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03-04/2010 Fast search  

Sergei Lavrov

The summit of the Group of Eight, or G8 in short, will take place on June 25-26 at a luxurious resort in Canada's Muskoka Ontario, where the G8 leaders will board helicopters in the evening of June 26 and travel to Toronto to join the Group of Twenty (G20), which is gaining strength and will meet for its summit on June 27. These global meetings will wind up the 2009/2010 political season that has been filled with milestone events such as the signing by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama of the Treaty between the USA and Russia on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, known as START, (April 8, Prague), the Nuclear Security Summit (April 12-13, Washington), and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (May, New York). The meeting of the G8 foreign ministers on March 29-30 in Gatineau, a cozy town in the province of Quebec, just a half-hour's drive away from the capital of Ottawa, was intended to facilitate the successful work of the G8 leaders. The ministers at Gatineau had been tasked with synchronizing positions on key global political issues and finalizing the agenda and documents for the G8 summit. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represented Russia in Gatineau. Such a big, almost three-month gap between the ministerial meeting and the G8 summit is unprecedented. The organizers said it was intended to lend more significance to the G8 ministerial meeting. But there are other circumstances as well..


“Reformatting” world leadership is a new phenomenon that reflects an expected decline of G8 top-level meetings and the growing importance of the G20 and BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) formats. Political scientists’ debates on this matter have for once converged with political practice. On April 9, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Board discussed “the tasks of foreign policy support for Russia’s participation in these informal mechanisms designed to coordinate the major world powers’ approaches to global problems”. The Board stated that the long-term strengthening of the G20 “as the main instrument for reforming the global financial and economic architecture based on clear rules of the game and the principles of multipolarity and democratism” satisfied Russia’s interests. The Board also noted that Russia was equally interested in “weighty and active participation” in the G8 as well. G formats were a product of the 20th century. They were initiated by French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. The 1970s were a period of economic turmoil, and the French head of state gathered the leaders of France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and the United States for a summit at Rambouillet in November 1975. Canada joined the six states in 1976, thus turning it into the Group of Seven (G7). It took years for the G7 to become the G8. In 1994, the “7 + 1” pattern was introduced, when the G7 leaders invited Russia’s first President Boris Yeltsin to join them for post-summit discussions. In April 1996, a G7 meeting was held in Moscow with Russia participating as a full-fledged member. In 2002, the G7 Summit in Kananaskis, Canada, which was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, proclaimed Russia “a full-fledged and important partner in solving global problems” and empowered Putin to hold an official G8 summit in Russia. If this format survives, our country will host another G8 summit in 2014, the year of the next Winter Olympic Games.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the G8 format became somewhat relative, with a European Union representative participating as a de facto permanent ninth member and the leaders of the emerging economies being invited to attend as guests. In 2008, such participation enlarged the G8 Summit on Hokkaido, Japan, to the Group of Twenty. With the outbreak of the global financial and economic crisis in 2008, the G8 began to be weighed down by the G20 format.

Today the G8 is an international club, not an organization. It is not based on any international treaty and is only one of the key informal mechanisms for coordinating the financial, economic and political courses of Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States, and the European Union. The forum has neither secretariat nor charter, and its decisions are not binding.

The G20, or the Group of Twenty, was founded in Berlin in December 1999 at the initiative of the G7 finance ministers for dialogue with developing countries. The G20 is composed of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Republic of Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union. The group accounts for 90 percent of the world’s gross national product, 80 percent of world trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population. The G20 did not hold summits until 2008, organizing instead annual meetings of the finance ministers and the governors of the central banks. Anti-crisis summits were held in Washington in 2008 (November 14–15), and in London (April 2) and Pittsburgh, U.S., in 2009 (September 24–25). In 2010, summits are scheduled to take place in Toronto, Canada, (June) and Seoul, South Korea, (October).

The creation of the G20 prodded Western leaders, who had established the “world leaders’ club”, into finding a new niche for themselves. The G8 finance ministers and central bank governors met in Iqaluit, Canada, on February 5-8, without Russia, thus reviving the 1990s-type G7 format. But they could not turn the “financial G7” into the governing body of the Group of Twenty. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko recalled that “strategic decisions on the global financial and economic architecture could not be adopted without the participation of major players such as BRIC states, including Russia, and leading developing countries.”

This was borne out by the second BRIC summit in Brasilia on April 15-16 held ahead of the G20 forum. The Kremlin emphasized that the summit was called upon to decide how to intensify cooperation among the BRIC states in the international arena and overhaul global management institutes as part of the efforts aimed at building a polycentric, fair and democratic international system.


Following the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh where it was announced on September 25, 2009 that from then on the G20, not the G8, would be the world's main economic forum, experts started predicting an imminent decline of the G8 format because political influence is there where there is economic power. The gradual transformation of the G8 summit into the G20 summit scheduled for June 2010 was immediately dubbed as a G8 meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty. The G20 format has its opponents who refer to Parkinson's Third Law, which says that “Expansion means complexity; and complexity, decay.” The upcoming transfer of “the world government’s reigns” to the Group of Twenty does not inspire all of the G8 member states, of course. At the Gatineau meeting, Europeans frankly portrayed the G8 ministerial meeting as a successor to the G8 format left over from the G8 summit after it had lost its economic foothold.

Prior to the Gatineau forum, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, who chaired the ministerial meeting, emphasized three key topics: nuclear non-proliferation/disarmament, Afghanistan, and counterterrorism. However his approach to these undoubtedly global issues was fragmentary. In fact, terrorism was divided into the Afghan-Pakistani border, Yemen, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa. The ministerial discussion was steered back to the global dimension of counterterrorism by Sergei Lavrov who suggested drafting a special action plan in Muskoka in order to step up the work of the Roma-Lyons Group and the Counterterrorism Action Group.

On the non-proliferation front, the ministers welcomed the conclusion of the Russian-American talks on the new START treaty as “an important step to a world without nuclear weapons” and had heated debates on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The ministers adopted the joint Statement on Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. A compromise was reached over joint efforts towards the success of the upcoming NPT Review Conference in New York. When discussing the Iranian and North Korean non-proliferation files, Russia confirmed that “there is no alternative to the resolution of these problems by political and diplomatic methods.”

The ministerial meeting agenda was quite big. Canada proposed to discuss at the G8 summit how to reduce child and maternal mortality, coordinate efforts aimed at stabilizing the security situation in the “vulnerable states”, and expand the outreach of the Global Partnership Program. Russia suggested working out a comprehensive approach to improving the effectiveness of international peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts. An international conference will be held to discuss these issues. Regarding the Global Partnership, Lavrov insisted that the outreach expansion be preceded by a comprehensive partnership evaluation. The Global Partnership Program, declared in 2002 at the G8 Summit in Canada, called for disbursing $20 billion to Russia and Ukraine over a ten-year period (up to 2012) for safe storage and disposal of weapons of mass destruction. Half of that amount was promised by the United States, and the rest by the European Union, Canada, and Japan. The program has not been implemented so far. The parties then had a substantive discussion on the Middle East initiated by Sergei Lavrov. The ministers welcomed the Middle East Quartet’s Moscow decision to support “the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians” with their subsequent transformation into “direct substantive dialogue”. A meeting of the five Arctic costal states took place in parallel to the G8 ministerial session. Bilateral meetings were held, including between Sergei Lavrov and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon and his Japanese colleague Katsuya Okada.


The minute-by-minute schedule of the G8 ministerial meeting was discussed in advance. The high responsibility borne by the ministers had predetermined the business-like atmosphere of the discussion. No surprises were expected, but the course of events took a new turn in the morning of March 29. All news reports in Canada were dominated by the footage of twin bombing attacks in the Moscow subway system. Condolences were expressed to the Russian officials. The issue of terrorism, announced among others at the G8 ministerial meeting, became a key one. The ministers promptly adopted a special statement, in which they “strongly condemned the cowardly terrorist attacks on the Moscow subway”, expressed “their deepest sympathy” to all injured or bereaved by the attacks, and “called for the prosecution of all those responsible”. They reiterated “their commitment to further enhance the central role of the United Nations and to adhere to its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy” (see more on the strategy in an interview with Jean-Paul Laborde on p. 16).

The topic of terrorism became a key issue at Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s press conference after the meeting of the five Arctic coastal states. The minister said: “We are grateful to all who expressed their solidarity with the Russian people and the state, including all of my colleagues today. All of them most unequivocally condemned this abominable act and called for intensifying the fight against terrorism. I want to note that steps are being taken, everything necessary is being done. The Government is working to assist the victims and do everything to ensure safety on public transport and in other places. We need to coordinate our efforts on the international scene even more, and to do everything to ensure that terrorists and those who organize, plot and pay for terrorist acts can nowhere feel safe. This is a global terrorist network. International terrorism can only be fought by combining all efforts on the basis of the decisions taken by the international community, especially in the U.N.”

Replying to a journalist’s question whether the minister had felt the sincere support of his colleagues after the events in Moscow, Lavrov said: “I believe the solidarity and willingness to help are absolutely sincere. I will not intrude into the sphere of activity of the special services and investigative agencies that are dealing with it. They have their partner channels. If there is the slightest need for them to be used, they will be used. I am convinced that those who planned, organized, and paid for these terrorist acts will not escape punishment.”

Regarding possible support to terrorists from abroad, the Russian minister said: “There is enough information that the terrorist underground, which is entrenched in Afghanistan, on the Afghan-Pakistani border, has very close ties with both Central Asia and the Caucasus. That requires international efforts.

“This is another proof of the need to stop taking the importance of coordinated joint efforts lightly. I think that we will now pay special attention to practical efforts to implement international conventions, the U.N. Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and individual decisions on some or other areas. I am convinced that the sources of terrorist sponsorship require special attention. One such source is the drug trade.“

In a conversation with the VIP-Premier editor aboard the government Ilyushin-76 on the way back home, Sergei Lavrov summed up: “The strong reaction of the G8 foreign ministers to the terrorist acts in Moscow on March 29 was not limited to the statement made on the same day. We discussed in detail what measures could be taken in order to make the counterterrorist efforts more effective. The relevant G8 specialists were also instructed to draft, by the next summit in Canada in June, a specific action plan in order to increase the consistency and effectiveness of the work performed not only by the relevant G8 mechanisms but also by our partners who cooperate with us on counterterrorism under U.N. conventions. Such plan will be presented to the G8 leaders. I hope they will approve it, and then we will advance it through contacts at the U.N. and other organizations”.

It’s noteworthy that security at the ministerial meetings was tightened noticeably after the terrorist acts in Moscow. Members of mass media who had come for the final press conference were not let out of the buses provided by the organizers until a formidable Rottweiler led by a policeman had nosed each journalist and his bags twice.


G8 foreign ministers’ meetings are traditionally held behind closed doors, which makes the final press conferences reflecting the national delegations’ feelings and level of professionalism all the more interesting. At the final press conference after a meeting of the G8 foreign ministers each country’s journalist pool is entitled to just one question. It is up to the journalists to decide who to ask. But all ministers can reply if they wish so. An experienced diplomat with an excellent command of English, Sergei Lavrov always keeps alert at the press conferences. If a comment is needed, he places the emphasis reflecting Russia’s position quickly and clearly. Unlike most of his obviously bored colleagues in the presidium, he appeared to be reactive at the press conference in Gatineau. He had to dot all the i’s, complementing his colleagues’ replies to incorrect questions regarding the Iranian aspects of nuclear non-proliferation (see Nuclear Non-Proliferation Deadlocks, оn p. 36) and the absence of any reference to anti-Iranian sanctions in the G8 foreign ministers' final statement. Lavrov stressed: “The G8 is not a negotiating format either for Iran or any of the numerous other issues. So it’s quite natural that we simply exchanged our opinions today. The results of the discussion are stated in the memo read out by the chairman the way he saw them. At any rate, it was useful. As for the formats that are generally recognized as mechanisms for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, these are the IAEA Board of Governors, the U.N. Security Council, which has made several decisions in support of the agency’s activities, and the ‘three plus three’ group, which in addition to the countries present here also includes China. It would be unethical to attempt within the non-negotiating G8 format to anticipate the discussions that have yet to take place in the formats recognized as mechanisms for working on Iran.”

The Russian minister also responded to a provocative question from a Japanese journalist about “a possible push by G8 members for China’s consent” to sanctions against Iranian: “It’s incorrect to put it this way and say that a certain group of countries has cajoled China. China is an absolutely independent party to the processes aimed at working out the international community’s position on the Iranian nuclear program. China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and an equal member of the “three plus three” group and states its position that will be taken into account just like the positions of all other states are. But it’s totally wrong to say that we will all try to coax someone.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to be active too as most of the questions were addressed to her. Speaking of the binding connection between strategic defensive and offensive weapons in the new START Treaty, which was scheduled to be signed in Prague on April 8, the secretary of state said the document was “a very strong signal” demonstrating the commitment of the United States and Russia to “the serious goal of decreasing our nuclear arsenals and standing against the proliferation of nuclear and other dangerous weapons”, and touched upon cooperation in other fields, including missile defense. Having recalled the threats coming from North Korea and Iran, she summed up:

“So we think there has to be a balance between offensive and defensive weapons, and that it would be in the world’s interests for the United States and Russia to cooperate on helping not only to protect ourselves, but protect other nations from the potential of attacks from either rogue states or terrorist networks. And we’re going to continue to discuss that in the future.”

Lavrov complemented his American counterpart’s remarks by making the Russian position clear: “The new START Treaty as a protocol and a set of documents as a whole is legally binding. In addition to very important issues related to an unprecedented reduction of nuclear arsenals, and in addition to important agreements on verification which is built on increased confidence and trust, not on suspicions, it formalizes an interrelationship between strategic defensive and strategic offensive weapons. And this treaty has built all the important mechanisms that ensure the right of each party to decide how to ensure its security if this interrelationship is broken. And the work that Secretary Clinton has referred to on the nuclear missile defense, we have every reason to believe that this interrelationship is not going to be violated or broken. This will become possible if we and our American partners take guidance from the agreement reached by President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama that we want to cooperate in curbing missile proliferation risks, beginning with their joint analysis and then working out necessary steps that will allow us to neutralize these risks. If the president’s agreement, which we consider fundamentally important, is implemented conscientiously, I will feel optimistic about this area of Russian-American cooperation.”


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