Sergey Lavrov was the first in the circle – Newspaper Kommersant No. 83 (7284) dated 05/14/2022

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday met in Dushanbe with colleagues from the CIS countries, an organization that still includes Ukraine de jure. The Tajik organizers even planted a blue and yellow flag in the hall where Moscow’s partners were informed “about the state of affairs around the special military operation.” Mr. Lavrov also took the opportunity to convict the United States of arrogance and bad manners: this, according to the minister, is manifested in attempts to prohibit Russia’s Central Asian allies from “continuing relations with it.” Blackmail, as the minister assured, these countries do not succumb. However, experts in the region interviewed by Kommersant are sure that the authorities of the republics are also not going to aggravate relations with the West (for example, by helping Russia to circumvent sanctions).

The meeting in Dushanbe was the second major international event for Sergei Lavrov since the start of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. The first was a diplomatic forum in Turkish Antalya on March 11-13, but the number of participants there was so large (17 heads of state and government, as well as 80 ministers) that Mr. Lavrov did not become the main guest. Now the situation is reversed. The Russian minister met with close neighbors and allies, many of whom have experienced the consequences of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. And thus, he was in the center of attention.

Recall that Ukraine itself also formally remains a member of the CIS, although in reality it ignores all the activities of this organization. Last year, when a similar ministerial meeting was held in Moscow, the organizers did not even plant a Ukrainian flag in the hall. But the Tajik authorities decided to comply with the requirements of the protocol in full. The flag of Moldova was also there, although the representative of Chisinau (as well as the representative of Kyiv) preferred to the meeting within the framework of the CIS to participate as a guest in the Friday talks of the G7 foreign ministers.

“It was not without talking about the negative consequences that the absolutely unacceptable actions of the West have in connection with what is happening in Ukraine, in connection with our special military operation,” Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting in Dushanbe, outlining the main topic of the completed talks. – We spoke in detail about the state of affairs and, together with our Belarusian, Kazakh, and other colleagues, expressed our rejection of unilateral actions that are aimed at the collapse of existing economic, trade, logistics, and transport ties. Everyone emphasized the inadmissibility of adopting unilateral sanctions bypassing the UN Security Council.”

Speaking about Ukraine itself, Mr. Lavrov commented on the course of negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv, making it clear that Kyiv’s desire to abandon its aspirations to join NATO, but to guarantee entry into the European Union, does not suit the leadership of the Russian Federation.

“Now they (Ukrainian authorities.— Kommersant) are ready to declare a neutral, non-bloc status when receiving guarantees outside NATO and outside other military-political blocs, but at the same time they are trying in every possible way to emphasize their desire to become members of the European Union, the Russian minister said. The harmlessness of such a desire of Kyiv raises serious doubts. This is actually the case, given that the EU has turned from a constructive and economic platform, as which it was created, into an aggressive militant player.”

Mr. Lavrov added that Russia’s opponents are trying to set other post-Soviet countries against it, but they are not succeeding. “When the Americans gather the Central Asian countries at various levels, they tell them directly not to dare to continue relations with Russia. They say that “Russia is already a ruined country, so bet on us.” They say the same about China. As they argue, “China will not dare to violate Western sanctions.” Extremely self-confident, impudent, ill-mannered position. This is how I will call the actions of our Western colleagues,” Sergey Lavrov said.

On the contrary, according to the Russian minister, Moscow is still managing to strengthen partnerships with post-Soviet countries, for example, within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

“Tajikistan has already had relations with the EAEU for a long time, and there is a special representative appointed by Tajikistan to deal with these issues, to look at the obvious benefits that cooperation and, especially, membership in the EAEU brings,” recalled Mr. Lavrov. And in neighboring Uzbekistan, he said, “a bilateral working group has been set up that considers practical aspects and is a place for providing advisory services to Tashkent on issues that it would like to clarify in connection with rapprochement with the Eurasian Economic Union.” The Russian minister called all this “serious progress.”

True, Kommersant’s interlocutor in Uzbekistan, political scientist Temur Umarov, does not agree with this assessment. “Earlier, Moscow was almost certain that Tashkent would join the EAEU. For example, the speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, spoke about this,” the expert noted in an interview with Kommersant. “There really were visible successes in this area. For example, the fact that during the last visit (of the President of Uzbekistan.— Kommersant) Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Moscow, he talked with (the President of Russia.— Kommersant) Vladimir Putin for several hours, unequivocally interpreted as a discussion of the future entry into the organization. But now for Tashkent, everything looks completely different than before February 24 (that is, before the start of the “special military operation.”— Kommersant). This can be seen even in the words of Lavrov himself – now he is not talking about joining, but only about “rapprochement.”

Rustam Burnashev, a professor at the Kazakh-German University in Almaty, expressed a similar point of view in an interview with Kommersant. “Certainly, the countries of Central Asia would not want their distancing from the conflict (of Russia with Ukraine and the West.— Kommersant) would be violated in some way: both in terms of breaking or worsening relations with Russia, and in terms of worsening relations with its opponents. And, obviously, they will make every effort for this. For example, the authorities of these countries will not take actions that will allow Russia to circumvent Western sanctions – at least not in a targeted way.”

The topic of opposition to Western sanctions was also mentioned in Dushanbe by CIS Executive Secretary Sergey Lebedev

“There were calls from the heads of individual delegations that it is imperative to help each other overcome the economic difficulties caused by external sanctions,” he told reporters, without going into much detail.

Another topic of the meeting was the situation in Afghanistan, which, against the backdrop of Ukraine, seemed to have faded into the background. At the same time, something in common was found between these two questions. Namely, the extremely unconstructive, in Moscow’s opinion, role of the West. “We cannot allow the situation to collapse again, destabilize,” Sergey Lavrov said, in particular. places, develop the economy, transport and external relations”.

No less worried about this topic and the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Mukhriddin. “We expressed a unanimous opinion that an inclusive government should be established in Afghanistan with the participation of all ethnic and religious minorities and political parties,” he said. However, taking into account the fact that a government consisting exclusively of representatives of the Taliban movement banned in Russia has been working in Kabul for eight months now, this wish is unlikely to be realized.

Although participation in CIS events is currently very important for Russia, Kommersant’s interlocutors are convinced that the significance of the union has been irretrievably lost. “This is a dead structure: almost nothing is done within its framework. And disbanding it means recognizing this senselessness and psychologically lowering the level of interaction,” Rustam Burnashev told Kommersant. “In addition, agreements have been concluded within the framework of this organization, which, if the CIS is liquidated, will have to be renegotiated. Maybe that’s why no one touches the CIS.”

Kirill Krivosheev

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