Question: The post-Soviet space has become an object of rivalry between Russia and the West. Is it a new seat of tensions? Or are we able to hold our own in this game?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: This is not a seat of tensions. It is about being competitive, which, incidentally, is what the President is calling on us to be. The key to competitiveness is acceleration and greater effectiveness of our internal development. As for Western activities here, this is a natural process. The Cold War is over, there is no longer a bipolar world and globalization has added to unpredictability in many things. The world structure, the architecture of new relations is in a state of Brownian movement. Each country is trying, considering the unsettled character of this system, to position itself advantageously. That is, in terms of the security of the borders, protection against the new threats, such as terrorism, drugs and organized crime. Also in terms of the economy. That means, above all, supplies of energy in terms of access to transportation and transit routes. Nobody doubts that Central Asia, the Caucasus, key parts of the post-Soviet space, are very important in the modern world. They have the new transportation routes and the potential to be suppliers of energy in the future and in many ways in the present. They unfortunately also have the transit routes for persons who are not welcome here, or indeed in the West — terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. So, I think it is normal for a country that wants to ensure its security and its economic needs to seek to assert its interests in this space. The only thing we will insist on is that these interests be ensured in a transparent and understandable way and not by infringing upon our interests in the region.

Question: The CIS structure is not noted for dynamism or orientation towards real results. Can it be said that the latest Moscow session of the CIS Foreign Ministers Council got things moving and that the summit in Kazan will not turn out to be a funeral for the Union?

Sergey Lavrov: I am sure that the summit will not be a funeral for the CIS. I agree that the existing structure has failed to deliver results the architects of the CIS hoped for. But its founders have shown foresight in including in the Commonwealth Charter the thesis to the effect that integration processes within the CIS may develop at varying speeds and at various levels. Those prepared for more advanced forms of integration leave the door open for others. This is true of the economic space, the EurAsEC, the Central Asian Cooperation Organization. GUAM has declared that it is open to other countries. I don’t think that any of our CIS partners seriously expect to establish relations with third countries at the expense of Russia. This is simply impossible considering the geographical proximity, economic community, cultural, historical and human ties. Nevertheless, competition exists here. The CIS Foreign Ministers Council, which met in Moscow, has shown that there is an interest in the preservation of the Commonwealth as a commonwealth, and one can see it in the positions of all the 12 members. It showed itself in the broad support for the idea of intensified humanitarian cooperation in all its aspects.

Question: The Kremlin representative said Russia intends to cardinally change its policy in the post-Soviet space. Why was it an anonymous statement and not an official Foreign Ministry statement? Do we have several centers where foreign policy is formed?

Sergey Lavrov: Our foreign policy is formed by the President who works in the Kremlin. Secondly, the President has already spoken of the need to radically change our approaches to cooperation within the CIS, not in terms of dismantling the structure, but in terms of effective use of what is workable and renunciation of what has not justified itself. This was the substance of the instructions that the presidents of the countries gave their foreign ministers at the Astana summit in September of last year. The results of this work will be reported at the summit in Kazan. This is not the end of reforms, it is only the beginning.

Question: Would you agree that the former political leadership in Russia and the Foreign Ministry did not regard relations with the CIS countries as a priority? I remember that your predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev, was looking for a deputy to take charge of this area and eventually found one not in Bishkek or Ashgabat, but in Geneva or New York.

Sergey Lavrov: I was appointed deputy to Andrei Kozyrev in April 1992. At the time Fyodor Shelov-Kovedyayev was already first deputy minister. And after a while, Andrei Vladimirovich asked me to be in charge of the CIS affairs. I confess that at the time I took a guarded view of the minister’s assignment, but before long I developed a taste for this work. I took part in negotiations to agree the CIS Charter, the negotiations on the first ceasefire in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict. And it was clear to me that it was a very important area. Did it get enough attention? Yes and no. Yes, because it was then, immediately after the breakup of the Soviet Union, that the conflicts that came to the surface — Abkhazia, Ossetia, Karabakh, Transnistria — had to be addressed quickly if bloodshed was to be avoided. Russia took very energetic steps to achieve a ceasefire in Abkhazia, in Ossetia, in Karabakh and in Transnistria. It is another question that though agreements on ceasefire had been achieved, they were violated.

Question: The practice of appointing political retirees as ambassadors has never been successful. When shall we see the resolution of the embarrassing situation with the appointment of former Saratov governor Ayatskov as our Ambassador to Byelorussia?

Sergey Lavrov: I take a philosophical view of that practice of making appointments. By the way, it is common in all states, especially in the Untied States where political appointees are ambassadors in key countries. It is the president’s prerogative.

Question: And in this case?

Sergey Lavrov: In this case one should not forget that these appointments should have the consent of the host state. We are currently in consultations with our Byelorussian colleagues, which are still in progress.

Question: What are the implications for Russia of the creation of the "Democratic Choice Community", the Caspian-Black Sea-Baltic axis? Is it "the hand of the West" again? Or a new challenge to the Foreign Ministry?

Sergey Lavrov: Thank you for your question because there have been many interpretations in the press suggesting that we were simply ignored and all but insulted. Let me tell you from the start that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was among the first to be invited to the event by Viktor Vladimirovich Yushchenko. Our President, looking at his schedule, excused himself because he had a meeting that day with King Abdullah of Jordan. So, one shouldn’t portray this meeting in Artek as something anti-Russian. It was not intended to be anti-Russian.

Question: Should one expect a repeat of the Ukrainian-Georgian scenario of change in the Central Asia?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think there can be a carbon copy scenario in any country, if only because the scenario presupposes an author, a cast of actors and a director. Elections in each country are free of outside influences. Voters in each country must have an opportunity to make their own decisions without promptings.

Question: Opinion polls show that the Russians consider Georgia to be an unfriendly state. Official Tbilisi speaks about the interference of Russian security structures in its internal affairs, especially in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But at the level of "people’s diplomacy" we understand that we still regard each other like in the times of Bregvadze and "Mimino." Don’t you think that changes on the Georgian political scene merit a closer look?

Sergey Lavrov: I do. And we are trying to take a close look. We don’t want to impose ourselves as friends on official Tbilisi. We want to be friends with Georgia and we are ready to be friends exactly to the extent that the Georgian leaders are ready for it. For this reason we have conducted negotiations and agreed the terms and timeframe for ending our military presence in Georgia.

These agreements are being implemented. We are negotiating with Georgia on the border issue, the economic issues where the interests of Georgian partners are significant, and we are preparing to sign a big treaty. Speaking about friendship with Georgia, I would like to focus on the Georgian people and its best representatives who are truly loved in Russia and revered as our People’s Artists, as the people’s darlings. When I was last in Georgia and went to have dinner at a restaurant I did not find anything that would indicate a lack of friendliness toward Russia. Sometimes politicians have to produce foreign policy cards to lift or maintain their own popularity, but this has nothing to do with the feelings experienced by the peoples.

Question: When will the Ukrainian Premier Yulia Tymoshenko come to Moscow?

Sergey Lavrov: That would depend on an agreement between our Prime Minister, Mikhail Yefimovich Fradkov, and Yulia Vladimirovna. But she knows she has a standing invitation and she would be welcome here at any time.

Question: You have just received the new US Ambassador. Did you discuss the topic of the cooling of Russian-American relations? Or is it nonexistent?

Sergey Lavrov: We have discussed the outlook for our relations. I told William Burns that we were pleased with his speech at the Senate in which he stressed the priority of Russian-American relations and the need for America to develop these relations in a constructive and positive manner, be it in the economic sphere with emphasis on energy security, or in the sphere of combating terrorism, the spread of mass destruction weapons, the settlement of conflicts and in other spheres connected with high technologies, space exploration and so on.

I find the mood of the new Ambassador encouraging. He is a person who does not see the post of ambassador only as an opportunity to promote himself or engage in propaganda. He is a businesslike man.

Question: What are Russia’s interests in the Balkans? How will Moscow see the future relations between Serbia and Montenegro if they become divorced as a result of the upcoming referendum?

Sergey Lavrov: The fate of the community of Serbia and Montenegro is in the hands of the peoples of Serbia and Montenegro. And if the people of Montenegro in a referendum make a decision, it will be its sovereign decision and we will respect it. We would like the Serbs and Montenegrins, who are each others’ and our brothers, to live together, regardless of the form this cohabitation may take. These are peoples that have so much in common that it is hard to imagine any border between them. Looking at the situation in the community of Serbia and Montenegro we should be mindful of the problem of Kosovo. The independence of Kosovo which is being mooted by Albanian leaders in Kosovo today would have a negative impact on stability which is only beginning to be established in the Balkans. Attempts to proclaim the independence of Kosovo could stir up nationalist feelings in neighboring countries, in Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia. Nationalist forces may try to play their game. I think the way out is to contribute to the cohesion of the Balkans. The European perspective could be a real positive response to the Balkan challenge. One should display wisdom not to have a repetition of history when neglected Balkan problems led to major conflicts.

Question: The Polish version of Newsweek writes: "Insulting and taking jabs at Poland is not the result of Russian complexes. It is a carefully thought-out strategy aimed at weakening the positions of Warsaw in the European Union." What is your comment?

Sergey Lavrov: I have stopped being surprised by the logical constructs coming out of Warsaw. We want none of this, we want friendly, goodneighborly and mutually beneficial relations with Poland. There are no bones of contention between us and Poland. We want Poland to play a constructive, stabilizing role in Europe, including such structures as the European Union and NATO. It is a major European country and it has very considerable potential. We are interested to see this serious potential being used for creative purposes that would enable us to have a Europe without dividing lines. A Europe that does not stick its head in the sand like an ostrich looking for some kind of historical problems. We are ready for the broadest partnership with Poland. This is witnessed by the regular meetings between President Putin and President Kwasniewski and their very frank conversations. As for our history, no one denies the existence of problems. We have a special understanding with the Poles, working groups have been created on problem issues which are tackling all the historical divergences. We want to clear up all the issues through a dialog of scholars. That work is under way. There should be mutual consent of both countries so as not to poison the forward-looking relations between our states.

Question: Tokyo thinks that the Russian-Chinese military exercises are a preparation for the occupation of the DPRK. Can you divulge a secret, have the Japanese analysts made the right guess? Or is perhaps, Taiwan the target?

Sergey Lavrov: Neither Taiwan nor the DPRK are the targets of Russian-Chinese exercises. These exercises are aimed at getting the armies of the two countries ready to react to the threats that may really arise in the region. These are terrorism, and the attempts of terrorists to get hold of formidable weapons, and we must be prepared for it.

Question: How big a priority for embassy staff is the task of supporting Russian business abroad. What is the role of the Foreign Ministry in meeting the target of doubling the GDP?

Sergey Lavrov: Through the support of our business. This is what the President is calling us to do, in fact, he has ordered us to provide diplomatic support of business abroad so that we can bid in tenders on equal terms and are not discriminated against in our economic activities in foreign countries. We hope that profits from business will be taxed in Russia. In this way we will contribute to the doubling of the GDP.

Question: International politics has an impact on big-time sports. Think of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the fierce ice hockey battles between the USSR and Czechoslovakia in the wake of 1968. At present every sport games between the teams of Russia and Latvia and Estonia has political overtones, at least for many of our enthusiasts. As your former partner in the RF government’s football team, I would like to ask you what you feel when you watch football matches with the teams of the countries with which our relations are strained and whose policies the Russian Foreign Ministry sharply criticizes?

Sergey Lavrov: I watch the play of our teams with the same feeling, willing our guys won and, of course, when they fail to win I feel very disappointed. Especially since there are very few rivals for whom playing a Russian team would be a walkover. If you take countries with which we have problems, this is more at the subconscious level. In general, I would like emotions connected with politics to be vented through sporting contests. Unfortunately, sometimes after sporting contests negative emotions spill over into fights outside the stadium, which is inadmissible.

Question: Russia will host a G-8 meeting for the first time. Hosts are usually expected to come up with massive initiatives. What is Russia prepared to offer the world?

Sergey Lavrov: We are planning several central topics for discussion. They will include energy security in the broadest context taking into account the interests both of producers and consumers of energy, environmental interests and, in general, sustained human development. There will be a topic of fighting epidemics, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which has suddenly made a comeback. Demography in Russia, demography in Europe, demography in the third world. They must be taken into account in planning strategic moves.

Question: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement and your biggest setback in your job as Foreign Minister?

Sergey Lavrov: I have held it for just a year and a half and I would not like to discuss the topic just yet.

Question: You have a telephone on your desk which is a hot line to the President. How frequently does he call you? Or how frequently do you call the President?

Sergey Lavrov: Several times a week as the need arises. There is no special schedule. When the situation takes a turn that demands that he take a decision, I contact him. Similarly, when he has a question to me, he picks up the phone and I talk with him.

Question: Still, you have been in this job for a year and a half. Are you happy with your work?

Sergey Lavrov: I find it interesting.