Traditionally, we meet here on September 1 to give a joint start to a new academic year. Of course, we send special congratulations to the first-year students who were admitted in the wake of a serious competition, of which Rector Anatoly Torkunov just provided a detailed account. MGIMO renews its reputation year in and year out. The competition here is the highest among Russian universities, and the quality of new students is always a source of great respect and admiration.
Despite the coronavirus, admissions went well this year. We followed them online and otherwise to make sure the requirements were complied with. Mr Torkunov has just mentioned the results which are impressive.
Mr Torkunov celebrated his anniversary the other day. It was especially gratifying to hear people talk on this day about MGIMO traditions, our history and the people who work and study here. So, I don't need to say more about my alma mater. I would like to once again extend my best wishes to Mr Torkunov on his anniversary. As you may be aware, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, signed an executive order to present the rector of MGIMO, Alexander Torkunov, with the Order of Merit to the Fatherland, 2nd Class. I think this symbolically goes to show not only the recognition of his personal achievements, but also his achievements at the university.
Mr Torkunov said that the Foreign Ministry as an employer is the ultimate measure of the university's success. Although, based on the numbers, an insignificant portion of the graduates join the Foreign Ministry every year, maybe dozens, or at times, a hundred or so graduates. Many more graduates find employment in government departments, private businesses or journalism. The training is fundamental in nature and provides an excellent opportunity to choose a profession to one's liking. Once again, the quality of the education guarantees that, if there's a will, great success can be achieved in any area of interest.
As you are aware, we chose diplomacy as our major at a time when it was easier to make this choice. Probably, there were fewer temptations compared to the number of faculties that are available at MGIMO now. We had four faculties. We chose diplomacy, so every year I talk about diplomacy here. Considering that you joined the Institute of International Relations, I am not going to spend much time talking about the international situation. If you are here, then you must be following developments and taking an interest in them.
I will say briefly that for several years now the international situation has been characterised by a transition to a new, more democratic and just multilateral system, which should do a better job accounting for the changes that have taken place in the world over the past decades. Primarily, the changes consist of the fact that all issues have become transboundary and affect all countries equally. No country can deal on its own with the kind of challenges we are facing now. The coronavirus is one such challenge, not to mention international terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime, climate problems and much more.
Another problem we are facing today is the reluctance of many countries, primarily the individual US-led Western countries, to recognise objective reality, notably, the forming of a new system of relations and the emergence of new centres of power. It will suffice to mention China and India as the drivers of economic growth. As for the Asia-Pacific Region as a whole, this region is growing the fastest of all. The financial might followed by political influence comes with the appearance of economic power. I consider short-sighted and dangerous attempts to ignore this reality and prevent the creation of relations that would take into account the new achievements of many countries fully and with due respect. So what is happening? For almost 500 years our Western colleagues set the tone in world affairs, controlled the economy via colonial conquest and ensured a glamorous life for their elite by exporting natural resources from their colonies. Much has happened in these 500 years.
Even after the colonial system collapsed the teacher-pupil or boss-assistant relations still largely influenced the mentality of Western politicians. Even today they refuse to recognise the need to deal with others on an equal basis, and to take for granted a multi-polar and multi-centric reality. Now they are trying to preserve their dominant position not by using the natural mechanisms of economic dominance they created but through completely illegal approaches. These are sanctions, direct intervention and many other actions that we see practically daily as regards many states.
When they fail to dominate a country in a single effort, they create what is called "a space of chaos" that they hope to turn into controlled chaos. But experience shows it is impossible to manage chaos. It all started in Yugoslavia back in 1999 and was followed by the events in Iraq, Libya, Syria and other countries in the Middle East. The sad example of what happened in Ukraine is common knowledge. Today, our Belorussian neighbours are going through a difficult time. We have stated our position in very clear terms. President of Russia Vladimir Putin openly spoke about it. We will be guided by international law and the commitments that exist between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. Of course, we want Belarusians to have the opportunity to resolve their problems without any outside interference.
We can see that many Western states, both our neighbours and the countries overseas - I'm talking about the United States and Canada – are tempted to impose certain approaches to overcoming the current situation in the Republic of Belarus. President of Belarus Lukashenko is responding to these approaches. We believe no obtrusive intermediary services are needed. The President of Belarus has proposed constitutional reform. According to our shared assessment, this move can be used to start a dialogue with civil society and should allow for discussing all the issues of concern that are of interest to particular groups of Belarusian citizens. Later, during the interactive part of our meeting, I can provide more comments on this matter should you have any questions.
Now, I would like to conclude my opening remarks by saying that we stand for a more democratic and just world order, strict compliance with the UN Charter and against attempts to replace international law with obscure rules the world order should be based on. This is a new idea advanced by the Western countries. They coined the term "rule-based order." The rules change all the time depending on what our Western colleagues want to achieve in a particular case. Coalitions of like-minded nations are being created, usually from among Western countries; they also hand-pick partners from other regions who do as our Western colleagues say. In their circle, they agree to create some kind of a "partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons," then "cybersecurity partnership" and "partnerships to punish those who interfere in cyberspace with unseemly goals" or a "partnership to protect human rights." All of this is done in a format that is far from universal, but is used only within a narrow circle of those who will not go against the Western initiators of these machinations. Then, the rule that governs a particular issue is declared universal, and everyone is required to observe it. Those who do not comply with the rules developed in such a narrow circle are subjected to sanctions.
Unfortunately, the European Union, on cue from the United States, is increasingly going down the road of the sanctions pressure. The EU decided to create mechanisms for imposing sanctions for intrusion into the cyber-sphere with criminal intent (according to their judgment), human rights and some other matters. These sanctions are illegitimate from the point of view of international law, just like any other unilateral sanctions for that matter. This trend is clearly taking shape. "We - the West, the EU and NATO - know better how to live on this planet." Everyone else should listen up.
Look at what NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, certain EU representatives and Western leaders who head the OSCE are saying about the situation in Belarus. It's nothing short of moral preaching delivered in a tone that allows no doubt that it should be followed by everyone as a guideline. This stems from the lack of elementary diplomatic skills and, by and large, is unethical not only from the diplomatic, but also the plain good manners point of view. We can see that and we take note of it.
For example, our French and German colleagues announced last year that they would create a partnership for multilateralism. Multilateralism is probably a good thing. We have always been in favour of resolving problems through collective – multilateral - approaches rather than unilaterally. Why do those who want to promote multilateralism put forward an initiative like this outside the framework of the most multilateral and universal organisation, the UN? This remains unclear. They haven't even tried to do so. By the way, at the UN, Russia and a large group of countries, including our neighbours and countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, are promoting a partnership in defence of the principles of the UN Charter. This is probably the very motion that is required to indicate commitment to the principles of multilateralism.
We criticise the actions of our Western partners and a number of other countries on the problems that we would like to resolve in accordance with international law and the search for a balance of interests rather than unilateral pressure. Nevertheless, we do not limit ourselves to criticism. We suggest a positive agenda. As I have said, this consists of a return to the foundations of the UN: to respect the principles of the UN Charter; remember that it was born 75 years ago in the aftermath of World War II owing to Victory in the Great Patriotic War and the Victory that was achieved by the efforts of the countries with different socio-political and ideological systems. The allies in the war pooled their efforts for the sake of victory over a common enemy. They rose above the differences that divided them in the years before WWII. This has been expressed many times.
I think that today the world situation is not as bloody as it was in WWII but there are many more risks and they are no less serious. I mentioned terrorism, and drug crime that kills an enormous number of people every year. Let's not forget about the risks of WMD proliferation. Now the United States has practically destroyed the entire system of deterrence in arms control. It is adopting doctrines that actually lower the nuclear threshold. On top of all that, terrorist and other groups crave access to nuclear technology and methods of creating and using other WMDs (chemical and biological weapons). I believe it would be a crime for all of us to isolate ourselves in our "national apartments," slam ours doors and refuse to deal with a country until it complies with our ultimatums. But we are seeing all of that.
Look what problems now exist in relations not only between Russia and the US but also between the US and China.
Our position is one of searching for compromise and a balance of interest. The organisations in which Russia takes part – the CIS, the CSTO, the EAEU, BRICS and the SCO – are designed to find compromise. Recognition of new realities was expressed in the creation of the G20 that includes the BRICS countries, the G7 and a number of leading developing nations. The G20 continues its very important work. Now, in effect, this is the only venue beyond the UN where all countries with the leading economies are represented and in which they have set a common goal – to come to terms. Many other formats that our Western partners are involved in miss this logic.
We promote an agenda that should help overcome persisting international problems through cooperation. It must necessarily be equitable, based on consideration for each other's concerns and be aimed, let me emphasise this again, at searching for a balance of interests.
We have created our vision of moving towards harmony in world affairs. As for economic problems, we are convinced of the need to move towards the creation of the Great Eurasian Partnership (which is reflected in the initiative of the President of Russia) that would be open to economic and humanitarian cooperation of all Eurasian countries, including the members of the EAEU, the SCO, the EU and ASEAN. We have a huge continent with tremendous wealth, and it would be, of course, very unwise not to use this God-given advantage. Our long-term goal is to use it. I am confident that historically this process will be accepted by all countries on our continent.
In the near term, we consider it very important for the UN Security Council permanent members to display responsibility in line with the UN Charter and hold a summit. At this summit, it should be possible to review ways to drastically enhance global security by implementing the power of these five countries, which are fixed in the UN Charter. All five countries have given a positive response to this proposal by President of Russia Vladimir Putin. I hope the summit will take place as soon as the coronavirus pandemic permits. Needless to say, this must be a face-to-face summit.
Let's go to the interactive format. Question:
The coronavirus pandemic caused changes in all spheres of society's life. What changes are in store for the system of international relations? Sergey Lavrov:
The system of international relations is part of the system of society's life. Consequently, long-distance and online technologies that are becoming part of humankind's life will also expand their role in the area of international relations. This process will be directly proportional to the extent of their influence on society's life.
I should mention a very serious restriction here. Far from all important aspects of international affairs can be discussed online, even using the secure networks that are protected from bugging and illegal access. This technological process would be unsafe; however, this is not the most important thing. The problem is that it is impossible to coordinate the most serious agreements on the most crucial matters online. This calls for personal contacts, a chance to get a feeling of where the other party is at, an understanding of how they can be reasoned with, as well as a readiness to find something in their words that can be acceptable for you. As I see it, this process can never be completely conducted online. Nothing can replace personal contacts. At the same time, there is a number of events, especially those with more pronounced protocol aspects. For example, this includes a meeting of some organisation's ministers for which expert documents have already been prepared. The ministers have the opportunity to speak and approve the relevant resolutions. In this case, I don't see any major problems with using the online format. We have held a videoconference of SCO foreign ministers, and we are preparing for a BRICS conference. A videoconference of G20 foreign ministers is scheduled to be held this week. Saudi Arabia currently presides in the G20, and it is organising the event. I repeat, these are mostly protocol and ceremonial occasions. But for numerous personal meetings, including closed, private and confidential meetings between the United States and Iranian representatives, the sides would never have reached agreement without holding numerous in-person talks.
We are now ready to support direct dialogue between the United States and Iran, and we are ready to create favourable conditions for this dialogue, if both sides are interested in this. It is always better to directly state one's grievances and listen to the answer.