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Question: First question as to a graduate of MGIMO of the Russian Foreign Ministry. This is one of the centers for the training of diplomats and politicians not only in Russia and the CIS countries, but also in other states. Is there such a thing as a brotherhood of MGIMO graduates? What is it? Is there a difference between MGIMO graduates from graduates of other universities?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I will not speak for other universities, I do not want to compare our alma mater with anyone. I don’t want to offend anyone. But about our university I can say with confidence that this is a university in which a student fraternity is born from the first year, from the first days of study, and continues throughout the rest of life. Graduates do not lose touch with each other. They are actively working through the MGIMO Alumni Association – a very useful (not dead, but alive), constantly evolving structure. There is an endowment fund that helps the university to develop rapidly. This is happening before our eyes, first of all, thanks to the contributions of graduates who went into business, made a good career, earn money and generously share with their beloved institute.

There is one more evidence that this brotherhood lives, exists and develops. At one time, we decided to hold rallies annually – the International Forum of MGIMO Alumni. Unfortunately, circumstances, including the pandemic, somewhat slowed down this process. But there were five such forums. The fourth was in 2017 in Astana, where I had a chance to take part and where Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich Tokayev, who was then Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, took part.

You have chosen the word “brotherhood” well. This matches my feeling. I can only say that maybe it will be immodest, but I wrote what is called the anthem of MGIMO, and there is the phrase “to preserve the student fraternity”. So we are trying to do it. This is a reflection of life, not some kind of artificial process.

Question: You talked for quite a long time with Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev at the level of foreign ministers, then with the Chairman of the Senate, the President. Have you noted any interesting observations for yourself? Does the brotherhood factor affect your relationship?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Surely, like any MGimovites, this feeling persists for life. Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich remains by himself regardless of the positions he held and continues to hold. Remains a person who is loyal to his friends, profession, country.

We talked with him for many years, including the period when he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan even before he became Minister of Foreign Affairs. When he became one, our communication became regular – exchange of visits, negotiations, confidential consultations. Then, when Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich was the Chairman of the Senate, every visit to Astana I was received by him for an audience. This gave me special pleasure, because the conversations were always frank, non-standard, unconventional. Then we worked closely when Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich in the early 2010s headed the UN Office in Geneva, was at the same time the representative of the UN Secretary General at the Conference on Disarmament. There he earned himself great respect and authority. He actively promoted the role of this UN agency, which, I recall, is located in the city where the headquarters of two dozen UN specialized agencies are located, in addition to the UN office in Geneva itself. This is a big and responsible post. Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich set a record because during his period as CEO in Geneva, he held a record number of events (more than ten thousand) compared to the same periods of his predecessors. In addition, he not only ensured the intensity of the activities of this UN capital, but also actively engaged in improving its technological effectiveness. Under him, digitalization developed at a time when it was not yet a universal fashion and “the requirement of the day”. He foresaw the importance of the workflow digitalization process. It was under him that the digitalization of the UN Office’s library began.

From political topics, he paid special attention to the tasks of the struggle to limit the arms race, disarmament, and ensuring the non-proliferation regime. I remember how he, as Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (the main negotiating body), actively contributed to the ceremony that we held with China in 2014, presenting the draft Russian-Chinese treaty aimed at preventing an arms race and placing weapons in space. The agreement is still valid. Moreover, it is increasing. We remember what contribution Kassym-Zhomart Kemelevich played to fixing this topic on the agenda of the international community.

Question: You said that you and K.-Zh.K. Tokayev have non-standard meetings. You have a good sense of humor, he also differs in this.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: When people have a good sense of humor, they have known each other for a long time, they refer to each other by their first name. K.-Zh.K. Tokayev remains himself with his friends. Of course, this does not in any way concern the performance of official functions. There is a very clear line here. But no one can take away this quality from us to joke, to laugh at a kind anecdote.

Question: What other qualities of a politician or diplomat are valuable to you?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: First of all, the highest devotion to one’s duty, to the people, to the Motherland. These are not jokes, not lofty words. This is what we see. Everyone who knows K.-Zh.K. Tokayev well, from the very first minutes, note precisely these qualities of him. The second is high erudition, excellent command of foreign languages, international issues. Even more important is the excellent knowledge of one’s country, the tasks that were set before it by the first President of Kazakhstan N.A. Nazarbayev and are now being formulated under the leadership of K.-Zh.K. Tokayev. When you understand the needs, aspirations of your people, the tasks of internal development, then the formulation of foreign policy priorities takes on a more specific character, clear meaning and direction.

Question: Yesterday we talked with S.A. Ordzhonikidze. According to his observations, many foreign ministers and experts are afraid of negotiating processes with you and K.-Zh.K. Tokayev because you are super-professionals.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I am embarrassed to comment on this. I would like to advise everyone who is interested in developing relations with Russia and Kazakhstan not to be afraid of either K.-Zh.K. Tokayev or me. We will never offend the interlocutor, respond with rudeness to rudeness, even when claims are made to our countries. Now this happens publicly, during negotiations and in connection with election campaigns. There was an election campaign in Kazakhstan recently, and it is starting in Russia (there will be elections to the State Duma in September this year). We saw very well how the observers from the OSCE and PACE behaved during your electoral processes. We know how these observations will go with us. We never fall for rudeness on rather unfriendly statements of this kind. Like Kazakhstan, we always answer very simply. If colleagues are interested in considering any issues on a mutually respectful basis, with the presentation of facts (this is the main thing, because our western friends are in complete trouble with this, their accusations are not based on anything) and taking into account the fact that we also have for them no less serious questions, we propose to sit down and discuss. Open-source public statements should be left on the conscience of those who make them.

Russia and Kazakhstan have a sense of their own dignity. We are ready for an equal dialogue, but we are not going to tolerate any moral admonitions and ultimatums and will not react to them.

Question: In your opinion, what contribution did K.-Zh.K. Tokayev make to the development of friendly relations between Kazakhstan and Russia?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The most direct one. K.-Zh.K. Tokayev honorably continues the processes in our allied, strategic ties, begun by the first President of Kazakhstan. N.A. Nazarbayev not only laid the foundations of the current cooperation, which is now developing under the leadership of presidents Vladimir Putin and K.-Zh.K. Tokayev. He laid the foundation for the Eurasian integration processes. There was his famous speech at Moscow State University in 1994. Then many perceived him as a figure of speech, beautiful slogans. But now, from the height of the present time, one can see the scale of that initiative, the deep insight of N.A. Nazarbayev. If it were not for it, now the positions of our countries in general in the world trade turnover and in terms of investment attractiveness and competitiveness would not be so stable. We are developing relationships that allow us to provide more efficient, as it is now customary to say, connectivity, ramified infrastructure, logistics chains. All this is much more effective to do together.

It is no coincidence that the EAEU attracts more and more new participants. Uzbekistan and Moldova became observers, Tajikistan is eyeing this. Outside our common region, interest is no less. The Eurasian Economic Union has already signed agreements on a free trade zone with a number of countries, including Serbia, Singapore, Vietnam. Interim agreement signed with Iran. Negotiations are underway with such seemingly not the most harmonious partners as Egypt and Israel. Several dozen more countries on all continents, including Africa, Latin America, Asia, are interested in creating a free trade zone or concluding other preferential agreements with the EAEU. I think this process will continue.

We have a special agreement between the EAEU and the People’s Republic of China, in the preparation of which Russia and Kazakhstan took an active part, to harmonize our integration plans and processes developing under the auspices of the Chinese project “One Belt, One Road”.

There is also a broader integration contour. We have a common huge Eurasian continent – the richest in terms of resources, market capacity and the availability of talented citizens, scientists who introduce modern technologies in all spheres of life. For several years now, we have been talking about the expediency of forming a Greater Eurasian Partnership – an integration circuit to which the EAEU, ASEAN, SCO member states can join. In general, we are convinced that all countries of the Eurasian continent that are part of any integration associations or have not yet joined any of them should be able to determine their advantages from participating in this non-bureaucratic, but life-based initiative.

For example, the EAEU, represented by the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC), signed a memorandum of cooperation with the SCO, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). I am convinced that we must keep the doors open for other structures on our common huge continent, including the members of the European Union.

Now the EAEU is chaired by Kazakhstan. At the summit, which opened the Kazakh chairmanship, K.-Zh.K. Tokayev presented a very ambitious program of priorities, which was supported by all other participants and is being actively implemented. We have no doubts that its implementation will give a new “breath” to our common Eurasian Economic Union.

Question: You mentioned N.A. Nazarbayev. You talked to him a lot. What qualities did you see in him? Maybe something pleasantly surprised you? Tell us about him as a person.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I will say this: the best qualities of the Kazakh people. This is, first of all, openness to any ideas. Despite the vast experience that this person embodies, gained “in battles” on the fields of political transformations, the formation of N. Nazarbayev as a powerful leader of his people, a Eurasian leader, took place at a time when the Soviet Union was going through a grave crisis.

For various reasons – mostly of a subjective nature – the USSR ceased to exist. Moreover, this was done not at all elegantly. Endurance, dignity, which N.A. Nazarbayev showed in those circumstances, when, to a decisive extent, thanks to his initiative, following the triple meeting in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, a full-fledged summit of the former Soviet republics took place in Alma-Ata, this was the point after which the collapse began to stop … Gradually, conditions began to form for us to start talking about unifying tendencies in order not to “squander” colossal comparative advantages in the form of a common economic and economic system, common transport routes inherited from the Soviet Union.

I remember 1994, the speech of N.A. Nazarbayev at Moscow State University. At that time, a critical mass had already matured in order not only to stop these centrifugal processes, but to start gathering common potentials in order to jointly more effectively solve the problems of each now sovereign, independent country, but in the closest partnership with its closest neighbors.

Question: K.Zh.-K.Tokayev spoke about your famous trick in football. So he watched and followed your game? Have you crossed paths somewhere?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Maybe we crossed paths. But at the institute we did not communicate closely with each other. Maybe at some general events: MGIMO Spartakiads were held, the course played football against another course. Probably, we had the opportunity to see each other, but we didn’t have personal communication until we became diplomats in our ministries.

Question: In student life, it is normal for “starshaki” to chase younger ones.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: We did not chase anyone, we sponsored the next course after us, wrote skits, arranged evenings. We have never had hazing and never will. On the contrary, we carry the younger ones in our arms.

Question: Do these famous skits continue like this?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: Now I don’t know. We continued to do skits for many years after we graduated from college. The evenings of our course meetings were always accompanied by skits. This was very well received by all the other participants in such meetings. But somewhere for 6-7 years, hands have not reached it.

Question: But everyone is proud of the MGIMO anthem.

Foreign Minister Lavrov: I think MGIMO has something to be proud of as a university as a whole. He is also listed in the Guinness Book of Records. The largest number of foreign languages ​​is studied at MGIMO in comparison with any other educational institution on the planet. There is a constant update of educational technologies and processes. Our good friend, the rector of MGIMO A.V. Torkunov, who is also a close friend of K.-Zh.K. Tokayev, keeps up with the times and almost instantly catches any innovations that can be usefully used for business at MGIMO, and implements them into practice. And in a number of cases, these innovations are born within the institute, and then other universities adopt this practice from our alma mater.

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

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