It is a refreshing moment for me to be outside of the embassy since we have closely followed the restrictions. Let us think of this as a new beginning in our relationship and dialogue. I would like to begin by commending the Chairman for the initiative to have this sort of discussion with the foreign ambassadors present in Dublin. I am sure it provides for a wider view of world affairs and will be of mutual benefit to all of us.
It is hardly possible to give a comprehensive picture of Russia's foreign policy but I will give the committee an idea of some major points. Before we go into more specifics let me turn briefly to the basics. The foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation was approved by President Putin in the end of 2016 and is still in force. This concept establishes that the foreign policy activity of Russia shall be aimed at the following main objectives: to ensure the national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia, and strengthen the rule of law and democratic institutions; to create a favourable external environment that would allow Russia’s economy to grow steadily and become more competitive, leading to higher standards of living and quality of life for our people; to consolidate the Russian Federation’s position as a centre of influence in today’s world; to strengthen Russia’s position in global economic relations and to prevent any discrimination against Russian goods, services and investments by using the options afforded by international and regional economic and financial organisations; to further promote the efforts to strengthen international peace and to ensure global security and stability with a view to establishing a fair and democratic international system that addresses international issues on the basis of collective decision-making, the rule of international law and the UN charter; to promote the central and co-ordinating role of the UN as the key organisation in charge of regulating international relations; to pursue neighbourly relations with adjacent states, assist them in eliminating the existing and preventing the emergence of new hotbeds of tension and conflicts on their territory; to promote, within bilateral and multilateral frameworks, mutually beneficial and equal partnerships with foreign countries, inter-state associations and international organisations, based on the principles of independence, sovereignty, pragmatism, transparency and predictability; and to ensure the comprehensive and effective protection of the rights and legitimate interests of Russian citizens and compatriots residing abroad.
One has to admit that the overall international environment in which we try to pursue these objectives is challenging. The world seems to be running a high fever, as we can clearly see, and not entirely because of the pandemic. We have witnessed increased conflict potential and the rise of negativism, aggression and mistrust. The main destabilising factor has been the aggressive policy of a number of Western states, in particular the United States, aimed at destroying the international legal framework of security and replacing international law with its own invention, the so called rules-based world order.
As a result, the lack of trust in global politics and the economy is being aggravated by methods of unfair competition, such as unilateral sanctions, protectionism and trade wars.
Our goal is clear. We seek stability and fair opportunities for all states. Gunboat diplomacy or so-called democratic messianism, or, for that matter, any other kind of messianism, is hardly an option if we want to accomplish this. I believe that more positive and sustainable results can be achieved through joint efforts based on the observance of the norms and principles of the UN Charter. We are upholding this consistently. President Putin’s initiative to hold a summit of the UN Security Council’s permanent members is part of this policy. Heads of all UN Security Council permanent member states gave their consent. Of course, the pandemic thwarted our efforts to agree on specific dates, but we are working on it and developing the concept and the potential outcomes of this summit.
Russia’s stance on strategic stability, arms control and international, including European, security is well known. We will do everything possible to restore the dynamic in the arms control process, almost ruined by the actions of the outgoing US Administration. Russia stands ready to extend for five years the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known as START III. We proposed a moratorium on deploying ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles after the United States had withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, INF, to sustain a more or less stable level of confidence, especially in Europe. In general, we stand for de-escalating tensions along the Russia-NATO contact line. We came up with a proposal to agree on an arrangement that the exercises on both sides are conducted at a distance from the contact line, and to agree on the minimum distances that may not be violated by military aircraft and warships of Russia or NATO. We believe that the well-known formula - that there cannot be a winner in a nuclear war and it should never be waged - should be reaffirmed at the political level.
We came up with a proposal to do that a long time ago and, I am sorry to say, we failed to see any reciprocity on the part of the United States or in the Russia-NATO format. We believe that implementing these initiatives or, at least, a professional straight-to-the-point and substantive discussion of the subject, possibly along with other steps, would help to improve the overall atmosphere in Russia-West relations. Dialogue itself on these matters would improve it. However, so far, these ideas have been hanging in the air.
The Covid-19 pandemic, as we know, has severely affected the global economy and led to probably the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. We believe that international trade is one of the key drivers of the global economic recovery. At the same time, the Covid pandemic must not be used by countries as a pretext for protectionism and trade wars, which could be very damaging for international trade in the longer term. It is widely acknowledged that vaccines can be the very remedy that will pave the way to global economic recovery.
In this regard, Russia makes an important contribution by providing safe and efficient vaccines. As members know, Russia was the country to approve the first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, which received its emergency use registration in full compliance with Russian law. Mass vaccination in Russia against coronavirus has already started. We need to address the pandemic jointly. There must be no place for a biased, groundless and politicised approach with respect to vaccine development. We encourage international co-operation in this area, especially between producers. We welcome the recent decision by AstraZeneca to carry out clinical trials using components of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, in order to increase its own vaccine’s efficacy. I hope that Ireland will also be among the countries co-operating with Russia on this very important issue.
In more general terms, let us face it, we do not need interaction with the West any more than the West needs Russia. We are interdependent but if our Western colleagues prefer to stick to certain rules and concepts that they themselves invented, that is up to them. We believe that a dialogue with other participants in international life, including Russia, can solely be based on a generally accepted code of conduct, that is, the rules enshrined in the UN Charter, namely, respect for the sovereign equality of states, the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
The recent settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh could be considered as an example of the above-mentioned approach. The 9 November agreement reached by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia stopped the bloodshed and paved the way for a long-term settlement. Due to the agreement, thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees have returned to their households and secured conditions for the process of rebuilding of the economy and solution of the humanitarian problems. Now, we can create real conditions to turn the region of the southern Caucasus from instability and internally tense contradictions into a place of stability that is flourishing in the interests of all peoples living there, and Russia will continue to persistently support an advancement in this direction.
Russia will continue its efforts to step up international co-operation in fighting terrorism. We do not divide terrorists into good and bad ones. We act in Syria by the request of the legitimate local government. At the same time, Russia has always been a strong supporter of settling any conflict through a peaceful, inclusive political dialogue, paying special attention to the settlement of humanitarian problems and aid to the victims of conflict. We contributed to efforts to overcome conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including in Libya and Yemen. The situation in the region could, to our mind, be greatly improved through the implementation of Russia’s collective security concept for the Persian Gulf region.
This year, the world celebrates three major anniversaries: the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Second World War, the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg trials and the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. To make these anniversaries a reality, my country paid an incomprehensible price - more than 26 million of my compatriots became victims of that war. That is the reason Russia stands firmly in defence of truth in Second World War history, preserving the good reputation of victorious soldiers and preventing a revision of the internationally recognised results of the defeat of Nazism. Unfortunately, some EU politicians and even state leaders prefer to demonstrate a weird shortness of memory, accusing the Soviet Union of collaborating with Nazi Germany in unleashing the war. It is not only morally unacceptable; it leads to a revision of the results of the war and, therefore, of the existing world order based on international law. That is plainly dangerous.
Let me give an example. Every year since 2005, the United Nations has adopted the Russian-sponsored resolution on combating the glorification of Nazism and preventing the revival of any form of xenophobia. Just yesterday, the UN General Assembly again adopted the resolution and, again, only the United States and Ukraine voted against, and the EU members preferred to abstain, basing their position on the necessity to uphold freedom of expression.
If one considers former Nazi and neo-Nazi parades to be an expression of freedom of speech, one should not be surprised that next day this freedom will knock at the door with a Nazi salute.
In recent years, relations between Russia and the European Union as a bloc, as an organisation, unfortunately continued to deteriorate - and not through our fault. Unfortunately, EU colleagues made a very shortsighted choice in favour of archaic geopolitical zero-sum games and of creating new dividing lines. This includes their support of the unconstitutional armed coup in Ukraine in 2014, the introduction of unilateral and illegitimate sanctions against Russia and the destruction of the entire multi-level system of the Russia-EU dialogue. As a result, our Continent is facing a large-scale crisis of confidence and European businesses, including Irish businesses, are suffering serious losses. It was the EU's initiative to suspend many inter-industry formats and political dialogue. Some promising projects were paused, including those aimed at building a common trade, economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. At the same time, Brussels tells us any significant improvement in relations would depend on the implementation of the Minsk agreements on the settlement of the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine, pretending that it is up to Russia to unblock the situation. Regrettably, this artificial linkage persists to this day. That probably suits only the Ukrainian Government, which ignores its obligations under the Minsk package of measures. I remind the committee that the Minsk agreement has been enshrined into the international law by a resolution of the UN Security Council. The Ukrainian Government is not even trying to hide its interest in using the unsettled conflict to maintain sanctions pressure on Russia. The core of the settlement remains the same: the Kiev authorities must come to terms with their own people living in Donbass; that is the essence of the Minsk agreements.
That said, I still believe that there are better prospects for the EU-Russia relationship. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, initiated discussion within the Union on the pros and cons of the current approach to relations with Russia. We are looking at this process with a certain interest, although, frankly speaking, we do not have any big expectations regarding it since the ideologically-blinkered and inert thinking in relation to our country is too persistent in some EU states, even to the detriment of their own national interests. Despite this, there is a better way to live together in our common Europe. Even today, we consider the EU as a potential participant in the greater Eurasian partnership concept proposed by President Putin. We believe this would benefit the European Union as well, combining regional integration potentials and facilitate European economic operators’ access to Eurasian markets. We hope that a sober analysis of the multipolar world will eventually prompt the European Union to rethink its obviously outdated approaches on the Russian track. For our part, we, as before, are always open to honest and mutually beneficial co-operation.
Turning to Russian-Irish relations, in many ways they provide a good example of a positive and constructive relationship based on mutual respect. We have been holding well under the Covid-19 conditions. Political dialogue has been going on between our governments at various levels on many international and bilateral issues. It is an open dialogue: we exchange opinions and work together where we have similar positions. When we disagree, there is still a readiness to listen and to understand the partner’s point of view. That approach will be much needed with the election of Ireland to the Security Council of the United Nations as a non-permanent member for 2021-2022. My country always highly valued the Irish commitments to the UN Charter. We know well the Irish devotion to the peacekeeping objectives in various regions of the world and the strong Irish position in favour of peace building and humanitarian assistance to less developed countries. Russia and Ireland have very close positions on the Middle East peace process and the settlement of regional conflicts based on international law through inclusive political dialogue. I note with special emphasis that our parliamentary co-operation is impressive and ongoing, as witnessed by the re-establishment of the Friendship Group with Russia in the new Irish Parliament. The videoconference between Russian and Irish parliamentarians in the group took place on 25 November. Participants from both sides unanimously supported the idea of continuing the interparliamentary ties as an important part of the entire complex of bilateral relations.
Russian-Irish trade and economic relations have always been based on mutual interest and trust. Being a WTO member, we support trade based on global rules and fair competition. At present, when our economies suffer from the “Corona crisis”, international trade has become of paramount importance as it contributes to employment, economic activity and the speed of the recovery from the pandemic. This year, as never before, our bilateral trade has been impacted by negative global factors. However, according to Russian statistics, in January to October of 2020 the value of our trade has decreased slightly by 9% to €1.5 billion compared to the same period in 2019, which is a lesser degree compared with other EU countries. Our countries have opportunities to change this situation. The next session of the bilateral Joint Economic Commission, which is supposed to be held in Dublin, will contribute to further development of business ties and economic co-operation.
What is perhaps more important is that there is a strong cultural, humanitarian connection between Russia and Ireland and, as we fight back at the pandemic and things gradually open up, which I hope they will, there is a strong prospect of further expansion in this area. For the sake of questions I will now end my remarks. I thank committee members for their attention. I will be glad to answer on anything they may be interested in.