Lavrov on the non-aligned movement and multipolarity
Takeaway Quote: … a process that is driven by life itself. It cannot be artificially initiated or expedited.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Zvezda television channel for a documentary covering the Non-Aligned Movement, Moscow, August 28, 2022
Question: How would you describe the potential and prospects of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) as they apply to resolving the most important international issues?
Sergey Lavrov: The potential is good and reassuring, especially in the context of the ongoing efforts to form a multipolar, just and democratic world order. This is an objective process that is grounded in historically uneven international development. The formerly “backward” regions of the planet are becoming the driving engines of the global economy and new centres of economic growth and financial power, and their political clout is growing. China, India, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and the African states are becoming the pillars of the objectively emerging world order. The era of building genuine multipolarity will be long. China and Turkey are part of these processes, but not of the NAM, with which they maintain a fairly close cooperation.
With 120 votes at the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement can exert direct influence on the agreements developed by this international organisation and its various agencies concerning matters of principle for the planet and the future of humankind. The movement consistently upholds the UN Charter principles, which is a courageous act given the circumstances when the West, in an attempt to maintain dominance and to go against the objective course of history, is tearing up international law and imposing a rules-based order on everyone. They choose not to clarify what stands behind this term. The “rules” are made up to achieve a specific goal pursued by the West. The principles underlying these Western “rules” can be contradictory. When needed, the West can recognise independence that was proclaimed unilaterally and illegitimately, without any referendum, as was the case in Kosovo. However, an open referendum in Crimea that was observed by numerous representatives of civil society from Western and other countries was declared illegitimate.
With its traditions and unwavering adherence to the UN Charter and universal norms of international law, the Non-Aligned Movement is opposed to these double standards and is our ally in international discussions.
Question: How can Russia benefit from its observer status at this international organisation? What are our priorities as an observer state?
Sergey Lavrov: We obtained observer status in July 2021, which is fairly recently. This status improves the level of our cooperation and enables us to develop new forms of interaction. In the past decades (NAM was established in 1961), we maintained close ties and stood behind our colleagues from the movement, including in matters of combatting colonialism and ensuring respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the newly independent states, opposing interference in their domestic affairs and supporting the UN Charter principles. The sovereign equality of states where one country has one vote was our top priority.
Things aren’t so smooth in real life, because a large country has more leverage if it chooses to influence the activities of a particular international organisation. However, it is one thing to exert influence by power of persuasion and another thing to try to force people into voting as they are told, which runs counter to the original position of a respective country, or to resort to blackmail. Even threats are being acted upon, including personal threats to diplomats.
I’m talking about the situation at hand. The United States and Great Britain, with an obedient Europe in tow, are blatantly resorting to these methods in order to force the non-aligned and other countries to change their minds about Russia. “Change” is the operative word here, because the vast majority of these countries either consider our stance justified, with regard to the long-term neglect by the West of Russia’s legitimate security interests in the security sphere, or they prefer to remain neutral. They are being brutally forced into compliance. Those in charge are not even shy about publicly stating that should someone disobey them, that country would face consequences. When rude and unacceptable threats of this kind go the way of, say, India, this makes one wonder about the Western speakers’ sanity and whether they have a sense of what the Indian people’s national identity is all about.
We will continue to build up cooperation as an observer state. We tried our status out at the anniversary summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade in October 2021, where this international movement originated. I took part in it. I saw how enthusiastic the participants were about the association and about seeing it maintain its positions. An organisation of this level with 120 member states boosts the standing of each participant, which makes this movement’s future look quite promising.
Question: The Non-Aligned Movement is a fairly straightforward organisation compared to other international organisations. Why? How effective is its structure?
Sergey Lavrov: That may be a good thing. It has 120 member countries, all of them members of the UN which has clearly defined procedures and protocols. The Non-Aligned Movement makes it possible for the countries to adopt more flexible approaches in cases where they need to speak with one voice, but also to retain their national identities and ensure the unity of the developing world at large. This is what makes the movement different from the bloc discipline that we observe in the EU and NATO.
The focus on seeking a consensus strengthens the culture of talks and compromise. In this sense, NAM’s flexibility is a boon when it comes to the efforts to achieve established goals. It does not prevent the movement from developing its own initiatives, which are submitted to the UN and receive support there, including the initiatives put forward by Russia and other ex-Soviet countries, who are our allies and strategic partners in the CIS, the EAEU, and the CSTO.
A resolution concerning the unacceptability of unilateral sanctions in international life, initiated annually by the Non-Aligned Movement, stands out among other initiatives of recent years. This is a dig at the West, which lives and dies by these sanctions. In fact, they have substituted sanctions for what was formerly known as diplomacy. There is also a resolution calling for the establishment of a just democratic order. It includes numerous initiatives advanced by Russia in the context of talks, including the unacceptability of unconstitutional changes of government. We made a point of making this provision part of the resolution, and made this point even finer after the coup in Ukraine in February 2014. The resolution was supported. The entire Non-Aligned Movement acted as its co-author. It stood with us during the early days of the pandemic as it advocated the unacceptability of restricted access to vaccines and advocated free access for all countries regardless of their level of development, being aware of the developing countries’ inadequate financial capabilities. Russia strongly supported this resolution. As you may recall, President Putin spoke in favour of suspending the patent protection of vaccines during the pandemic, but looking back at their pharmaceutical companies, the Western countries decided not to lose the opportunity and to continue to profit from the suffering of all humankind. This was not the first time this had happened, and we have become accustomed to it.
We share positions with the Non-Aligned Movement on the vast majority of items on the traditional agenda as well as on emerging issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic. The movement reciprocates by supporting numerous Russian initiatives, such as ensuring peaceful outer space exploration or not putting weapons into space, or international cybersecurity which is a hot-button issue with the ongoing battle for democratising the Internet and the management of dominant platforms, and resolutions condemning any and all attempts to glorify Nazism and Nazi collaborators, as well as a number of our other initiatives. Our positions on key matters of international development and our approaches to the foundations of the world and international life are almost identical.
Question: What problems apart from external pressure, which you have already mentioned, does the Non-Aligned Movement face?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, this includes external pressure. Today, the West is forcing everyone in a frenzied manner (I cannot suggest any other word) to toe an anti-Russia line. Apart from voting in favour of dubious resolutions that blame Russia contrary to existing facts, other countries are supposed to implement practical measures, limit exports to Russia and import fewer Russian goods, cut transport ties, sever logistics chains and do lots more. Although members of the Non-Aligned Movement are not yielding to this blackmail, some of them are forced to make certain concessions under Western pressure during voting, but none of them are joining the sanctions. However, they continue to be under pressure. Quite possibly, completely banned ploys will be used under the no-holds-barred principle, and this will be on the conscience of our Western colleagues.
Regarding other difficulties, the Non-Aligned Movement is a heterogeneous organism. As we have learned, it includes the so-called democracies and electoral autocracies, monarchies and many other state-system formats; each of them has sovereign equality under the UN Charter. In the past few years, the West has been trying to differentiate between democracies and all others. The United States will confer the title of democracies. The United States tried to do this in late 2021 by convening the Summit for Democracy. After reading the list of invited participants, one can see that Washington invited only those who are loyal to it and those whom it needs. You will be elevated to the rank of a democracy if you are loyal and if they need you.
The Non-Aligned Movement includes representatives of the most diverse state structures. We have established benevolent partner relations will all these countries despite specific differences and distinguishing features that do not always coincide with our approaches to organising everyday life. We maintain a strategic partnership with a number of countries, while respecting their traditions, culture and civilisational choice.
There are problems and conflicts inside the Non-Aligned Movement. There are conflicts between Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and the Islamic Republic of Iran. There are conflicts between neighbouring countries, such as Colombia and Venezuela, in the Latin America. One can list many of them. Territorial disputes persist in Southeast Asia. This plays into the hands of those who would like to see more centrifugal trends in the Non-Aligned Movement, to support and promote such trends and thus deprive the Movement of its main strength, namely, unity and consensus on principled matters of global development and UN activities. So far, ill-wishers have been unable to accomplish this. While engaging in their regional, territorial and other disputes and conflicts, members of the Non-Aligned Movement can see the gist of the matter: conflicts are unable to overshadow such basic aspects as international law and global development guidelines.
Question: You mentioned India, which is a major player in the Non-Aligned Movement. Could India be called the leader of the movement? What matters most in Russian-Indian relations?
Sergey Lavrov: Represented by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India was among the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). To this day, it has remained a key state and a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement. This leadership can be seen in the foreign policy initiatives put forward by India in the international arena. The issue is about multipolarity, which means that the world can no longer move forward based solely on Western templates, as was the case for almost half a millennium.
The Soviet Union took its rightful place on the political map of the world. It operated in isolation, largely self-isolation for obvious reasons. We had a different political system driven by the ideological principles that were different from the principles that dominated global politics and economics.
Multipolarity has become an objective fact that is taking shape right before our eyes. India, Russia and a number of countries from the Non-Aligned Movement are becoming centres of economic growth and political influence that should have “new international order pillar” status. The greater the number of such large, reliable and responsible pillars, the more stable this international order will be, which we want to be democratic and fair, as provided for in the UN Charter that has enshrined the principle of sovereign equality of states. The West made it impossible to put this principle into practice, trying instead to slow the objective historical process and to maintain its dominance in international affairs. The time has come to return to the roots and to ensure practical implementation of what is codified by common consent in the UN Charter. India is in favour of multipolarity and collective development based on the strategic autonomy of each country, especially a large one.
In the NAM, India is advancing a positive agenda that includes speeding up economic growth, overcoming illiteracy, ensuring food and energy security, and climate change. Like China and the Russian Federation, India has adopted a balanced position on climate change. We do not consider it possible to suspend any human activity that is declared bad for the climate just because the green lobby wants so.
The green lobby often ignores developing countries’ needs and tries to take advantage of the fact that the West has reached a higher technological level and can say no to a number of energy sources. Imposing this kind of an approach on the rest of the world would mean artificially slowing the progress of the states that are part, among other things, of the NAM.
India has put forward a number of initiatives in the area of climate change. These are responsible and balanced proposals that do not imply a drastic change in peoples’ way of life, but are instead designed to achieve a gradual transition to a new layout as concrete results are achieved. India has come up with a concept called International Solar Alliance (the name speaks for itself) and a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure which makes it possible to mobilise the participating countries’ capabilities to prevent natural and man-made disasters and to provide relief in case they do happen.
Russian-Indian relations have been at a high level since India gained independence. In the decades since, they have broken new ground many times in the official documents that were signed at the highest level. At one point, they were even referred to as a strategic partnership. As our cooperation continued, our Indian friends proposed calling these relations a privileged strategic partnership. A little later, at New Delhi’s initiative again, they took on the name, a particularly privileged strategic partnership. We do not have relations of this kind of quality that would be described in such terms in official highest-level documents with any other country. We had the chance to see for ourselves that these are genuinely particularly privileged relations during President Putin’s visit to India in December 2021. I saw it again when I recently visited India. I was welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held substantive talks with my colleague, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi, during which we reviewed in detail the pathway to advance this particularly privileged strategic partnership based on the principled agreements adopted by our leaders which concern all spheres of life in our respective countries, including the economy, the social sphere, healthcare, medicine, education, military and technical cooperation, humanitarian and cultural ties, as well as the efforts to harmonise our approaches and coordinate our actions in the international arena within the SCO, BRICS and the Russia-India-China troika. This once served as a prototype for BRICS, but has retained its importance as an independent entity. Most recently, the foreign ministers of Russia, India and China met for the 18th time in November 2021. Representatives from the economic and humanitarian blocs and scholars have meetings as well, and this is indeed a promising format. Of course, we coordinate our efforts with India at the UN and the G20 as well as within the subject matter of today’s interview and as part of the Non-Aligned Movement. I firmly believe that our strategic partnership has good prospects.
Question: Speaking of multipolarity, how many belts have been formed already?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not some kind of a procedure that has been agreed upon and now needs to be acted on like the five-year plan or even the three-year budget that we have in our country. These are not annual budgets like the ones that are adopted in other countries, but a process that is driven by life itself. It cannot be artificially initiated or expedited. This is, perhaps, where the talent of politicians comes in. They must see these events evolving in real life and align their policies with what history is telling them.
Let’s take, for a change, an example from British life. They have a saying that you should let the people define the walkway before you pave the path. In simple terms, this is what you need to do in the international arena and always try to build your proactive policy in a way that is not at odds with the objective trends, but instead takes advantage of and picks up objective trends, including the trend towards multipolarity. This is what we do. Unfortunately, our Western partners (who have now completely given up the reins of government to the United States with Britain snugly squatted in the driving box) are still trying to go against this objective historical process, which may slow the formation of multipolarity, but will in no way stop it.