Sergey Lavrov is the Foreign Minister of Russia, taking office since 2004. Previously, he was the Russian Representative to the UN, serving from 1994 to 2004. Lavrov is scheduled to visit Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Ethiopia next week. He will be in Ethiopia from March 8-9. During his visit, Lavrov will meet with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, President Mulatu Teshome (PhD), Minister of Foreign Affairs Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD) as well as Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat. Ahead of his visit, in a brief interview conducted via email exchange with The Reporter, Lavrov talks about Ethio-Russian relations and security in the Horn of Africa. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Ethiopia and Russia are marking 120 years of their diplomatic relations. What kind of new elements could your visit bring to the cooperation of the two countries?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia values the long-established friendly relations with Ethiopia. I am pleased to note that our wide-ranging cooperation is built on the principles of equality, mutual trust and respect. Russia and Ethiopia maintain intensive political dialogue underpinned by the concurrence or considerable closeness of our views on the key problems of our time.
We assume that the upcoming visit to Ethiopia will substantially contribute to the strengthening of the time-tested ties between the two states. Symbolically, the visit is taking place in the year that marks the 120th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations. It is encouraging that both Russia and Ethiopia attach great importance to this memorable date – numerous events on the occasion of the anniversary will be organized throughout the year. Scientific conferences with participation of prominent political and public figures, as well as cultural events and exhibitions of archive documents are planned to be held in Moscow and Addis Ababa. Also, thematic mailing envelopes will be issued.
During the negotiations with the Ethiopian leadership, we intend to have a detailed discussion with my Ethiopian counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD), on ways of enhancing the bilateral cooperation with the emphasis on its trade, economic and investment component, implementation of joint projects, particularly in the energy sector, including nuclear energy. Among the promising areas is Russia’s assistance to Ethiopia in building its own scientific and research capacities in developing basic and applied sciences. Specifically we plan to create an Ethiopian center for nuclear science and technologies based on a Russia-designed research reactor.
We also hope that the visit will facilitate greater foreign policy coordination between our states.
In relation to that, we recently see heavy militarization of the Horn of Africa region and encirclement of its coastlines with oil-rich Gulf States threatening security of the countries and the region as whole. What is Russia’s position in that?
Over the last decades, the situation in the Horn of Africa has been characterized by inter-state conflicts, territorial disputes and disagreements, socio-economic and humanitarian problems, serious security challenges, including terrorism, piracy, cross-border crime, and drug trafficking.
These factors remain the major reason why the countries of the region keep increasing their military spending and why a large number of foreign military bases and marine forces are still present there.
Russia has traditionally advocated exclusively peaceful resolution of disputes through political and diplomatic means. In this context, the build-up of weapons both in the Horn Region and in other parts of the world is a matter of great concern. Especially given that the enormous resources allocated for that purpose could be channeled into socio-economic development and humanitarian assistance.
Naturally, every country has a right to determine the most adequate way of ensuring their security. At the same time, we insist that there should be strict compliance with the principle of indivisible security, which means no one should strengthen their security at the expense of others.
For instance, in Somalia, like in some other cases, the military presence of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) remains the key element of the support provided to the country’s Federal Government in combatting Al-Shabaab terrorist group, whose activities pose a threat to the entire region. In light of the current developments in the country, Russia believes that the international community should continue efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Somali armed forces and AMISOM components.
What is your take on the war in Yemen where the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) coalition is launching an operation against Yemeni factions? As principal actor in Syria do you see an end to these conflicts in the Arab peninsula? What do you see to be a fundamental problem?
We are closely following the military and political developments as well as the humanitarian situation in Yemen. We are deeply concerned by the large numbers of deaths and injuries caused by the continued hostilities in the country and by the fact that a significant part of the civil infrastructure, including healthcare facilities, has been destroyed or put out of action.
We remain adamant that this protracted internal conflict in Yemen with the participation of the so-called Arab coalition can only be ended through dialogue and reciprocal consideration of the interests of all political forces in Yemen.
At the same time we should be ready to face the fact that national accord in Yemen can hardly be restored overnight. There are far too many claims made by all the opposing parties against each other, many of which are justified. Against this background, the Yemeni factions remain unprepared to engage in a constructive discussion on how to overcome these differences, which is in fact the main challenge for the crisis resolution in the country. This, however, should not be used as a pretext for ‘giving up’ on this track.
We are convinced that the international community, first of all the UN, whose role we traditionally view as central, should continue to urge the Yemeni protagonists to renounce violence and sit down at the negotiating table.
For our part, we intend to further contribute to this work. We have supported these efforts since the very outbreak of the internal conflict in Yemen, maintaining regular contacts with all stakeholders who can help bring Yemen back to peaceful life.
Simultaneously, we take practical steps to render humanitarian assistance to the affected population in the Republic of Yemen. We are currently considering dispatching another humanitarian aid cargo to the country.