Ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to thank our Eswatian friends, His Majesty King Mswati III and his ministers for the warm and hearty welcome extended to our delegation from the very first minutes of our stay in this gracious land.
This is the first visit by the Russian Foreign Minister to Eswatini since our two countries established diplomatic relations in 1999. Since then, contacts between us have expanded at various levels, including our respective foreign ministries, and other agencies that engage in agriculture, the manufacturing industry and trade, as well as our special services and military.
Today, productive talks were held with Prime Minister of the Kingdom Cleopas Dlamini, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Eswatini Thuli Dladla, and Acting Principal Secretary of National Defence and Security of Eswatini Prince Sicalo Dlamini, the ministers of industry and trade, agriculture and tourism. The talks were substantive and demonstrated a mutual commitment to collaboration for the benefit of our peoples as well as allowed us to determine specific areas for further efforts across all areas.
There is a foundational fact that makes our work productive. Our relations rely on the principle of equality and mutual respect, and we take into account each other’s interests. We discussed in detail the future of bilateral ties and our interaction in the political, trade, economic, military, military technology and humanitarian spheres. We agreed that we should focus our main efforts on the economy, which is still seriously lagging behind other areas of our cooperation, primarily the excellent level of our political dialogue. We outlined business cooperation priorities, which include exploration and mining, energy and agriculture, including Russian grain imports and the cultivation of our grain in Eswatini, and the construction of irrigation systems in your country, as well as the latest ICT areas and the digital economy.
Based on the outcomes of today’s talks, we agreed to draw up a list of priorities that we will make available for further discussion at the chambers of commerce and industry and during contacts between our respective entrepreneurs, including during the upcoming St Petersburg International Economic Forum with an eye towards achieving specific results by the time we meet at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum in July 2023 as part of the second Russia-Africa summit.
We discussed a specific issue today. Our friends have confirmed the fact that they continue to experience problems with fertiliser supplies. We asked how we could be of help. The Kingdom of Eswatini made it clear that there was a shortage of fertilisers that affected the agricultural industry. In this regard, we updated them on the well-known fact that large amounts of Russian-made fertilisers are available and we can provide them free of charge.
Back in the summer of 2022, President Putin made clear to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that 280,000 tonnes of Russian fertilisers were stranded at the ports of the EU countries. The company that owns these fertilisers is willing, provided the support of our government, to donate them to needy developing countries. The only thing that could be done was to push for releasing these fertilisers and ensuring their delivery to the poorest nations. During the six months that followed our proposal, we managed to coordinate the shipment of only 20,000 tonnes (out of 280,000 tonnes) to the African country of Malawi. These shipments took several months to materialise and were mired in red tape and the openly politicised approach of EU countries, which are looking for any excuse to punish the Russian Federation, but end up punishing developing countries.
Since UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly advocated the settlement of all issues related to unimpeded supply of Russian grain and fertilisers to the world markets, we agreed today that the Eswatini government and Russia will address him with a request to promptly resolve the issue of using part of the Russian fertilisers seized in EU ports for the needs of the people of Eswatini free of charge. These fertilisers are available for free.
We also talked about our contacts in other areas. We agreed to help promote interaction between the parliaments of our countries, including the Russia-Africa Parliamentary Forum scheduled to take place in Moscow in March 2023, which the heads of the two houses of the Eswatini parliament have been invited to attend.
We are vigorously developing cooperation in education. Ms Thuli Dladla noted this. We see that young Swazis are increasingly seeking education in our country. The [Russian] Government has allocated 10 grants for the current academic year. They were all claimed. Given this, we will increase the quota for the 2023-2024 academic year to 25. Our cooperation in education is not confined to civilian occupations. Members of Eswatini’s law-enforcement agencies have taken part – and I hope they will continue – in the courses run by our Interior Ministry to train law-enforcement officers and peacekeepers. About 50 Swazi nationals are receiving military education at Russian Defence Ministry colleges.
Today, at a meeting with top military officials, we agreed to step up cooperation in the field of security. We have intergovernmental agreements on military and defence industry cooperation, which are currently in force. There is a working group on defence industry interaction. We are ready to consider requests from our friends in Eswatini regarding any issues that must be resolved to ensure their country’s security.
We have just signed an agreement on visa-free travel for the holders of diplomatic and service passports. It will definitely give our officials and business circles additional incentive to step up their contacts.
We discussed our cooperation in the international arena. We value the relations between the representatives of our countries in the UN. Russia and Eswatini support respect for international law, for the UN playing the central and coordinating role and for compliance with generally accepted UN Charter principles, primarily the sovereign equality of all countries – large and small alike.
We consistently advocate improving Africa’s standing at the UN, including as part of the UN Security Council reform process. The well-known Ezulwini Consensus enshrines Africa’s position regarding the expansion of its representation at the UN Security Council. We consistently support these positions.
We also covered the crises in Africa, including in this part of the continent. Like we did yesterday in South Africa, we focused specifically on the state of affairs in Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia. We strongly support the efforts undertaken by the countries of the region to promote and resolve these conflicts and to mobilise efforts to combat the terrorism that persist in the region.
In July 2023, the second Russia-Africa summit will be held in St Petersburg. The first summit, which took place in Sochi in October 2019, was attended by His Majesty the King of Eswatini. He is invited to participate in the upcoming event in St Petersburg. On behalf of the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, I reiterated our invitation and the fact that we are anticipating that His Majesty will take part in this summit.
At the request of our friends, I shared detailed assessments of the current state of affairs concerning our special military operation and, more broadly, the developments in Ukraine and around it. We showed the facts that anyone can access, since our Western colleagues talk about this publicly and loudly every day. The facts prove that what is happening is none other than the hybrid war that the West has been plotting against the Russian Federation for a long time now. To get this war underway, the West worked with Ukraine making sure that everything that, in one way or another, contributes to normal relations between our countries was prohibited and creating direct military threats to our country’s security.
We appreciate the responsible and balanced position of Eswatini when considering the Ukraine and Ukraine-related developments at the UN. We understand perfectly well our African friends’ interest in the peaceful settlement of any conflict, including the current situation in Ukraine. We, too, believe in the priority of a political settlement. In the autumn of 2021, acting in this vein on President Putin’s instructions, we came up with detailed texts of the treaties on ensuring security and providing security guarantees in Europe. Our US and NATO colleagues turned down these proposals that balanced the interests of Russia, the West and other European countries. In fact, we were told that NATO would take care of security guarantees and decide as it sees fit and would not take into account the opinion of the Russian Federation. After the special military operation began, we responded to Ukraine’s proposal to sit down for talks. During these talks and based on the principles provided by the Ukrainians, a specific agreement was reached on ways to resolve this conflict. However, several days after that, under direct pressure exerted by the Anglo-Saxons and other Western countries, the Ukrainians broke off contacts with us and resumed hostilities. In the fall of 2022, President Zelensky signed an executive order that legally prohibits holding any talks with the Russian Federation. In this approach, he is strongly encouraged by senior officials from NATO, the United States and the EU, who are making regular official statements to the effect that the time for talks with Russia has not yet come, and that it will come when our country is dealt a strategic defeat on the “battlefield.” This is a well known fact. We handed over the documents that sum up the ongoing developments. We hope that our friends from the African Union will keep in mind the actual state of affairs in their contacts with the Western countries.
Following up on bilateral relations, I would like to note with satisfaction that mutual interest in concluding a basic treaty on the foundations of friendship and cooperation was expressed during the talks. I think we can finish this work by 2024, which will mark the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.
I reiterated my invitation to my colleague, Thuli Dladla, to visit the Russian Federation at any convenient time.
Question: What prompted the good bilateral relations between Eswatini and Russia? Another thing I would like to know: what are the areas of interest? Some social media sites are insinuating that this is all about the current situation in the Kingdom.
Sergey Lavrov: Actually, as a matter of principle, we do not interfere in current situations or in long term situations in any country. I cannot comment on these insinuations, as you quite rightly called them.
We discussed in a very positive way what we can do together to promote our good relations, our good dialogue, and to create the best atmosphere for the implementation of practical projects on the ground: industry, agriculture, information communications technology, digital, and many other things. As I said in my introductory remarks, we achieved this result.
Question: Interesting events are taking place in Burkina Faso where the transitional government asked the deployed French military contingent to pack their bags and leave the country within a month. President Emmanuel Macron has already described this as an obvious Kremlin intrigue. Are we really to blame in this situation or is it a legacy of the neo-colonial policy pursued by France in Burkina Faso?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a question on foreign policy principles. We do not interfere in other’s domestic affairs.
President Emmanuel Macron’s statement makes it clear that France considers such interference acceptable and they pursue it. A similar situation took place over a year ago in Mali. In evaluating the national security situation, the leaders of that country concluded that the announced decisions on a French troop withdrawal and the elimination of French bases in the north of Mali created a threat. This is why they turned to Russian representatives, a private military company. This happened during a UN General Assembly session. I met with the then Foreign Minister of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell who discussed this issue with me. While maintaining appearances, both of them were somewhat aggressive, asking me why we were pursuing initiatives there and taking other actions in Africa. I replied that we were interested in developing relations with those who are willing to interact with us. I added that there was no reason we couldn’t do this with any country on any continent. They told me that Russia should realise that Africa is a zone of special interest for the EU. That said, sometime before this conversation, EU officials said that the Balkans were an EU sphere of interest and that nobody should interfere because they were already involved there.
Making these neocolonialist statements, the Europeans considered it absolutely normal to work directly on the borders of the Russian Federation in countries that are part of the CIS, the CSTO and the EAEU. They had no doubt at all of their right to draft their special strategies, not to simply develop relations but to develop strategies for Central Asia and to “work” in Ukraine at a time when deliberate anti-Russia attitudes were brewing there and everything Russian was under threat of destruction.
To my knowledge, several private French military companies are operating in the vast Eurasian space. This is considered normal, but when a sovereign African state is disappointed with its relations with France and would like to find new partners for resolving urgent problems (including security), they get a response like the one you mentioned from President Macron.
We stand accused of undermining the French interests in the Central African Republic, Mali, and now in Burkina Faso. This is the kind of thinking, the kind of mentality the European Union relies on across the globe. This was the very attitude it adopted regarding Ukraine back in the early 2000s, when the EU said that Ukraine had to choose whether it would be with Europe or with Russia. They follow the same vicious logic on the African continent, as you can see from the facts.
Let me share an interesting piece of information with you regarding Mali. When France assumed a leading role in the aggression against Libya and contributed to shattering the Libyan statehood, we warned that this would come to no good for the Africans. As a result, deprived of its statehood and government institutions, Libya turned into a black hole. Millions of illegal migrants headed to Europe through Libya, while there were arms trafficking flows and terrorists of all kinds transiting through Libya, which turned into a black hole, in the opposite direction to the Sahara and Sahel region. Mali started to suffer from these flows, among other things. France had supported many of the terrorist groups heading to Mali and other countries in the Sahara and Sahel region when toppling Muammar Gaddafi. At the time, the French approached us and other UN Security Council members asking to adopt a resolution supporting the French force in Mali as part of Operation Barkhane and to grant it an additional mandate for countering terrorists whom the French had supported in Libya, thereby creating a spiral of terrorist violence that continues in Africa to this day. At the time, we supported the French in the UN Security Council because we believed in the need to counter terrorism. But we are not to blame for the fact that the French military in Mali have not lived up to the expectations of this country’s leadership.
It is saddening that most foreign policy initiatives by our European colleagues and the West in general remain imbued with a neo-colonial mentality, a neo-colonial logic based on the divide et impera – divide and rule – principle. We stand for having all countries in the West and East work together to come up with constructive solutions to the issues of the Global South, primarily in Africa, instead of using these countries as an avenue for promoting their unilateral confrontational approaches.
I felt compelled to respond to your question at length because details matter, and the devil is in these details, while many people ignore them. The Western propaganda uses slogans like “Russia is an aggressor,” or “Russia undermines EU interests in Africa,” and relies on groundless rhetoric of this kind by repeating it hundreds of thousands of times in the hope of influencing the mindset of their listeners and viewers.
Question: Much is being said today about the growing role of the association such as BRICS. According to reports, it might have 13 new members. Can you describe the global role of this association in the future? Will we see African countries in it? Did you discuss this issue with your Eswatini colleagues? Are they interested in joining it, possibly in the long term?
Sergey Lavrov: The leaders of the group’s five countries have more than once spoken about the BRICS’ global perspective. In particular, our South African colleague, Naledi Pandor, addressed the issue in detail at the news conference in Pretoria yesterday.
BRICS is an association of a new type, where relations are not based on the master-slave principle. It is not an organisation where everyone falls in line on orders from above, as we see happening in NATO.
This organisation is based on the principle of consensus, which is different from the consensus used in NATO and the EU. If a BRICS country has doubts about a proposal, it will not be accepted, and the group will continue working towards a mutually acceptable and mutually beneficial solution. Some NATO and EU countries expressed dissenting opinions over the past year, namely regarding the situation in Ukraine and the unprecedented [anti-Russia] sanctions. In those cases, the principle of consensus was used to put down these individual arguments and to force everyone to support the position which the big brother regards as correct.
We never proposed ideas at BRICS such as the one voiced during the latest NATO summit held in Madrid in July 2022, that the alliance must assume global security responsibilities, in particular in the Indo-Pacific Region and throughout the world. BRICS has never had such arrogant ambitions.
Our work is based on combining the legitimate and natural interests of the member states. We have a common view on the serious damage the Western policy is doing to the global economy, globalisation and global finance. BRICS is not planning to shut the door to the rest of the world. On the contrary, we would like to cooperate with all countries as much as possible, equally and based on the balance of interests.
For the sake of our people and economic development, we must coordinate our actions to protect our interests from domination by the mechanisms the West created within the framework of its globalisation model, which it is flagrantly taking advantage of now. I am referring above all to the role of the dollar.
The group’s countries are increasingly using their national currencies in mutual trade and settlements with other countries
The BRICS countries have proposed the idea of creating a common monetary unit. The reason for this is simple: we cannot rely on the mechanisms that are operated by those who can deceive you at any moment, going back on their obligations for attaining short-term political goals, both in foreign policy and in domestic processes.
The BRICS countries’ approach to global affairs is winning the sympathy of more and more countries across the world, including in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
On June 23, 2022, the group held an online summit in the BRICS Plus and BRICS Outreach formats. The 13 countries that attended it are interested in rapprochement with the group, to one degree or another.
President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa told me during our meeting yesterday that South Africa, which holds the rotating presidency of BRICS this year, is planning to invite a certain number of countries to the Durban summit in August.
Many countries that are cooperating with BRICS have expressed a desire to formalise our relations. Our experts are preparing a proposal on this issue for the ministers. When the heads of state meet in Durban, we will report to them on the countries with which we recommend developing deeper relations and on the forms of doing this.
Question: You talked today about the Western [countries] and Americans having an influence on Ukraine. But how would you respond to the recent reports that the Western world is attempting to influence other communities, like the South African development community, not to trade with Russia? What is your response to this?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not surprised.
In July last year, I had another tour in Africa (Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia) and it was well known and discussed publicly that before my visit, Western representatives came to the Arab League headquarters and tried to dissuade them from meeting with me, which, I think, is absolutely unprecedented in diplomatic practice. And if you are in favour of democratic principles, let everybody decide for themselves. African countries, including Arab countries, they are grown-ups, they are not schoolchildren. And to teach them “good manners” in accordance with Western standards and values, I believe, is unacceptable. And I am amazed that wherever I go, our Western colleagues are trying to hamper us and to impress upon my hosts some behaviour that the Americans would like.
And we very much appreciate and respect the position of all our partners who, in situations like these, are guided not by orders from former colonial powers and from those who would like to dominate the world now but are guided by legitimate national interests and most of them do not shy away from saying so publicly.
I believe that if you are a pioneer in democracy, you must respect democratic principles. Today, we quoted the United Nations Charter which says that the UN is based on the sovereign equality of states. Respect this sovereign equality. Let the people decide whether they want to condemn somebody, whether they want to support somebody, whether they want to take a neutral position. It is their sovereign right. And to demand obedience (that is what we see today) is… according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, another manifestation of colonialism in new historical conditions. So, this is life and, unfortunately, we cannot change our Western friends and make them more polite or make them behave in a more democratic way overnight. They are agitated because the dominance that they enjoyed in the world for at least five centuries, is fading away. A multi-polar world is emerging. China, India, Türkiye, Egypt, the African continent (are becoming, as many people say, the future of the world), Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico) – those powerhouses of their respective regions and, to a large extent, the world economy, like India and China, you cannot ignore them and you cannot dictate to them that they should develop in a way which will continue to enrich the West. This is what colonialism is about.
And I understand the painful feelings of the US and Europe because the structure of international relations is changing. It is becoming multi-polar, polycentric. It will not happen overnight. It will be a rather extended historical epoch, but we are moving in this direction.
And things like these that you have quoted are only one example of the attempts to stop the objective course of history. Again, we accept this as a given. The Western countries will be trying to keep their dominance for as long as possible. Hopefully, they will understand that the means they choose to keep this dominance cannot be without limits. I know this does not sound very optimistic.