New Delhi: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday trained his guns at the United States as he questioned Washington’s championing of a ‘rules-based world order’ while violating international law and criticised the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as being only about containment of China.
“Why do our Western friends insist on a rules-based order and not international law?” asked Lavrov during the first ministerial keynote address at Raisina Dialogue 2020, the annual conference on strategic affairs backed by the ministry of external affairs.
He asserted that the US and western countries have been talking “less and less” about systems based on international law, as framed by the United Nations charter and its resolutions.
Lavrov spoke of the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem and support for Israeli settlements as examples of violation of international law. He also cited the change in the powers given to the secretariat of the OPCW as violating the consensus building norms of the international system.
Incidentally, Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, who spoke at the conference just after Lavrov’s session, disagreed with his Russian counterpart on the definition of ‘rules-based world order’. “…I think of rules-based order as something which is more than (international) law, not less than (international) law”.
The Russian foreign minister moved to criticise the coinage of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, which he said that was unnecessary given that all the members were also part of the ‘Asia-Pacific’.
“The Indo-Pacific was initiated and promoted by US, Australia, japan and republic of Korea. When we asked the initiators of the difference between Indo-Pacific and Asia Pacific regional strategies, they said, well, Indo-Pacific is more open, more democratic. if you look at it closely, it is not at all the case,” Lavrov said.
He stated that the new Indo-Pacific concept was to “reconfigure the existing structure in Asia-Pacific region and to move from ASEAN centrality, consensus seeking forms of interaction to something which would be divisive”.
Later, during the question and answer round, he elaborated further that the Russian criticism was not against the terminology, but the motivation behind it.
“When people say that we want to develop cooperation in Asia-pacific in the form of Indo-Pacific strategies, you immediately ask questions. Do you include all those who have been known to be part of Asia Pacific? Yes. Why do you need to call it Indo-pacific. You know the answer. The answer is to contain China. It is not even hidden. Indian friends are smart enough to understand this threat and not to get into it,” said Lavrov.
Russia’s opposition to the concept of Indo-Pacific is long-standing. A month after senior officials from the four ‘Quad’ countries, India, Japan, Australia and the US met for the first time after 10 years in November 2017, Lavrov criticised the revived grouping, stating that security in the region could not be achieved through “closed bloc arrangements”.
After informal summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, Lavrov was quoted as saying that two leaders wanted greater Asia-Pacific cooperation on the basis of ‘non-bloc principles’.
The Indian read-out of the summit was silent on this aspect and just spoke about the need to intensify consultations on the Indo-Pacific region. India is an enthusiastic champion of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, which New Delhi believes stretches from the shores of East Africa to the American coast.
In his speech, Lavrov had noted that Russia appreciated the position of ASEAN and India, which he described as clearly saying that ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategies “should not be discussed in a way that implies that somebody should be contained by this cooperation”.
He had ended his address with a cryptic sentence while talking about Indo-Russian relationship. Noting that India and Russia have a ‘Special Privileged Strategic partnership’, Lavrov said, “We want to develop such relations with all countries of the region and I hope that our Indian friends will be promoting the same ideology.”
Later, the Indian minister gave the example of the India-Russian relationship as that which has been remained steady as it has been “sustained by strong sentiment”.
Jaishankar noted that his mother, who is pushing into her nineties, sill remembered standing on the road during the visit of Russian communist party secretary Nikita Khrushchev and Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin to India in the 1950s.
“We underestimate the role of the street in shaping foreign policy. The street has held steady on Russia. The street has changed on America. The US was not popular in the street, but look where it is today,” he added.