Speech of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the meeting with representatives of Russian non-governmental organizations interacting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on international topics, Moscow, 4 March 2013

Discussions in this format have become a heart-warming tradition. Today we have some sort of an anniversary – we meet for the tenth time in these years.

We constantly talk of how much cooperation is important and take appropriate steps to deepen it. Life itself encourages us to do that, as well as the Order of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, called “On Measures to Implement the Foreign Policy Course of the Russian Federation” of 7 May 2012, emphasizing that the involvement of the civil society into the foreign policy process, the support of extensive participation of foreign policy-oriented non-governmental organizations in the activity of different international expert and political science forums and dialogs is a logical process. In order to implement the Order of the President we prepared a Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (which has already been approved) that also formalizes tasks of development of links with the civil society in the field of foreign policy activities. On this occasion, I would like to express my gratitude to the representatives of academic circles, non-governmental organizations and experts, who are present here, for their contribution to the preparation of the Russian Federation’s draft updated Foreign Policy Concept.

The international atmosphere thickens, the processes of changes are really large-scale and to say the least, historical in their nature. These processes are accompanied by growth of uncertainty and unpredictability in international relations. Therefore, it is rather important to constantly correlate assessments and to listen to the ideas expressed in non-governmental structures dealing with international problems. We are vitally interested in it. In general, in present conditions, an independent foreign policy of Russia plays the role of the most significant balancing factor in international affairs. We do not talk ourselves about ourselves – almost all our conversation partners remind us about it, especially in connection with “Arab spring” events.

We have formed a stable, mutually beneficial, structured dialog between the Ministry and the organizations that are represented here. I will not enumerate all of them – it is impossible, the list is impressive.

According to our data, more than 250 events were held in 2012 within the framework of the interaction of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and non-governmental organizations. I would like to especially emphasize that our relations with the Public Chamber are developing constructively. Rossotrudnichestvo, maintaining close ties with more than 150 public organizations, is working actively. About 80 events – independently and together with other NGOs with participation of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – were held by Gorchakov’s Public Diplomacy Support Fund. More than 100 grants and subsidies were issued to associations of compatriots, human rights organizations and natural persons by the Fund to Support and Protect the Rights of Compatriots Living Abroad. We have certainly received a serious support in our joint efforts to start a full-time job of the Russian International Affairs Council that has already actively integrated into multilateral formats of political or other nature.

CIS certainly remains the sphere of priority interests. Presently, the presence of our organizations in the region hardly matches the available potential. We are not talking only about more active support of Russian-speaking education or rendering assistance to war veterans, but also about projects in spheres of cultural exchanges, consolidation of democratic institutes, environmental protection and youth policy. Eurasian integration is a promising line within the framework of this work that will only gain benefit from active, mercurial, initiative support of civil societies.

To that end, I would like to draw attention to the Gorchakov’s Funds project named “Caucasian Dialog” directed, inter alia, to the protection of the straight historical record of the Caucasian War of the 19th century. We attach great importance to this work, especially in the context of counteracting the attempts to stop successful holding of Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014.

We welcome the attention of Russian NGOs to the problems of European safety and security, also of cooperation in Europe. There is a growing need for the work allowing to overcome stereotypes of the past epoch that have still preserved, to eliminate obstacles preventing us from the establishment of full cooperation between acting institutes and structures, including the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, the Common Economic Space, the European Union, CSTO, NATO and generally in the context of the extensive task of the advancement to across-the-board pan-European cooperation on equality grounds within the framework of OSCE, where we still cannot bring Helsinki principles to life, and certainly, including the advancement to a visa-free regime for all Europeans.

More than 20 experts from Russian NGOs participated in the annual OSCE Review Conference in Warsaw reviewing the liabilities in the field of human rights in 2012. We welcome this, as well as the contacts established with compatriot organizations from Latvia and Estonia, also the civil society in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

I have already mentioned, but would like to talk again about the valuable activities of the Public Chamber of Russia. The creation of the Public Council for International Cooperation and Public Diplomacy at the Chamber last May expanded horizons of interaction with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Chamber actively works at the arena of the European Council, too, where many other domestic NGOs are also acting.

We are satisfied with the growing involvement of our non-governmental organizations into UN events. I will provide an example: representatives of 18 NGOs were included in the Russian delegation as experts at the session of the 67th UNGA – there were only four of them 5 years ago.

We constantly render assistance to Russian NGOs to obtain the status of advisors at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Three domestic organizations were granted such status in 2012 and we are advancing applications of two more. After all the procedures for the two remaining applications are completed, the number of our organizations having the status of advisors at ECOSOC will increase to 51. We are glad, because quite recently there were many times fewer of them. However, given that the total number of NGOs maintaining relations with the Council is 3500, their share is only 1.5% among all the participants. This hardly matches the role and the place of Russian civil society in foreign affairs.

The attention of our NGOs was focused, primarily, on issues of social policy, culture, human rights, intercivilizational dialog, interaction with the Alliance of Civilizations – all of them are important lines that are of direct interest to our citizens. It is encouraging that the spectrum of topics is expanding. Experts of non-governmental organizations actively familiarize themselves specifically with the problem of disarmament, sustainable development and ecology. We also welcome it, as well as the innovative approaches to the development of contacts with foreign partners. In particular, I will mention such new format like the commission of historians working with several countries – Austria, Germany, Poland and Ukraine. Representatives of the civil society energetically participate in them. An interesting project is that political science institutes in Russia, Germany, Poland and France have prepared a joint report on problems of European security that was forwarded to OSCE.

We celebrate several memorable dates in 2013 – 200 years of the foreign campaign of the Russian Army during the war with Napoleon, but also a number of other significant events. We will launch the preparation for the 100 years anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. We expect that Russian NGOs in the appropriate field will actively interact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and other national structures in all these lines.

I wish to make an example of how the initiatives of our NGOs actually lead to significant international events. Specifically, I would talk about the First General Assembly of the World Without Nazism international human rights movement held in Strasbourg last October.

I have already mentioned the work with compatriots abroad. We value the contribution made by NGOs in this line. We are currently preparing for the International Conference of Compatriots scheduled for this October. We expect to continue our cooperation.

The forthcoming sports events also open up additional opportunities for joint efforts. I would mention here the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Universiade in Kazan, the World Football Championship and a range of other major competitions. We see that the participation of our NGOs in the work of relevant international structures, in particular, the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace and the Peace and Sport International Forum, is justified. We can also individually initiate different projects related to the forthcoming competitions. When planning events abroad, we welcome to use the infrastructure that is operating under the aegis of Rossotrudnichestvo. Russian centres of science and culture will be glad to provide their arenas for different cultural forums, presentations of regions, etc.

I will not elaborate upon discipline-specific lines. We are interested in support in the line of NGOs related to US-Russian relations. Last year we had successful events dedicated to 200 years of the first Russian settlement in California – Fort Ross and 75 years of the flight of Valery Chkalov and his crew to America via the North Pole.

The dialog of Russian NGOs with colleagues from European countries is, certainly also highly sought. There are many good examples within the framework of Presidency of Russia in the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Domestic NGO “Norden” supported by Gorchakov’s Fund holds the annual Baltic Sea NGO Forum in St Petersburg this April.

If we talk about geography, we should not forget the APEC summit that was actively used by many NGOs to set the questions they are interested in. I am convinced that this will be the beginning of the activation of efforts in this line. SCO Business and Youth Councils make a good contribution to the development of cooperation in the Eurasian space. They are also open for contacts with representatives of non-governmental organizations. Formats of cooperation with NGOs from China, India, countries of Southeast Asia, ASEAN, Latin America and Africa also begin to establish. There are many countries in Africa and Latin America, where we are remembered and where they wait for us to implement channels of communication more actively. Our partners from BRICS countries have many ideas, in which NGOs may participate and use their efforts.

In the end, I thank you once again for the constructive partnership. We wish our interaction to deepen and become more effective.