Transcript of Remarks by Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, at an Enlarged Meeting of the Federation Council International Affairs Committee, Moscow, 18 September 2008

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Esteemed Mikhail Vitalyevich [Margelov],

Esteemed colleagues,

This is a continuation of our close interaction, without which there can be no effective foreign policy, and it is not for nothing that the Foreign Policy Concept, which the President approved in July last year, emphasizes the importance of forming public diplomacy as well. We must explain our line in every way and actively work with political scientists and NGOs and with business and the media.

I would like to thank the International Affairs Committee leadership for this opportunity to share my thoughts on the state of affairs in the world after the latest events in the Caucasus and on our approaches to the settlement of regional conflicts and crisis situations as a whole.

We, as the President and Government Chairman have said more than once, reacted to Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia in full conformity with the fundamental principles of international law, including the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, and with our international peacekeeping obligations regarding the settlement of this conflict. Our recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia also has a firm basis in international law, including the provisions of the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations among States, adopted by the UN General Assembly. The essence of this Declaration is that the right of a state to territorial integrity is conditioned by its ability to respect the right to self-determination and development of all the peoples living on its territory and its ability to represent all these peoples without distinction as to race, color or nationality. It is abundantly clear that the present Georgian regime does not conform to these high standards. Russia’s recognition of these two republics was the only possible solution for ensuring not merely their security, but also the very survival of our fraternal peoples in the face of the chauvinistic course that had repeatedly manifested itself since the government of Gamsakhurdia, who bluntly called for deporting South Ossetians to Russia, reducing the territory on which the Abkhaz live and depriving Adzharia of autonomy and declared that the titular nation alone must control everything that is on the territory of Georgia. Although this course was brought to a halt in its time, Mikhail Saakashvili is a worthy continuer of Gamsakhurdia’s ideas. He tried in practice to do what his teacher had been unable to. Through his aggression against South Ossetia on the night of August 7-8, the shelling of a sleeping city and the preparation of a similar blitzkrieg against Abkhazia, the current Georgian president himself gave up on the territorial integrity of his state.

Our decision on recognition has been dictated by legal and political and moral considerations. It gives everybody a real way out of the situation which would otherwise have remained a source of regional destabilization for a long time. That’s what the revenge-seeking rhetoric of Tbilisi indicates, as does the talk about Georgia’s remilitarization and even, according to some data, the readiness of certain foreign backers to train in Georgia subversive and terrorist groups for the continuation of, so to speak, the restoration of constitutional order. We all saw the demonstrative visit to Tbilisi by the North Atlantic Council, and there is nothing to add here. I consider that this is a very dangerous game. And if no one has drawn conclusions from how this particular regime uses the assistance rendered to it, primarily in the military field, it’s a sad thing.

Although, for justice’s sake, I shall say that the West is already beginning to ponder that the Saakashvili regime in no way conforms to the standards of democracy. Surely democracies do not unleash aggressive wars. Here our western partners have to choose either to be with the one who murdered Russian citizens or deny him unconditional support.

There should be no confusing the Saakashvili regime with the Georgian people, for whom we entertain a sincere feeling of friendship and sympathy. Sooner or later I am sure that the Georgian people will acquire worthy leaders who will be able to really care for their country and to develop respectful, equal and good-neighborly relations with all peoples of the Caucasus.

As you know, in accordance with the President’s Decrees of August 26 we have established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Abkhazia and with the Republic of South Ossetia. The bilateral Treaties on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance were signed yesterday. On September 14-15 my first working visit to Sukhum and Tskhinval took place. Russian embassies will soon be opened there, so far in temporary premises, but later we will find befitting offices for our diplomatic missions.

In parallel with the creation of a broad legal and regulatory basis of relations between Russia, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, these republics themselves have to adopt their fundamental legislative acts that will enshrine their new status and which should conform to generally accepted international legal standards, which Presidents Bagapsh and Kokoity told me about.

Subjects of the Russian Federation can make a weighty contribution to shaping practical arrangements for South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence. This was discussed in detail at the special State Council meeting held on September 6. Many regions already have the appropriate experience. For our part we are planning to actively assist in this direction within the framework of the Council of Heads of Subjects of the Russian Federation at the MFA.

Foreign policy wise, there is a lot of work ahead, first of all on the information front. Mikhail Vitalyevich has already spoken about the information war that was unleashed against us. The unprecedented overshooting scale of this information war was counterproductive, teetering as it did on the brink of self-exposure. Our media did the right thing by relaying all this to Russian audiences. The entire depth of anti-Russian prejudices stood revealed, biases that, incidentally, are being used for selfish political aims in a number of neighboring countries, for example Ukraine. We can conclude that the total bias of western media has exhausted their resource of impact on our public opinion and our politics. The West will have to take this into consideration. Especially as the dust is beginning to settle, and all are beginning to ask themselves the necessary questions, the answers to which require facts. And the facts are on our side. In response to the judgment about Russia solely in the form of slogans like “Russia started war against Georgia!”, “Russia is an occupier” and so forth our country is presenting the truth which just can’t be brushed away and our truth is carving its way into western media as well. This is noticeable from ever-increasing publications that, among other things, acknowledge that Russia acted both responsibly and moderately in response to the attack on Tskhinval. And as for the professionals, who are supposed to know everything, Mikhail Vitalyevich has already mentioned that it is all well known there: how it was and how we acted.

An interesting example: the character of the discussions at the US Congress hearing held on September 9. They indicate that the absolute non-transparency of US policy, where the ideologically biased middle-level State Department officials set the tone, is already being perceived as a threat to the United States’ own national interests. Also indicative is the publication of Spiegel magazine of the chronology of events that reveals the total falsity of the version of Tbilisi and its backers.

We have also been demonstrating openness in matters of human rights observation, which the West tries to ignore. In the final analysis, we defended the right of the people of these republics to life and development. The latter was impossible in the conditions of a constant threat of the use of force by Tbilisi. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has visited the region, as has UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres; nongovernmental organizations are working there, including the Halo Trust, which is engaged in demining, and whose assessments are also absolutely objective. The International Committee of the Red Cross is working there; the arrival of International Amnesty representatives is expected, a UN Humanitarian Mission has called right today; foreign journalists are regularly visiting the place. A PACE delegation is also heading there at the end of September. Of course, not all these representatives can be regarded as our, so to speak, “staunch ally,” or “allies” at all, but in the overwhelming majority, when people see the condition of South Ossetia, they objectively assess the situation and reflect the facts in their accounts and reports. We will continue to maintain this openness and uphold our point of view, seeking to ensure that all the violations and crimes are recorded. This is supported by eyewitness testimonies, by exhibits, by press reports and by reports of human rights activists. We have got absolutely nothing to hide.

By the way, on my recent trip to Sukhum and Tskhinval we were accompanied by correspondents from two Georgian television channels at their request. They were with us literally everywhere. I did not see their reports, but was told that the reports were very short and obviously showed far from everything that the two Georgian correspondents had filmed with their cameramen during the trip to Tskhinval, in the first place, and to Sukhum. So the information which reaches the Georgian public, in my view, is clearly censored. Russian television channels there still have no possibility to broadcast, because this broadcasting is banned by democratic Georgia.

Although information work is, of course, important, it is extremely important for us right now to ensure the security of South Ossetia, in the first place, but also of Abkhazia, since, as I said, an armed provocation was being prepared against it as well. This is the thrust of our efforts in carrying out the accords of Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy of August 12 and September 8. These accords are an undoubted diplomatic success and make it possible to ensure security for Abkhazia and South Ossetia both on a bilateral basis and in cooperation with the European Union, OSCE and UN. The reaction of those who had staked on Saakashvili to these Medvedev-Sarkozy accords was predictable. Attempts are being undertaken in the UN and OSCE, within the EU and through NATO retrospectively to “modify” the decisions taken; to modify and rewrite them in favor of the Tbilisi regime. It is outrageous that in the OSCE, where it is only required to write into this organization’s decision the formula which we agreed with the EU that about one hundred extra observers from this organization should be deployed in the zones abutting South Ossetia and Abkhazia; nothing more is required to be written down in this decision – that some of our western partners tow behind the Georgian delegation which demands that these observers be deployed inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia. What will they do there? The observers, as we agreed with the EU and as all normal people acknowledge, are required to guarantee that there is no repeat of Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia and, of course, no attack on Abkhazia. To try to turn everything upside down and use the OSCE in order to put on the sly as many international observers as possible into South Ossetia and then say into the bargain that this is a territory of Georgia – this means to again play ideological games to the detriment of the real tasks, which are to provide reliable security for these republics and continue the reconstruction of South Ossetia. We expect that our EU partners, who together with us signed the Medvedev-Sarkozy principles and came forward as guarantor of the nonuse of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, will put an end to this mockery of common sense within the OSCE. In parallel with these efforts to distort the meaning of the Moscow accords, the Georgian government is trying to crawl away from its own commitments, which are clearly written down there, and are already beginning to say that “yes, we are not going to use force, we have pledged ourselves not to use force, but on the understanding that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be part of Georgia.” That’s the kind of actions we happen to see on the part of a country which just now committed a barbaric act of aggression. It is important, however, that most Europeans understand that the realization of the accords reached is necessary both for the settlement of this particular crisis and for a return to full-fledged dialogue and cooperation.

We have no doubts that the crisis provoked in the Caucasus signifies a new quality in the international situation and in the international standing of Russia. The still-flickering illusions that somebody may have held are now conclusively dispelled, as is the myth of unipolar world. Realization of this probably feeds the hysterical and absolutely immoral reaction in a number of capitals. Most international actors have drawn the right conclusions and are stepping up the process of their self-determination in world affairs, well aware that to simply follow by inertia the logic which attempts were made to foist by assuming unipolarity is no good anymore.

I think that the qualitative changes now occurring work in favor of all responsible states and political forces that act from a position of acknowledgement of the new international realities. On the whole, we have entered a very responsible, critical stage of transformation of the international system.

A few more thoughts in this connection: we are making our proposals as to how to regularize the process of this transformation. President Medvedev suggested concluding a European security treaty. The fact that this proposal was supported by all CSTO countries, which are starting consultation on the development of this initiative, is a major step along the road leading to the achievement of the result. Judging from our contacts with other key partners, we feel a growing understanding of the inevitability of an honest conversation and of agreeing the binding rules of behavior for all. We are also planning such consultation with our western colleagues in response to the interest shown by them. In so doing we are not trying to drive a wedge in trans-Atlantic relations. We suggest expanding them so that these trans-Atlantic relations encompass all the branches of European civilization: Russia, the European Union and the United States.

We in no way fall into anti-Americanism, nor do we intend to “strike a pose” and respond on the “eye for an eye” principle. To be sure, we will not let ourselves put against Europe.

Only based on the acknowledgement and practical application of the key principle of indivisible security is it possible today to conduct discussions on stability in the Euro-Atlantic space and in the world as a whole. The principle of indivisible security, which is written down in the founding documents between Russia and NATO and in OSCE documents in particular, clearly states that no one should ensure his security at the expense of others. There are many examples of how our western partners try to ensure their security at our expense. You know about them. We will defend our position firmly.

We will not, of course, respond on the “you hurt me – I will hurt you” principle, although we cannot help drawing conclusions from unfriendly attempts, including the attempts or calls to punish Russia over what’s happening in Georgia. But while drawing conclusions we will always stand ready to cooperate with all who are ready for this on an equal, mutually respectful, I shall stress especially, and mutually advantageous basis.

There are other conflict situations in the world, of course. We are interested, above all, in the lingering conflicts in the post-Soviet space. Our approaches to them remain unchanged.

Among the main foreign policy aims of Russia is shaping good-neighborly relations with all contiguous states on the basis of observance of the treaties and agreements concluded with them and assisting the removal of existing and the prevention of new seats of tension and conflicts in the regions adjacent to us. Of course, in other regions of the world too, but, first of all, in the neighbor states.

As before, we believe that contemporary conflicts have no force-based solutions, of which the failure of Saakashvili’s aggression is but one more confirmation. Their solution should be sought through engaging all the parties in dialogue and negotiation, not through isolating some one of them. Unlike the Tbilisi regime, we are going to work towards the settlement of regional conflicts by politico-diplomatic methods, on the basis of collective actions of the international community.

We intend to continue actively facilitating the peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the CIS space on the basis of international law, respect for all the principles of the UN Charter and all the previously reached agreements and of a search for consensus between the parties in conflict. We are going to responsibly carry out our mediation mission in the negotiation process and peacemaking. This fully applies to Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh – each place has its specific features, its formats and mechanisms of mediation. But the South Ossetian crisis creates no precedent for them. None of those concerned with Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistrian settlement plan to violate international law, tear up existing accords, destroy the agreed settlement formats and bomb civilian residents and peacekeepers. There is no one there who would like to ensure territorial integrity by mass killing of people whom you consider your citizens, residents of your own country. There can be no parallels here. Thank God Saakashvili is the sole phenomenon of its kind.

International peacekeeping is an effective instrument of resolving armed conflicts and solving the tasks of state building at the post-crisis stage. We intend to build up our participation in such activities through structures in the CIS space, under the aegis of the UN and via interaction with regional and international organizations, including the European Union. We intend to make an active contribution to improving the preventive anti-crisis potential of the UN.

I would like to give a few words of gratitude for the support of the actions of Russian authority both from the International Affairs Committee and from the Federation Council as a whole. We appreciate our cooperation. This is vivid evidence of the prevailing broad consensus in society on the foreign policy course defined by the President. We expect that our interaction will be a weighty factor in ensuring our national interests in the future as well.

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