us, keeping in touch with the Russian business community in order to stay abreast of your interests and aspirations. It is along these lines that we regularly engage with Russian businesses within the framework of the Foreign Ministry's Business Council and its Council of the Heads of Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation, which includes regions from all federal districts, on a rotational basis. We have cooperation agreements with the majority of business associations, including the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, Delovaya Rossiya and agreements with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the leading companies, including from the commodities sector and innovation giants like Rostec.
We have 250 embassies and consulates general around the world, and this number will keep rising, even though this is no easy task. We need to expand our diplomatic footprint within the CIS. If we look at the number of Western embassies, they have two or three times more foreign missions that we do. Considering that more and more Russians travel abroad, including on vacation, we need consular departments in the key destinations. For example, we have only three diplomats in Antalya. Despite all the resistance, we are working hard to open consulates in Egypt, in Sharm El Sheikh and Hurghada. We need to reinforce our presence in Thailand. There is room to expand. Nevertheless, when Russian companies want to hold talks abroad, the existing foreign missions are up to the task. We receive requests to this effect in advance, and when everything is done in a timely and transparent manner, everything goes well. Our ambassadors and consuls general keep a close eye on the way international organisations assess socioeconomic processes in Russia. Whenever we hold international forums, the Foreign Ministry always seeks to engage with businesses. Companies working abroad need to be aware of the geopolitical reality. We are always open to advising them on these matters.
The pandemic has been a very stressful period for our consular services, but in the end, everything went well. Not only hundreds of thousands of tourists, but many of those who had taken up permanent residence abroad decided to return to Russia. I believe that we did a good job, showing that countries with an efficient government can effectively deliver on the most challenging tasks.
When I spoke about foreign policy, I touched on the approach that the West has been advancing against Russia and China. China is often mentioned as number one threat for the United States. The threat is simple to understand: China is playing on a field that the United States created after World War II and subsequently modernised. Examples include the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO, as well as the globalisation tools and mechanisms. All of that was initiated by the West. The entire world, including China, has accepted these rules. Playing on this Western rules-based field, China has outcompeted the United States economically. They are using all kinds of discriminatory and proscriptive measures against China. It is no coincidence that Washington is holding back the resumption of the WTO dispute settlement body. There must be a quorum for it to be legitimately operational. Some of its members have left this body for a variety of reasons. Some were fired, others found another job. It has no authority or a required quorum to review complaints, which China, among others, is submitting in large numbers. The United States has the procedural ability to block appointments to this organisation, and without these appointments it cannot function properly. Instead of doing an honest job dealing with the claims that China has filed against the United States and vice versa - Western countries often have the same needs - it was proclaimed that the WTO must be reformed. Furthermore, Washington officially stated that this reform should be made by the United States and Europe, rather than China or other competitors. This kind of logic lies far from the principles underlying free market and fair competition.
The EAEU is working hard. The weight of this association has significantly increased with the inclusion of India and Pakistan as the SCO members. The EAEU is very popular. Countries as diverse as Vietnam, Singapore and Serbia have signed free trade agreements with it. An interim agreement on a free trade area has been signed with Iran and is in effect. The process for signing a permanent agreement will begin soon. Talks with Israel and Egypt are underway and have made good progress. India suggested starting talks on this matter. We have received dozens of applications from different countries and integration associations, including quite a few from Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
We are working in strategic areas to promote Eurasian economic integration and main areas of industrial cooperation up to 2025. Cooperation is being established within the EAEU in aircraft construction and other high-tech areas. We are widely using various international forums, such as SPIEF and EEF, which is currently underway. Yekaterinburg is the venue for Innoprom. This year, for the first time, a European country, Italy, was our main partner. The Italian delegation to the exhibition that was held in July was led by the Minister of Economic Development. The exhibition was a success. During the talks in Rome, Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told me that the participants had brought back good impressions. I told them right away that this did not surprise me, because the people of Yekaterinburg know how to welcome their guests and make sure they are satisfied with their work. We will continue to support you so that the next Innoprom makes an even better impression on its participants.
Rest assured that the Russian leadership is committed to continuing to work to create favourable conditions for expanding the Russian companies' participation in global technology chains. The Government has been instructed to simplify administrative procedures and to improve tax and customs administration. These processes are highlighted in the People's Programme drafted by United Russia.
We will uphold our common interests in the WTO. It appears that the reform is unavoidable. But we will definitely push for (and we have enough arguments to do so) discussing this reform in a universal format based on equality of all participants.
We are confident that we are on the right track in foreign policy and in expanding our domestic industrial capabilities. Much remains to be done. But, as the saying goes, it's only those who do nothing that make no mistakes. With all the irregularities that are part of any process, the union of the state and business in the interests of our Motherland is quite promising. We prove it every single year.
Question: The subject of carbon tax is often on the information agenda. It is due to the EU's plans to introduce additional charges for importing such products as steel, aluminium, copper, fertilisers, electricity and cement. How should Russian businesses prepare themselves for this? What is the Russian Foreign Ministry's view on transborder carbon regulation?
Sergey Lavrov: This is indeed an important matter we are dealing with. Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly spoke on it during international talks and also publicly commented on this during a press conference together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
This is a European Union's initiative. It was presented as a settled matter. We think the introduction of this initiative will run counter to WTO norms because specialists have just named it "carbon, or climate protectionism."
We have asked the EU to explain to us how they see the transformation of this initiative into a universally accepted behaviour on decreasing the carbon footprint in the economy and economic relations.
Some specialists (without waiting for detailed explanations we were promised but have not received yet) are starting to propose their own ideas including about a possibility that EU partner countries, be it Russia, China or any other country that will see a significant increase in production costs due to this carbon tax, should also introduce such a regulation and then say that we already made respective payments and should not be bothered again. All this is being thought over.
The nearest step β we are expecting the EU will explicate to us how they see it, if this is a unilateral decision: they do it, and we have to pay extra if we want to stay in their market. This will totally contradict the WTO norms.
We have many like-minded partners here. It is one of the most crucial topics. I cannot say anything definite as yet. We will inform our business community about all the new points concerning our talks with the EU.
Question: The coronavirus pandemic has been making adjustments to our export agenda for a year now. We have a plant called Kushva Roll Manufacturing Factory which is one of a kind and a core enterprise for the town. The plant exports around 60 percent of its produce. The export geography is very large β North America, Europe, Asian countries. We encountered a problem. I will not even mention the more complicated procedure for obtaining US visas for our specialists. The receiving side is ready to approve a visit on the condition that the specialists have been given vaccines they recognise. Everyone here has been vaccinated with Sputnik V. We are ready to get another jab with a different vaccine so as to be allowed in but it is not possible. Certain matters have been suspended for a year due to this mishap. We are we to do?
Sergey Lavrov: We can only hope the efforts we have been making for over a year will finally succeed. From the outset, over a year ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the rollout of Sputnik V, he said straight away that we would offer the broadest international cooperation, including on vaccine manufacturing. There were some bright spots later on. Apparently, AstraZeneca and the Gamaleya National Research Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology decided to try to make a joint vaccine, to combine their vaccines, and to alternate Sputnik V with other vaccines. All that is being discussed at the researcher level. In Argentina, they perform such combinations, and Argentina is one of the biggest Sputnik V recipients and they have arranged vaccine production there. It is yielding good results.
But the key is the Western countries. They have not registered our vaccine, as you have noted, they are waiting for the review by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO experts visited all the factories producing Sputnik V in our country. It was in the spring. They have continued to ask additional questions ever since. It is hard for me to suspect the WHO of deliberately slowing down the process but they have hefty red tape there. Thousands of forms need to be filled in and a million questions answered. This is accounted for by the impact these vaccines may have on people's health. But the very use of the vaccine has already proved the efficiency and safety of Sputnik V. We have not heard of any side effects comparable to those of the Western vaccines.
I am not agitating against Western vaccines. On the contrary, when the EU proposed that we think about reciprocal certification of the vaccines, we promptly agreed. However, later on the author of the proposal was obviously told that they must not "put the cart before the horse." And the horse is the European Medicines Agency. Brussels officials said straightforwardly that there should be no rush with the Russian vaccine and that they should focus on their own vaccines.
For all the importance of the WHO and EU authorisation, its absence does not preclude European nations, including EU members, from obtaining the Russian vaccine. Hungary, for example, exercised this right. As early as last autumn my colleague sent a request to me, we agreed it with the Russian Healthcare Ministry and the Emergency Response Centre. And it has been quite a while that Hungarians have been getting jabs of both Sputnik V and European vaccines.
I was in Hungary before visiting Italy. Before the talks I was asked to address the annual meeting of Hungarian ambassadors abroad. My colleague Peter Szijjarto publicly praised our interaction on this. We and Hungary reciprocally acknowledge vaccination certificates regardless of the type of vaccine.
There was an interesting case in Italy. I gave them the example of Hungary. I told them if they were interested they should not wait for the European Medicines Agency's authorisation, the more so because within Italy there is the state of San Marino which I visited a few years ago. We signed agreements and our tourists began to frequent it. It is a tiny state with a population of under 100,000. They recalled our meetings. San Marino's Foreign Minister Luca Beccari called me to ask if they could have our vaccine. The volumes were low, it was not hard to do it. And Sputnik V went there. They were all vaccinated with our vaccine.
It is amazing that tourists from other European countries come to San Marino to get a jab (San Marino is not an EU member). The "medical tourism" has been launched. Meanwhile, a vaccinated San Marino resident can visit Italy. Our Italian colleagues did not have any substantive arguments to that. The only thing they said was that they had become aware of the situation and from October, they will demand that people arriving from San Marino also have a European vaccine. The developments of many months clearly indicate that the vaccine works and that people use it. I do not want to blame anyone but politicisation is a meaningless process. We are ready to agree to reciprocal recognition of certificates as early as tomorrow.
Question: I would like to share a problem that stood out quite prominently in late 2019 - early 2020 when pandemic-related restrictions were imposed in the wake of the disease spreading in China. China introduced restrictions on C and M visas for tourists and lorry drivers carrying international goods. Once they were introduced, the question arose of what to do next. Taking into account the fact that the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Yekaterinburg did not accept documents and did not issue visas, we were hard pressed to overcome this problem.
We turned to the Foreign Ministry's representative in Yekaterinburg and the Sverdlovsk Region Government, as well as the Urals Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Collectively, the issue was discussed with my participation. The decision we took back then was incomplete since China had decided that these must be single-entry visas valid for three months.
Sverdlovsk Region Governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev joined in and sent a letter to you with a request to assist in obtaining multiple-entry visas for a period of one year. In the end, the issue was resolved in that manner. This helped a lot, because many export-oriented enterprises working with China could have been shut down. Thank you, Mr Lavrov.
I am aware that you recently met with motor transport workers in Kaliningrad. Most of the automotive industry-related issues were discussed there. We are aware of them. The Ural carriers asked us to draw your attention to the fact that the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk Regions, as well as the Perm Territory are the most developed regions with a strong export industry. Foreign carriers come here knowing they will get some cargo for the return trip. When they come here, having earned their keep, they often dump prices at a time where our carriers are incorporated here, and pay their taxes and all other fees to off-budget funds here, as well as wages, and provide jobs and then cannot be competitive in these circumstances.
Sergey Lavrov: Are they dumping shipping rates?
Question: There is no such thing as rates. They are created by the carriers themselves, but there are average prices. Their shipping price is 20-30 percent lower. This worries us, because our carriers cannot work for this money. The total percentage of foreign carriers in the transport market of the Ural regions as compared to the rest of Russia is 54 and 46 percent. In other words, there are more foreign operators.
Sergey Lavrov: Just like there are more legionnaires in football. Truth be told, they plan to cancel the limit on legionnaires to introduce competition, but your situation is different.
This subject was not raised in Kaliningrad. Clearly, your region is primarily interested in it. If you put this on paper and give it to me, I will talk with the President of the Association of International Road Carriers, Yevgeny Moskvichyov.
As for China, thank you for your kind words. This decision of the Chinese side was dictated, as you understand, by anti-COVID measures. Road and rail transport in China, not to mention crossing of the border by people, was discussed at the highest level. I have raised this with my colleague many times as well.
They recently had one coronavirus case in Wuhan and shut down the entire province. This is their line of conduct, and they will not budge from it. But in this particular case, we made it clear that there were plans and ties between enterprises which cannot be broken. As a result, we reached an agreement on a one-time basis, as in your case.
Question: I represent thousands of Uralasbest employees. The company is over 130 years old. We are an export-oriented enterprise and we export over 80 percent of our output.
Russia has been operating under sanctions since 2014, while we have been under sanctions for over 30 years now. Without the support of President Putin, who ratified the Rotterdam Convention, without your support (we communicate closely with the Foreign Ministry's office in Yekaterinburg and resolve many issues), or without the support of the regional authorities, we would be hard pressed to protect chrysotile.
For the tenth time in 20 years in Geneva, at a meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, the issue of chrysotile asbestos will again come under review in 2022. Our "sworn friends" have been trying in every possible way to keep this item on the agenda for 20 years now, looking for ways to push it through by voting or in some other way.
Now the issue is being debated at a meeting of the Rotterdam Convention by consensus, but they are trying to change the procedure and to make it a general vote. If they succeed, the industry, which employs tens of thousands of people, will find itself in a difficult situation. Please do not let this happen in 2022 and uphold your position on chrysotile. If needed, I can submit this in writing.
Sergey Lavrov: I am sure we have that information, but it won't hurt if you let us have it in writing. Please do, so we can refer to our business' position.
I am well aware of this matter. During bilateral talks, we, in conjunction with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, provide our partners such as India, Vietnam, and a number of other Asian countries, with evidence showing that this type of asbestos is safe.
With regard to the Rotterdam Convention, it is an established trend in the West's actions. I keep saying this when I talk about geopolitical trends where they have stopped using the expression "international law" for a long time now and are using the term "rules-based world order" instead. Among other things, this presupposes this kind of unacceptable and illegal action to amend the convention's documents. A convention represents a consensus by definition. It was drafted with the consent of all the participants. Again, a consensus is needed to change it, including the procedure. The convention itself thus needs to be amended.
Three years ago, the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (chrysotile is not yet a chemical weapon) set up a Technical Secretariat which has just one responsibility: if a country asks it to check whether a chemical agent had been used in a particular case, it must send its experts there who must take samples and, without letting them out of their hands, take them to a certified laboratory and then present the test results in the form of a yes or no. So, they voted in violation of every procedure including the convention. By minority vote, because the others were either against it or abstained, they gave the Technical Secretariat the right to determine the violator, which can only be done by the UN Security Council. They created an "attribution" mechanism.
Similar developments are unfolding at UNESCO around the Convention against Doping in Sport. They also have consensus procedures there. By hook or by crook they are trying to give the Secretariat the same right to "point the finger" at things, even though there are other procedures, there is WADA and its relations with national anti-doping agencies. UNESCO has a convention that cannot be changed in any way without the consent of all parties. But they are trying to impose on us these functions for the secretariat, which will serve the interests of the West.
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