The Ninth Conference of Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Russia
Alexander Karpushin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
ALBANIA is quite a small country with a population of about 2.5 million. While being a member of NATO with a key position on the map of the Balkans, it seeks to become a regional transit center and an energy hub for the region as it takes part in the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline running through its territory. Albania today acts as a Western outpost, positioning itself as the leading pro-American and pro-European state in the Balkans, the core and curator of the so-called "Albanian political factor" in neighboring countries.
Possibilities for developing mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries do exist, because most of the population wants to see our relations normalized, in contrast to the ruling elite, which fully abides by the principles of Euro-Atlantic solidarity.
I also want to emphasize that Albanians show a particular interest in our culture and love our literature, music, and art. In this respect, they equal or even surpass many of their neighbors in the region. Most well-known Albanian writers, painters, and musicians have studied in our country. In my opinion, we should take advantage of this, and humanitarian diplomacy is very appropriate in this context. We will promote the Russian language, our culture, and our literature. I think there is reason to believe that eventually we will be able to get our relations back on track.
Alexander Yakovenko, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
CONFERENCES like this one are held every two years. Their purpose is to analyze Russia's priorities in the main areas of foreign policy, to define further steps in Russian diplomacy, and to consider how we are addressing - and should address - our key tasks: ensuring national security, creating favorable external conditions for the country's development, and protecting the national interests of the Russian Federation on the basis of international law, on the principles of justice and equal cooperation between states. The President of Russia and members of government are taking part in the conference, which is why the ongoing discussions make a big contribution to shaping the country's foreign policy.
This year, the Conference of Ambassadors takes place in new political conditions. On the one hand, there are many who share our views in the international arena.
At the same time, there are powerful forces working against Russia and, consequently, against our foreign-policy line. Just as anti-Russian hysteria has become part of the political struggle in the United States, Britain's Conservative government has turned the fight against Russia into a key element of its foreign policy, launching a shameless propaganda campaign, making unfounded accusations, and expelling diplomats. The course they have taken is long-term and well-considered, and we cannot but resist. We do not seek to win a power confrontation but want all our partners to understand the new geopolitical reality. Conveying this reality to them is one of the key tasks of diplomacy, both traditional and public.
Vladimir Zayemsky, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Venezuela and concurrently to the Republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic
THE AGENDA for these conferences is always very reasonable, allowing us to share our experience with others and to get an idea of some new realities that we may not know as each of us works in a particular country. But most important of all, we have an opportunity to discuss what to do next. Naturally, the key event is our meeting with the President of Russia.
The situation in Venezuela is far from simple in both political and economic terms. As regards political life, society cannot find any approaches that would bring it closer to national reconciliation. It is extremely polarized.
Last year, there was an attempt to carry out a "color revolution" in Venezuela according to a perfectly familiar scenario. The Chavistas managed to extinguish the fire by holding elections to the Constituent Assembly, one of whose tasks is to amend or even to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution.
After the failure of the attempted "color revolution," gubernatorial elections were held in the country, followed by local elections. In the final stretch of that election marathon, in May 2018, the incumbent president and an associate of Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, was re-elected for a second term. The political situation in the country has somewhat stabilized, although, of course, it is difficult to talk about stabilization in such a polarized society.
I want to say a few words about International Affairs. The fact that we get your journal in Spanish is of great benefit to us. We use it actively in both Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
Konstantin Vnukov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
AS LORD PALMERSTON's famous saying goes, "Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests." This is an excellent phrase, but it should get us thinking about what our national interests actually are. This conference provides an opportunity to take a systemic approach to the following question: what are our main goals and interests today in accordance with Russia's strategy? President Vladimir Putin gave a very clear answer to this question. And when he defined the tasks facing the country, the government, and the Foreign Ministry, everything became systemic.
Such systemic guidelines give us a clear perspective not only on the overall situation, but also on our whole work, because the Asia-Pacific today is one of the key directions. It is the fastest-growing region undergoing major changes, and there is a fierce battle for influence over it.
It is time to stop thinking in stereotypes and abandon the belief that some things are permanent. We have always believed, ever since the days of the Soviet Union, that Vietnam and our other partners are a given and that nothing unexpected can ever happen here. But everything changes. Vietnam is also changing, and very dramatically. That is why there is no guarantee that we will always achieve success - not only in relations with Vietnam, but also with other countries. We must fight, especially since Vietnam is the fastest growing economy among the ASEAN countries.
We should be proactive in areas that resonate with the Vietnamese, both the government and the people.
Dmitry Kurakov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
WE HAVE EXCHANGED opinions about the conference with our colleagues. For us, the conference is always a kind of roadmap for the next two years, with instructions for action. We follow the guidelines set forth by the president and developed during breakout sessions. We will continue to act in accordance with these instructions and try to improve our work in our host countries, such as Gabon, my place of work.
Our bilateral relations have two key components: economic and cultural. Culture is what allows our host countries to gain a better understanding of Russia. In this area, we try to work along different lines. In Gabon, we use a format such as exhibitions of Russian art, and this year we have held two exhibitions.
Gabon is a country that looks forward to our cooperation with hope. This is exactly what the Gabonese president said at his meeting with Vladimir Putin: Africa is waiting for Russian business. And Russian business should take full advantage of African leaders' willingness to cooperate.
If we miss the opportunity to enter the African market today, we will lose this opportunity tomorrow, because Chinese companies are already working actively in Africa; French companies continue to use their reserves; the Americans are on their way; and companies from India, Morocco, Egypt, and Malaysia are very active on the continent.
We should probably change something in our approach to the African continent, which is still viewed from a position dating back half a century.
Alexander Yegorov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Russia and Guinea-Bissau established their relations at the time when the Guinean people were fighting for their national independence. The Bissau-Guineans have always valued the contribution of the Soviet Union to the construction of the statehood of Guinea-Bissau and to its independence. They appreciate the assistance that the Soviet Union was giving the country up until 1991.
Education is the main area of our cooperation. It has traditionally been a field of cooperation between us.
Altogether we have trained more than 3,000 Bissau-Guineans in Russia. Many of them work at embassies and international organizations. On some occasions, more than one third of the Bissau-Guinean government were graduates of Soviet or Russian institutions of higher education.
Fishing has always been another important field of our cooperation. We have a basic agreement and a supplementary protocol, but the latter expired in 2016. There are very difficult negotiations underway. The new Bissau-Guinean government has said it's open to cooperation, which gives us hope.
In January 2018, our countries signed a two-year plan for joint action to combat drug trafficking. The plan involves exchanges of information and an educational program - the training of police personnel.
Guinea-Bissau is a small but interesting country. When you come there, you immediately notice friendly attitudes to Russia. Both older and young people are friendly to us. I've been working in Guinea-Bissau for three years but haven't seen a single negative article about our country in the Bissau-Guinean media during this time.
The European Union
Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative
THIS IS the ninth conference. I have taken part in all of them, and so I can make comparisons. I think this conference has been sufficiently focused on key problems that face the Russian diplomatic service. Naturally, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, gave us guidelines for future work in his speech.
All the participants who have taken the floor made largely the same assessments - they spoke of increasing instability and potential dangers in international relations. Fundamental principles of international law are not even being revised but rather are being watered down. Let me give you a specific example. It happens increasingly often during debates both within and outside Europe that some speakers, instead of making references to international law as such, cite a so-called rules-based international order. This gets reflected in official documents and is used as a reference point in negotiations. One wonders what these rules are, who sets them and who approves them. This is a dangerous substitute for international law because it erodes the pillars that, in spite of the Cold War and all the rifts and rapprochements, have to this day carried the entire international order that took shape after World War II.
I can assert publicly that relations with the European Union, which are my own sphere, are abnormal.
This doesn't mean there are no relations with the EU at all. There is a dialogue underway, and trade is going on. I've heard some of the ambassadors say proudly that trade between their countries and Russia has increased 17% in volume and, according to general statistics, trade with the EU has grown 22%. This confirms that the EU remains our number one trading and economic partner and the biggest source of investment in the Russian economy despite all the sanctions.
What is negative is that the EU has frozen the entire architecture of our strategic partnership, which took years and a lot of work to develop.
In general, I would reiterate a traditional position - I would call for a more pragmatic and not excessively emotional attitude to the EU, and for avoiding the extremes of idealizing or demonizing the EU.
Yury Korchagin, Ambassador to Spain and Andorra
Spain is a dynamic country. A lot happens there that's interesting. The main political outcome of the past few months is a change of cycle.
Of course, it will take time to adjust the system, to replace personnel in individual departments, but this is happening. It won't affect the rhythm of our bilateral relations. Recently, our interagency groups on counterterrorism had very effective consultations.
I want to thank International Affairs. We use it to exchange opinions, which undoubtedly enriches us. We also use this journal to support Russian language centers that exist at some universities, we deliver it to libraries that are run by Russian-speaking communities and that accumulate materials in the Russian language, and we also supply other organizations with it.
I suggest discussing that one of the next few issues include an item about the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which is a United Nations agency and has its headquarters in Spain. The next session of the UNWTO General Assembly will take place in Russia for the first time in the history of the organization. The UNWTO member states voted for a resolution to this effect recently. The session will be held in St. Petersburg in 2019.
Audrey Denisov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
THE BIENNIAL ambassadorial conferences that are hosted by the Foreign Ministry have become a stable practice.
This practice is being improved. At first two days were enough for us, then we extended it to three, but that wasn't enough either, and now we take a week, in fact.
Of course, the speech of the Russian president has been the acme of the meeting. One always needs clarifications, one needs to know what should be prioritized, and it's very important for each of us when all such explanations are made at the top level of state authority because it enables us to accurately verify, analyze whether we are doing everything correctly.
The president dwelled on a whole range of subjects, including social security for Foreign Ministry personnel posted abroad. Each of us is at the head of a staff, sometimes small, a few dozen people, and sometimes large, as in China, - hundreds of people. All of them are people with their own life, which is far from easy because of the nature of our work, with relatives and children whom they have left behind at home. Surely social security is one of our concerns. I think that all our people who are abroad have heard and have been satisfied with the president's words. It is important that events such as this conference are sources of confidence - we people who are posted on the front line abroad have a secure rear and wise commanders.
The economic sessions, in my view, have been very useful for all of us. We ambassadors have questions about how our country will be organizing its foreign economic activities, and we have received some guidelines from the most influential leaders of the economic bloc of our government. That is very important.
Finally, everyone agrees that the session about the media, about public information efforts, has been the most interesting one and has brought together the largest number of people. That's surely an area that poses great challenges to our diplomacy.
As regards Russia's interaction with the People's Republic of China, our two countries have built a harmonious edifice of bilateral relations. China is a key political and economic partner of our country, and a partner from the point of view of building harmonious cultural relations and exchanges. I believe that literally everything about our relations is important.
It's important that contacts between our leaders are characterized by enviable and ongoing regularity.
China has stably been our number one trading partner for quite many years, and I don't think this will change in the foreseeable future.
Of course, in China we work in a more comfortable information environment. That is a fact. It is our task to boost our efforts to deliver accurate information about Russia to the friendly Chinese audience. It's a problem for us that sometimes the Chinese have somewhat outdated perceptions of our country. These perceptions go back to the 1990s, but that still hasn't come home to all our partners. Our task is to tell not just the truth about Russia in general but also the truth about present-day Russia.
The United Nations
Vasily Nebenzya, Permanent Representative
THIS CONFERENCE has given me marvelous impressions. We always wait impatiently for these conferences. They offer wonderful opportunities to talk to other diplomats, listen to intelligent people, exchange impressions, receive new guidelines and advice, share one's experience, and receive approval for some points. They are very useful events.
At the United Nations, where I work, we have warm human relationships with one another. I've spoken about this repeatedly, and I wasn't putting up a show either. We treat one another with respect in the Security Council, in the diplomatic corps, and in the embassies. We are on very good terms with everyone. As you would remember, Saint Paul said that you should hate a sin but not the person who has committed it. We follow this principle. If I'm fighting a diplomatic battle of some kind, it's not because I have a personal dislike for someone. We dislike U.S. policies on many issues, and therefore we honestly and sincerely speak about it. It's part of our life.
Life is always interesting in the United Nations because it's a place where all global problems are dealt with. We don't spend a day without dealing with a hot topic of some kind. Half of our agenda is taken up by numerous African issues, although that is unlikely to be obvious to everyone. On the one hand, Africa is a continent with good prospects, but, on the other, many of its countries face grave problems. In the Security Council, we are jointly taking every possible measure to prevent the continent from going ablaze. Africa is a continent that is plagued with terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking. We deal with these problems permanently.
Sergey Andreyev, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
RUSSIA and Poland are neighbors, and, regardless of the state of bilateral political relations, there are many practical problems that need joint consideration and solution.
Russian-Polish trade halved during the crisis of 2014-2015, but trade in sectors that don't come under Western sanctions against Russia or Russian countermeasures is being restored due to the favorable international economic environment. Russian and Polish agencies that oversee road, rail and air transportation normally manage to achieve mutually acceptable pragmatic solutions even in difficult situations. The Russia-Poland Cross-Border Cooperation Program for the period up to 2020 has been approved by Russia, the European Union and Poland and has begun to be implemented in 2018.
However, none of this changes the general negative atmosphere. Although there remains a large potential for mutually beneficial Russian-Polish cooperation, political will is needed to make such cooperation a reality, whereas we can't see the Polish leadership showing any such will. Warsaw has frozen the political dialogue between our countries, lobbies the West to keep its sanctions against Russia in force, fans an anti-Russian information war and fears of a supposed Russian threat, tries to rewrite history in an anti-Russian spirit, has launched mass-scale demolition of monuments to Soviet liberators, and expels from Poland Russian academics, journalists and public figures who make public statements that run against the political postulates of the Polish government.
We naturally monitor the attitudes of the Polish leadership and draw conclusions. We react to unfriendly Polish moves in commensurable and tough ways. Our premise is that Russia doesn't need normal relations between us any more than Poland does. If our Polish partners are not yet ready for such relations, we'll wait. We are patient enough.
Sergey Gubarev, Ambassador at Large
THIS TRADITIONAL CONFERENCE of ambassadors and permanent representatives, the ninth one in this series, is undoubtedly a useful event for various reasons.
Naturally, the central point of each of these conferences is the speech of the Russian president, in which he assesses our work and the situation in the world and highlights matters that we should focus on in the foreseeable future.
My field is the Transnistrian settlement process - I am the political representative of the Russian Federation at the Permanent Conference on Political Issues that is part of the format of this process. I'm very glad to see that some real progress has been made over the past few months. It has been possible to make both parties see that the ultimate purpose of the negotiations is to make life easier for common people on both sides of the Dniester.
I can mention several recent achievements. One of them is an agreement to normalize the functioning of Moldovan schools in Transnistria where written Moldovan language is based on the Latin alphabet. Another is progress on a proposal for the apostilling of Transnistrian certificates of higher education - the problem of seeking international recognition for such certificates has been put on the agenda for negotiations between Moldova and Transnistria after multiple appeals from Transnistrian graduates.
Yet another achievement is a process to establish regulations to normalize the use by Moldovan farmers of plots of land that are formally situated on the territory of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, the so-called return to the 2006 mechanism. As far as I know, there has been progress on this issue but maybe not as fast as one would have liked it to be. The main thing, though, is that there is progress in place.
Telecommunications are one more point on which progress has been made. It's mainly a commercial issue. Transnistrian and Moldovan political structures have put together a roadmap for negotiations with two main specialist companies operating in that region. I hope that diligent work will make the parties see the necessity to cooperate on this issue.
And, of course, it was a very symbolic decision to open a road bridge across the Dniester between the villages of Bychok on the Transnistrian side and Gura Bîcului on the Moldovan side.
Of course, a resolution of the UN General Assembly on the "withdrawal of all foreign military forces from the territory of Moldova" that was proposed by Moldova and represents an openly provocative initiative doesn't make the situation easier. It's obvious that the aim of this resolution is to remove the Operational Group of Russian Forces from Transnistria. The group guards artillery ammunition depots that are located there and are a legacy of the USSR. Moves like this hamper the settlement process.
Alexander Kinshchak, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
IN SUMMING UP this conference, let me say that it was very pleasant to hear the president of Russia make a high assessment of the performance of our embassy. Vladimir Putin pointed out not only the successes of our military but also the work of Russian diplomats in Syria. That is extremely important for us.
Developments in Syria are, by and large, following a positive course. One feels optimistic and hopes that everything will end well in the near future.
This was mainly bloodless liberation. It was achieved through negotiations and conciliatory action on the part of the population of cities, towns and villages, which persuaded militants to accept terms set by the government.
One more disputable territory is the northeast, where, with the support of the Americans, the Kurds have got settled with their armed groups. There's a couple of NATO countries present there as well. The government has been seeking an agreement with them, and not unsuccessfully either, - the Kurds are restoring economic ties and removing their separatist symbols. In general, there is a positive trend in place. I hope that in the long run peace will come back to my beloved Syria. This will be good for all of us because it will open new opportunities for trade and economic cooperation.
I'm a regular reader of International Affairs. There are very good selections of articles there. The authors are talented professionals. It's a great help to me, a source of information that broadens my outlook. Thank you for a very good job.
Alexey Fedotov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
AS REGARDS this ambassadorial conference, I can say it has been structured better than the conference of two years ago. The speakers dealt with practical matters without adducing any theoretical points. The conference has made clear that there exists effective interaction between the Foreign Ministry, on the one hand, and Russian missions abroad and agencies within Russia, on the other. This interaction is marked by synergy that stems from understanding what objectives have been set and from a desire to work for them. We all realize that our external environment is increasingly complicated. We need to move together dynamically in the same direction. What has been said at the conference by various speakers - people working in the humanities, people working in the sphere of information, specialists in counterterrorism - gave me the impression that this need is well understood. That is my chief impression of this conference.
In Slovakia, a lot is happening - the change of government, liberal forces are putting powerful pressure, although many people come to realize that the liberals are not the mainstream. As for Russia's relations with Slovakia, everything is developing more or less normally in spite of quite strong external attempts to push Slovakia away even from what are traditional areas in our relations.
The main point I want to make is that both Russia and Slovakia want to preserve something that has taken years or decades to create. They also want to build up their interaction in various fields. In that sense, Slovakia is a very interesting and promising partner, a partner that is pleasant to work with.
We are very pleased with our cooperation with the journal International Affairs. The fifth conference that had been organized by International Affairs stirred a lot of interest in the journal in Slovakia and enabled the editors of the journal to understand the Slovak public better.
We also use the journal as a floor for discussing key international issues.
Alexey Yerkhov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
THIS conference, as the previous ones, has been very useful and interesting, and has had a rich agenda. Heads of Russian diplomatic missions need to exchange opinions. It is also important to hear what the head of state and members of government think about what should be done in foreign policy in general and in each of its specific fields. The fact that political dialogue has been taken to the highest level of state authority means that the government doesn't slacken off and keeps working hard. The Foreign Ministry, for example, sets foreign policy goals and is a coordinating body. Our economic agencies have their own tasks to carry out.
As for Russian-Turkish relations, there are bilateral strategic projects underway - the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, the TurkStream natural gas pipeline and others. They are all very important long-term projects that can benefit our relations very much. There's a great deal of work underway, and there are some results already. Our trade has increased in volume, more Russian tourists visit Turkey, and cultural exchanges have grown in scale.
The year 2019 will be the Russian Culture and Tourism Year in Turkey and the Turkish Culture and Tourism Year in Russia. Turks also come to Russia as tourists but, of course, not in such big numbers as Russian tourists going to Turkey.
Each conference is the quintessence of our shared vision of the global situation and our bilateral relations with other countries.
Alexey Meshkov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
THESE ambassadorial conferences are a good tradition that has existed for a couple of decades already. Each such conference is the most important event of a two-year period for us. Above all, it provides us with vision and enables us to receive guidelines on principal international problems from the leadership of the country.
Of course, the main agendas are traditional sets of subjects.
Nevertheless, the nature of some of the discussions has changed radically because the international situation has changed seriously over the past few years. Let me point out that, while the conferences themselves last several days, preparations for them, including in the central apparatus of the Foreign Ministry, start a long time in advance. Therefore, each conference is the quintessence of our shared vision of the global situation and our bilateral relations with other countries. So, each conference is a very important event for all the ambassadors.
As for the journal International Affairs, I value it a great deal. It's a very useful journal. It is largely a unique periodical because on its pages you find assessments and analysis that have been made by people who work in your own field, members of the political science community. It's a necessary, serious journal, and I wish it every success.
Central African Republic
Sergey Lobanov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
I HAPPENED to be in Central African Republic at a turning point in its history. My long period of ambassadorial service there has included what was a difficult time for the country - an aggravation of the domestic political situation that ended up in a coup several years ago and then a long, difficult recovery from the crisis. This transitional period ended recently. It eventually enabled the country to hold legitimate elections, and now it has a legitimate president, a government that has been appointed in the way established by law, and a legitimate parliament, in other words all legitimate state structures.
Some consequences of the coup are undoubtedly still around. There has been a moment when up to 80% of the territory of the country was outside government control. The army, police and gendarmerie in fact disintegrated. So were vital sectors such as the health service and the education system. Today, the new government faces the fundamental practical tasks of rebuilding the system of economic governance and disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating the militants of the numerous armed groups.
It is very important - it has become especially noticeable over the past year - that Russia is energetically returning to Africa. The rebuilding of the country requires an efficient professional army, and Russia supplies Central African Republic with armaments through legal channels and with the approval of specialized structures of the United Nations. Russia also trains personnel for the armed forces of the country. This is becoming a routine, stable process. Over the past few months, Russian instructors have completed training 800 military personnel, and are due to finish training another 400 soon.
I think that we hold an absolutely correct and just position on African problems. But, of course, African problems need primarily African solutions, although help from the rest of the world is needed to solve them as well.
I'd like to say a few words about the journal International Affairs. This journal has accompanied me practically throughout my adult life, at least throughout my professional life. It was with me during my period of research work and has been with me during my diplomatic career. The journal, which has a long history, is always up to date. It contains high-standard and diversified analytics, and one can always find personal views and interesting press reviews in it as well.
If I were writing an article now I would probably entitle it "Central African Republic: Halfway Down the Road." I think one needs to be an optimist, because it would be difficult to work if you took a largely pragmatic but non-optimistic approach. There can be no miracles, but there's very much we can do by joining forces.