My professional career is quite straightforward –– forty-three consecutive years in the diplomatic service. I went through all the ranks : from attach ? to ambassador.
Q. Would you call yourself a politician –– after having been the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation –– or a diplomat ?
Diplomacy is nothing else than politics. Therefore, if one serves as a diplomat, and especially holds a high-level position, one is inevitably involved in politics.
Q. During your long and impressive career, what is the event or experience that has given you the most personal satisfaction ?
During my career there have certainly been such events, but one should bear in mind that in diplomacy success is a result of a collective effort. For example, this is true for the Treaty on the Formation of the Union State of the Russian Federation and Belarus, in which I was personally engaged as the Russian Ambassador to Minsk, or for the Treaty on Demilitarization of the Russian-Kazakh Border. In short, there have been many such accomplishments and it is hardly possible to single out one at the expense of another.
However, I cannot help mentioning the preparations for the sixtieth Anniversary of the Great Victory in the Second World War. Moscow hosted at that time more than sixty foreign heads-of-state and government, as well as the heads of international organizations, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. That outstanding event was not about winners and losers. Instead, it was aimed at uniting efforts to prevent the scourges of war in the future.
Q. You were First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. What, from your point of view, is the main preoccupation of Russian foreign policy today ? Has it changed since you were in office ? If yes, in what sense ?
The strength of our foreign policy is derived from its consistency and high motivation. Its primary purpose is to create favourable external conditions for the socio-economic development of the country and to raise the population’s standard of living. It is also aimed at ensuring our national interests, as well as the security and sovereignty of the country. There are no dramatic changes in our foreign policy and I do not foresee them in the near future.
Q. Putin’s Presidency is over, and to many he has been a great president, while to others he has not. What is in your opinion President Putin’s legacy ?
For clear reasons I cannot give my assessment of the role and accomplishments of the President of Russia. But in my personal view we –– Russia and Europe –– have benefited from Putin’s eight-year presidency. For Russia his tenure was definitely a period of Renaissance.
It is quite challenging to sum up Putin’s legacy briefly. To boil it down, I will argue that in his years in office Russia has been completely transformed and the living standards of its people raised. In other words, the country has been significantly strengthened in political and economic terms. At the same time, Russia does not have any temptation to threaten anybody or to flex its muscles. Our work is aimed at rebuilding the country and strengthening international co-operation and security, in particular, within the framework of the United Nations system.
Q. Your Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov was in Geneva in February launching a new initiative for Disarmament in Outer Space. Do you think something will come of it ?
The answer is “yes”, otherwise there is no sense in launching this initiative. This is a very important political move. By this, we demonstrate to the world our commitment to act decisively to keep the arms race out of space. Needless to say, it is a very difficult task. But, if we stay idle, outer space may soon turn into a real threat for international peace and security.
One could adopt the point of view of those sceptics who claim that a couple of countries tend to block negotiations on space. I would reply that today the situation is, perhaps, exactly as they say. But the very fact that the draft treaty on space is on the table obliges us to think it over, to cool down those who dream about placing weapons in space. And –– my last comment –– this is not a fantasy, it is a real and imminent threat and we have no moral right to remain idle.
Q. There are always a lot of discussions about democracy. Some say that each country has to develop its own form, whereas others want to impose a certain form of democracy on others. According to a German University Professor, the Russian democracy has been set up to reflect Russian culture and tradition.
Russia possesses a rich culture and centuries-long traditions. They are not identical with those of other nations. These differences should not divide us, but rather enable us to enrich each other if we pay respect to historically developed ways of life. In this sense, democracy cannot be one-dimensional. The strength of democracy is in its diversity. Life has repeatedly proved it is counter-productive for anyone to try to impose their views about democracy by applying one’s own rules and perceptions.
Q. In this year we are commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How would you describe the human rights situation in Russia ?
Non-biased observers cannot ignore the fact that over the last fifteen or even twenty years Russia has advanced impressively in ensuring the respect, the provision and the promotion of human rights. These changes are of a fundamental and irreversible nature. However, observance of human rights is a process that enables human rights norms and practices to be continuously developed and enhanced. What really matters is how thoroughly they are implemented. To this end, I must admit that we have a long way to go in order to achieve the highest standards in this field. Our major reference point is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international covenants and other legal instruments and mechanisms on human rights to which Russia is bound.
Q. On a more personal level, Mr. Ambassador, among the international organizations here in Geneva do you have a preferred one ?
Geneva is a unique capital of multilateral diplomacy and international co-operation. It hosts major specialized agencies of the UN system. All of them are important for us, notably WHO, ILO, UNECE, ITU, WTO, the humanitarian agencies, as well as the Conference on Disarmament. I should also contribute greater efforts and time to the work carried out by the Human Rights Council.
Q. Many Ambassadors tell me that they are always rushing from one conference to another. Do you have time for leisure or hobbies ?
A. Ambassadors cannot afford to be cunning. Nevertheless, almost every day I try to spend at least an hour swimming or walking. Reading, of course. My other hobby, if I may say so, are my grandchildren ; I have six of them. Although, with the exception of the youngest (he is only six months old), they live outside Geneva, I do my best to spend as much time as possible with them and my family.