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2 October 2017

Today Russia is going through a complicated ambivalent period, marked, on the one hand, by unpredictability and opposition to anti-Russian sentiments, and on the other, by intensification of trade and economic cooperation with different parts of the world. We had a talk with Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Ryabkov on the realities and potentialities of the Russian-American dialogue, the impact of anti-Russian sanctions and the intensification of the BRICS work. 

- Sergey Alekseevich, the “Primakov Readings”, where you moderated the session "Russia and the US - a limited confrontation or potential partnership”, just had taken place. Then you noted that "a storm cloud had loomed over the Russian-American relations". And now it seems that these relations are waving in an undulating manner. What can in your opinion change this situation, influence the establishment of our relations? And on the whole, is our further partnership with the US possible?

- I think that our partnership is not just possible, but it has not been actually interrupted! Another thing is that the very word "partnership" has recently been interpreted ambiguously. On the one hand, the better word for describing what we are jointly undertaking, for example, in Syria on the zones of de-escalation and on the issues related to the Geneva process, within the framework of bilateral contacts in Astana, has not been invented yet. This is really a partnership, it must remain so and should grow stronger.

The partnership has also remained, and I note this as one of the factors of stability in relations with the US regarding the International Space Station and cooperation in the business sphere. I would like to emphasize that, despite the sanctions and attempts of the Obama administration, that unfortunately, have continued after its replacement, to somehow "ditch" the US business from the Russian market - in general, we can see the continued interest in it on the part of a whole number of American companies including the leading ones. Some of them are on the way of expanding their presence in the Russian market, both in terms of investment and forms of interaction. The economic partnership is the foundation of our relations.

On the other hand, the partnership, in our opinion, supposes equality, mutual consideration of interests, respect for each other, lack of attempts to force or present somebody with a fait accompli, what American colleagues do not always keep to when building a dialogue. And you are absolutely right, in many other spheres the degradation of our practical cooperation has been observed in recent months. Due to the decisions taken in Washington, the channels of cooperation had been closed in some spheres, and a series of illegal actions taken by the then-departing administration of Barack Obama, unfortunately, continued under the administration of Donald Trump.

These actions in respect to the diplomatic institutions of the Russian Federation on the territory of the US cast a shadow on our mutual relations, form a nidus of political inflammation in them, which is difficult enough to stop. And we had not invented yet the formula for fighting this, without exaggeration, 'disease' that Washington was embracing against the background of rejection of the modern Russia as a whole and our firm and consistent independent line in international affairs.

Unfortunately, in the United States, those circles that would like to curtail future cooperation and contacts with our country are quite influential. How will these political figures be able to determine the practical course of the United States - is a separate question, and I would like to believe that it is still open, but some trends are very disturbing. Among them, there are the encroachments of Americans on what not so long ago seemed to be fundamental postulates.

The penetration into the sovereign territory of another state, protected by diplomatic immunity - this is how we and everyone except the United States in the international community understand the establishments where diplomatic and consular institutions operate - in itself is a change in mentality, a reflection of the turn in US political and legal thinking. After the incident, no country can be 100% sure that in case of deterioration in relations with the United States something similar will not happen with the diplomatic missions and consulates of this country.

Moreover, it is difficult to explain from the standpoint of all the past years the steps to complicate contacts between people, limitation on the ability to travel and serious pressure on some media. I mean, of course, an outrageous episode with a Sputnik radio correspondent in the US. There is a number of other examples of this kind. This policy of legal permissiveness and lack of self-restraint is a very bad and alarming sign.
And we from our part should take into consideration the worst scenario. We do not know where are the limits of their, sorry for the word, "cheeky" behavior in many spheres. Therefore, we need to approach this situation carefully and thoughtfully, and our retaliatory actions should be calibrated in a way how not to destroy what has been left. And we are forced to remind of mutual respect, consideration of each other's interests, that this is a non-alternative scheme.

For all that, we are interested in normalizing relationship and open to dialogue. The degree of our interaction with the United States depends on the United States themselves: we are ready to go so far and to such depth as our American colleagues are ready for. But for the present, all this is rhetoric, calls, and signals from our side, because we do not see the adequate response in many spheres of political dialogue. From this point of view, the undergoing period can be hardly overcome soon. And in this sense we are on an unknown path - there are no analogs of something like this in the past: the United States has not demonstrated such behavior even during the Cold War.

-The new President of the US is a man of business, and one cannot help feeling that the restriction of his influence on the question of sanctions is a symbol of removing business from influence on external processes. Do you think if this analogy is fair?

- I am sure that if the American business showed more persistence, firmness, and consistency in defending its interests, it would be much more difficult at least or even impossible in general for the opponents of Russia setting the tone in the Congress, in many mass media and political science centers, to impose their destructive agenda of executive power. But it is not mere chance that the peak of this anti-Russian hysteria, which reached the elite in Washington and in the main American cities, coincided right with the stage of transition from the former administration to the current one. 

And, unfortunately, these anti-Russian manifestations do not go into decline: we see practically every day new, more and more surprising and less and less connected with reality anti-Russian throw-in, we see everyday attempts to "dig up" something against the administration on the Russian material. All this is a reflection of the ongoing domestic political struggle in the United States. And it is deeply regrettable that relations with Russia are brought in such a cynical, shameless, unscrupulous manner as a sacrifice to the domestic political conjuncture and that "survival game" of the new administration that the opponents of Trump conduct.

Will the political firmness, will, and consistency of the present administration be enough to counter effectively this situation, directing the course towards normalization of relations with Russia as a first step, and then in their progressive development? This is still an open question, to my opinion. Now we see unfortunately the continuation of the line of the previous team in the White House and other state bodies, which completely fell into the anti-Russian hysteria in the final period of stay in power of Barack Obama. On the other hand, we see a very serious change in the entire coordinate system in the United States as the result of the adoption of a notorious law, according to which Russia has been ranked as "hostile" to the US.

One of the consequences of the adoption of this law, which has a long-term character, is the limitation of the executive power to conduct an independent from the Congress course on the Russian direction. For the present, it is not clear how the Trump administration behaves in this coordinate system, but I repeat, in this situation, we are not doing anything that will cause further deterioration. All our response measures are strictly verified in terms of scope and nature and are steps that are inalienable in such situations. Otherwise, we will become insolvent from the political point of view. We cannot afford it. I think that Washington also takes it into account.

Returning to the previous question: there is a number of problems in the sphere of international security and regional security, which, taking into consideration the present extremely low level of trust between our countries and the absence of systematic mechanisms of work, does not receive due attention. We are trying to correct this situation - in the sphere of arms control, and in the sphere of strategic stability, a gradual resumption of the dialogue with the Americans is taking place. I would like to hope that, after this, it could be possible to influence the negative attitude towards our country, find resources to work on the bilateral agenda in a more quiet manner.

- At the same “Primakov readings” you have mentioned a term such as Russia's historical optimism. Are the actions we are taking now the manifestations of historical optimism, or is it a part of a new policy?

- Of course, we are not optimistic about the possibility of soon returning of illegally seized objects of the Russian state property in the US, although we will try to get it. On a historical scale optimism is connected with the fact that we are 100% sure of our own rightness. We understand that Russia will never under any circumstances depart from the policy of unconditional ensuring and strengthening of the norms of international law as the basis for the relationship between states. We will firmly defend our interests, we will not allow encroachment upon them, and we will work in the direction of forming a polycentric world order where there is no place for domination, attempts of political diktat, that is for all that our American colleagues sin in. It is clear that this "counter-move" causes exasperation among our enemies. We do not switch the "foreign policy" reverse gear and will never do it, but we will not allow confrontation as well - it will be extremely dangerous from the point of view of the responsibility of Russia and the United States for global security, we understand it perfectly. We warn American partners of a reckless move.

Historical optimism also is in the fact that under the conditions of pressure, impeding economic development, our country traditionally demonstrates the ability to inner consolidation and finding the potential, resources, reserves (you can call it whatever you want) in order to strengthen their positions in spite of these intrigues.
I think that the forthcoming period will convincingly demonstrate that just in this way the processes are developing in our country at the present historical period. Something in this regard is already undeniable - I mean, for example, indicators of import substitution. Probably, we come to the moment when our vulnerability from the American monetary and financial system will also be less than it has been, so to speak, in the 90s and to some extent is remaining now. The American attempts to "press" are no more than a reminder to us to tackle this problem more actively.

- Now, quite often you can hear that if there are no sanctions, we, perhaps, would not have chosen an active course of development.

- That’s it. It was just this logic that always helped us to overcome difficult periods of our history. Now I do not want to exaggerate the difficulties, to dramatize them. The attempts to influence Russia by sanctions become a ferment that stimulates our development.

- Now Russia is actively developing relations with other countries, including BRICS. Which country of the five, in your opinion, is the most promising partner for Russia?

- I would not oppose the BRICS participants to each other in analytical conclusions of this kind. Of course, it is undeniable that the volume of our trade, economic, technological and military-technical cooperation, the level of relationships on the whole and the formed character of a comprehensive partnership with China, determine a certain level on which we would like to raise relations with other countries. Each country of the union in the palette of our external relations possesses very special, interesting, valuable and important characteristics not to be neglected.

We could say a lot about what the Russian-Indian relationship meant for us in a historical retrospective, what stages we had gone through, how much had been achieved in the sphere of our dialogue and concrete projects in various fields: from atomic energy and military technologies to traditional medicine and culture.

South Africa, as one of the leading countries of the African continent, is one of the most promising partners for Russia. There are a mutual interest and attraction to each other both in the sphere of education and in the sphere of humanitarian communication, and these relations are strengthening consistently.

Brazil is a key country in Latin America, and we see that after coming to power of the current government, this country remains very interested in its attitude to BRICS as a format. They make constructively interesting proposals up to the establishment of interaction in a five-sided format through the intelligence services of our countries. They work in favor of deepening cooperation on transport, on "green" energy.

In BRICS, the concept of the energy research platform has emerged and is being promoted by us now. The relations with Brazil include trade, joint work on the exploration of outer space, GLONASS, and other areas. I am sure we have great perspectives in cooperation with the peaceful use of atomic energy.

It means that there are no artificial obstacles, and I am looking with great interest and with serious expectations in the next year when the chairmanship in BRICS will transfer from the PRC to South Africa. On the previous stage, there were the South African colleagues who showed a bold creative approach and put the outreach format into the practice of BRICS, inviting colleagues from other African countries to the summit in Durban. Now the Chinese friends have proposed a new concept called "BRICS plus." I am sure that South Africa will fill its program of chairmanship in 2018 with new ideas and will ensure a very serious succession.

BRICS has already become such a mechanism of cooperation that is not running from time to time. But it acts as a permanent site where the work is conducted in many directions, and where people at different levels no longer think themselves without BRICS and turn to this mechanism when different kind of proposals arise, up to BRICS sports tournaments, film festivals, and many others.

Among them I would highlight our idea of creating the BRICS Council of Regions. We will also continue working on it in future. The civil society forums, political conferences are held, so that all social fabric is covered. BRICS is no longer a sign that makes it easier to report a signal about the common position of the five states, it is already a well-established and very popular form of practical work and interaction between countries that make up from one third to one half of the world according to various estimates.

- You have just mentioned about “BRICS plus”. This was my next question: there are five countries invited by China this year - Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, Tajikistan, Guinea. In your opinion, in the future, is it possible to expand BRICS and join the union of the countries that South Africa and China have invited to Summit, or will everything be limited to external contacts?

- I do not think that the forms of interaction between BRICS and other countries that are not members of this union have taken a final state. We are still in search, and the very structure of BRICS is, as before, in the phase of formation and growth. We have passed the first decade of the existence of the format. If we compare this historical period with what the other organizations - international and regional - first, have achieved, and secondly, what they have formulated for themselves from the point of view of their own future, expansion of membership and so on, it will turn out that even now BRICS is much ahead of its historical predecessors.

Therefore, we will not force anything in this sphere, and I think that the partners interested in BRICS understand this position. BRICS is not a closed association. You see for yourself that BRICS does not have a hidden agenda and those practiced methods of work at different levels are reflected in the final documents, in the mass media, the speeches of leaders and the invitation of interested countries. Thus, we create additional communication channels, and I think that a number of countries feel that BRICS is ready for interaction even without formal membership in the organization. I do not anticipate anything. I am just saying that we are still at the stage of debugging work with the members of "the group of five". I think we need some time before the question of expanding the BRICS membership comes to life.

As for the “BRICS Plus” the logic of the invitation of this particular team, in my opinion, was explained in detail by Chinese colleagues. Everybody felt comfortable in this format, the dialogue was extremely businesslike. And what we have heard at the event from the leaders of the invited countries, what is being discussed at the working level shows that people in these countries approach seriously and responsibly the question of interaction with BRICS. A number of concrete proposals were submitted, including the mechanisms of cooperation, and important signals were sent by the leaders of the BRICS countries, which I am sure will be taken into account in all the capitals of the invited countries in the process of further work - and not only in the direction of BRICS.