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Q: What is the impact of the pandemic on work UN, in particular, on social and economic cooperation? Are the global sustainable development goals still relevant in the current environment?

S.V. Vershinin: Pandemic COVID-19is likely to go down in history as one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Its consequences have had a detrimental effect on all areas of our lives. International economic relations did not stand aside either. Experts agree that we are dealing with the largest global crisis since World War II. The global economy lost more than $ 3.5 trillion. This is already twice as much as during the 2008 crisis.

All this has become a serious test of the strength of both national economies and international institutions. Coping with the growing pressure and the global financial system is not easy. Unfortunately, many more and more often prefer to act on the principle of “every man for himself”. It is not difficult to imagine what effect this has on multilateral economic cooperation.

But even in these conditions, the Sustainable Development Goals retain their universality and relevance. The world economy is united, and it is through multilateral cooperation aimed at progressive and comprehensive development that the path to a way out of the current large-scale crisis lies. Mankind will hardly be able to overcome it otherwise than together.

Question: How are the organizations of the UN system adapting to the new realities? Is our country managing to maintain the traditionally high level of cooperation with the World Organization?

Sergey Vershinin: Under the conditions of quarantine restrictions UN I was also forced to seriously rebuild the usual format of activities. Most of the employees have been transferred to a remote mode, multilateral negotiations have moved from conference rooms to videoconferencing, and even special remote voting procedures have been developed. On the one hand, it is good that the UN did not turn out to be paralyzed, but continued to act in these conditions. On the other hand, video format can never replace “live” communication. It is critically important for diplomacy. Therefore, we expect that these measures will only be temporary.

At the same time, the direct activities of the UN “in the field”, that is, in country offices, were not interrupted, but became even more dynamic. To the credit of the UN staff, we can say that they are able to quickly adapt to changing conditions.

Our country has consistently advocated the return of the usual format of the UN work, which will help to improve mutual understanding and restore the spirit of cooperation. We are sure that this will be followed by an increase in profile interaction. So far, a pandemic remains one of the key obstacles. That is why, speaking at the plenary meeting of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin proposed to inoculate the world’s first vaccine against the causative agent of COVID-19 “Satellite V“UN staff.

We share the opinion of the UN Secretary General that a way out of the crisis is possible only through intensifying the implementation of the UN agenda in the field of sustainable development. As you know, the agenda is calculated until 2030. There are ten years left. Prior to the pandemic, international cooperation in this area was on the increase. The Forum on Financing for Development, the Forum on Development Cooperation, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and similar regional forums were active. Countries have consistently moved towards achieving the 17 sustainable development goals set out in the 2030 agenda. The pandemic, as they say, has mixed all the cards.

A decrease in the effectiveness of the activities of international organizations in the context of the crisis will lead to even more negative global consequences. It is important for states to keep this in mind. Russia, as a responsible partner, continues to actively support the UN. We are promoting a positive, unifying agenda.

Against this background, Russia continued to finance the implementation of technical assistance projects in interested countries within the framework of its earlier commitments, and at the same time began to provide additional assistance to counter COVID-19. These are projects to combat poverty and extreme poverty, to strengthen industrial and agricultural development potential, and to stimulate small and medium-sized businesses. At the same time, we are working with partners to modernize educational and medical infrastructure, ensure food security, and improve state institutions.

Joint project activities continue to be carried out in these areas with such organizations of the UN system as the UN Development Program, the World Food Program, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. We traditionally assign a special role in international cooperation in the field of sustainable development to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). Their potential is always in demand, also due to a unique mandate – the commissions accumulate international experience in the field of development and replicate it among states, taking into account their national or regional characteristics.

We, in turn, use this potential both to promote Russian approaches and developments in the regional cooperation agenda and to provide technical assistance to partners from among developing countries. For this we use our annual voluntary contribution to both commissions, which goes to the implementation of industry projects. Their geographic priority is the CIS countries. Average duration is 2-3 years. The areas of application are very different: from the launch of container trains from Europe to Asia to the creation of a “big cats” sanctuary in the border area with China and Mongolia. To date, a total of more than a hundred projects have been implemented, which can be considered as a significant contribution of our country to the achievement of sustainable development goals. Together with our UN partners, we are constantly working to increase their practical impact and adapt to new challenges.

Our assistance to international development is carried out bilaterally, without using the potential of the organizations of the UN system. The OECD estimates the total volume of Russian aid annually at $ 1 billion. The main beneficiaries are the CIS states, our partners in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Oceania, Latin America, West and South Africa. In 2020, in addition to this, we actively helped countries to fight against COVID-19. This kind of assistance has reached the level of $ 35 million.

Question: What tasks does Russia pursue in providing humanitarian assistance to the population of foreign countries?

Sergei Vershinin: The tasks are exclusively humanitarian. In this case, we are talking about saving the lives of people affected by natural disasters, armed conflicts, man-made disasters. Now – also from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, there is currently an explosive growth in food aid needs. That is why the head of the World Food Program David Beasley calls to the world community not to allow “a famine of a universal scale”.

Our country does not reduce, but increases the volume of food aid supplied through WFP. Last year, Russia reached the maximum indicators of joint activities with this largest UN humanitarian agency. At the same time, we strive to increase not only the quantity, but also the quality of such cooperation, expanding its geography.

In addition to large-scale supplies of products, we are implementing projects at the junction of humanitarian aid and development, including in the field of school meals. In some cases, we use innovative approaches that involve the conversion of developing countries’ debts to Russia into financing necessary for the implementation of WFP projects.

In collaboration with WHO we provide emergency medical assistance, providing humanitarian supplies of modules of various profiles – depending on health care needs – to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. During the pandemic, supplies of personal protective equipment, artificial lung ventilation devices, vaccines in the form of humanitarian aid to the countries that have turned to us have been established. In addition, we provide assistance to the Russian Direct Investment Fund in painstaking work on the prequalification of the Sputnik V vaccine, but this is the subject of a separate conversation. We also provide humanitarian assistance through UNICEF and UNFPA. In particular, we are talking about the establishment of the educational process in schools and the provision of sanitation and hygiene conditions, as well as the arrangement of obstetric facilities in individual partner countries of the Middle East.

Question: Does Russian business participate in activities at the UN sites?

Sergei Vershinin: We strongly encourage public-private partnership. Since 2000, the UN has been implementing a Global Compact initiative aimed at involving entrepreneurs in the UN’s sustainable development activities. To become a member, a company must share the UN Responsible Business Principles in areas such as environmental protection, labor relations and human rights.

This initiative covers 13 thousand companies from 170 countries, including Russia, and operates on the basis of the “win-win” principle – companies contribute to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and in return get the opportunity to exchange experience and conclude partnership agreements with each other. In addition, participation in the Global Compact has a positive image effect, which is important for companies operating in the global market.

In general, this is a very useful initiative, and we regularly encourage domestic entrepreneurs to participate in it. The implementation of the Global Compact at the national level is entrusted to national associations. Such a structure also operates in Russia, we are actively cooperating with it. We hope that the number of domestic participants in the initiative will only grow. The association’s contacts are posted on the Global Compact website. Colleagues are always open to interaction with new companies.

At the stage of post-crisis recovery, resources, experience, and developments of all international participants, including non-state ones, will be required. Business will once again have to restart the global economy. We very much hope that in the relevant work at the UN site, Russian companies will remain our reliable partners.



EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and / or sentence structure not be perfect.

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