On Friday 23rd September 2016 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the 71st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in a speech that was calm, serious and dignified but also uncompromising, clear and cohesive.
The speech provided further confirmation that Lavrov is the most capable foreign minister of this age, and one who will be remembered as one of the great foreign statesmen of the late modern period.
Here is a summary of main points of his speech:
–The speech opened with a reminder of President Putin’s words describing a world that is transitioning from a uni-polar world to a more democratic multi-polar world. Implicit in this statement is the fact that Russia does not rank states on a league table of usefulness. Instead Russia prefers to engage with all nations in a manner that respects their dignity and sovereignty.
–Lavrov then emphasised the need for nations to refrain from imposing their ‘attitudes and opinions on others’. However he warned that some countries have become ‘too accustomed to doing this’. Without naming the obvious culprits, Lavrov said that interventions in sovereign states have caused swathes of instability throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and in North Africa.
–Turning to Syria, Lavrov made it clear that without Russia assisting the legitimate government of Syria – recognised as such by the United Nations, Syria would have fractured and turned into a failed state. The clear referencing point here is Libya. Lavrov repeatedly called for independent inquiries into the attacks on Syrian troops fighting ISIS near Deir Ezzor and the relief convoy near Aleppo. He then said that if any accord is to be reached in Syria, and for a ceasefire to be established, it must clearly distinguish between legitimate political opposition groups and terrorists. In a clear challenge to the US he said Jabhat Al-Nusra cannot be classed as anything but terrorists. (The US has been trying to have this Al Qaeda affiliate rebranded as something of a ‘moderate opposition group’ even though this is of course the same Al Qaeda that George Bush declared endless war upon).
In all instances Lavrov said that international law must be adhered to, and that regime change cannot be an option since it is contrary to the basic principles of international law.
–Lavrov then turned to Ukraine, condemning the violence which has shattered the country and calling for the quick reimplementation of the Minsk II agreement. He compared the destruction of Syria at the hands of meddling forces to what is continuing to happen in Ukraine.
–Lavrov then addressed the controversial witch hunt against Russian athletes saying that sport must never be used as a political instrument. Comparing the treatment of Russian athletes to the leniency extended to Western athletes, he pointedly referred to Orwell’s famous expression in Animal Farm that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’. The irony of a book hostile to Soviet Communism being quoted by a modern Russian Foreign Minister in criticism of Western actions should have been lost on no-one in the room, though I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Samantha Power and her ilk to understand this.
–The speech went on to address the Anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, which Lavrov said serve as a reminder of what happens when the rights of peoples and nations are violated. He said that the world must come together to condemn all those who glorify fascism. No prizes for guessing who that was directed at.
–When talking about the need to curtail the proliferation of weapons on an international level, he said this cannot be done whilst Europe remains weaponised. He called on NATO to shift its priorities from provocation to dialogue, and repeated Donald Trump’s proposals for the organisation to focus on collective security against the threat of terrorism and instability.
–Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, the Russian Foreign Minister called for increased cooperation between all states and said that it is possible for the region to be integrated in the Eurasian Union which President Putin has spearheaded. He said that in the future, this zone could even form a cooperation agreement with the EU under WTO rules (NB: this was a reference to the ‘Greater Eurasia Project’). Staying with the Asia-Pacific region he called for North Korea to disarm but warned that there cannot be a regional arms race due to North Korean actions.
–Where much of his speech indirectly criticised the policies of the US and her allies, Lavrov ended by praising China, a country which is becoming more and more of a key Russian ally. He thanked China for hosting a successful G20 summit and affirmed that this is now the world’s most important economic forum.
The speech contained few surprises but it made Russia’s goal for a world based on respect for sovereign states and its opposition to ideologically driven intervention crystal clear.
The ball is now in the court of those in the audience to whom it was primarily directed, though when it comes to those whom Lavrov cautioned most directly, one is reminded of a line from the Don McLean song Vincent: “They would not listen, they’re not listening still, perhaps they never will”.