Saturday, May 25

Interview of the Russian Ambassador to Australia A.V. Pavlovsky to the international news agency “Russia Today”

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Question: Alexey Viktorovich, Australia is associated in Russia, as well as all over the world, with a sunny country where kangaroos jump, and people relax on the beaches, play sports. In the last two years, relaxation has become much more difficult due to tough measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. How have these measures affected contacts between Russia and Australia, and what are the prospects in this regard now?

Answer: Australia is one of the most geographically distant countries from Russia. It takes almost a day to fly from Moscow to Sydney! And this, as it is customary to say figuratively, “tyranny of distances” in itself complicates mutual contacts. With the outbreak of the pandemic, the Australian Government has established probably one of the toughest entry and exit regimes in the world. To make it clear, I will say that even the return of our own citizens who were “stuck” abroad was very dosed, and at the time of the cancellation of the main part of the restrictions in November last year, it was still not completed.

In such a situation, of course, much of what related to Russian-Australian cultural and humanitarian ties had to be postponed or transferred to a virtual format. So, the Australian public was sincerely upset that in the past and the years before that the Bolshoi Ballet and the Russian Imperial Ballet did not come on tour, which were always greeted with ovations here. Some major international business forums did not take place here either, where, albeit sporadically, representatives of Russian companies appeared.

As for political contacts, in February 2021, meaningful consultations between the Deputy Foreign Ministers of Russia and Australia, I.V. Morgulov and K. Langman, took place via videoconference. Diplomats, experts, and other representatives of our two countries continue to communicate and interact on international platforms in areas where interests coincide – including the UN, UNESCO, WTO, the Group of Twenty, APEC. In the current difficult international situation, Russia and Australia often hold diametrically opposite positions on foreign policy issues, but the dialogue is not interrupted, and this is very important.

After all, Russian-Australian relations have known different times. In the annals of history, a warm welcome has been preserved, which in 1820, the governor of the colony of New South Wales, L.Macquarie supported the expeditions of F.F. Bellingshausen and M.P. Lazarev in Port Jackson (now Sydney). By the way, we have worthily celebrated the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by Russian navigators together with members of the Australian Antarctic Explorers Club.

There was a period when forts were feverishly built on the Pacific coast of Australia (then the British dominion) to protect against the Russian fleet, which, however, did not appear on the horizon. In parentheses, I note that this is very similar to the current situation, when Australians are being heavily brainwashed with the idea of “Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine.”

Then we fought together in the First World War, and about a thousand people from the Russians who lived on the “green continent” then volunteered for the Australian-New Zealand Corps (ANZAC). This is remembered here. As the military brotherhood in the fight against fascism during the Second World War is also remembered. Despite the pandemic, in 2020 the main military history museum of the country – the Australian War Memorial in Canberra – found an opportunity together with the Russian Embassy to organize a photo exhibition under the very symbolic name – “Common Victory”. It was during the harsh time of the war that diplomatic relations were established between our countries, which this year marks 80 years.

Despite all the known political differences between our states, the peoples of the two countries have an undoubted mutual interest. You mentioned the popular idea of Australia. Yes, there are unique flora and fauna, beautiful beaches and everyone is very sporty. But it is also one of the world’s major economies, a country with strong human potential, interesting multiculturalism experience, impressive scientific and technological achievements, an influential player in the Asia-Pacific region. I sincerely hope that as international communication normalizes, Russians will have more opportunities to get acquainted with the “green continent”.

The prospects are favorable – about a month ago, vaccination with Sputnik V was officially recognized here as the basis for quarantine-free entry into the country. And from February 21 this year, the registration of a wide range of Australian visas, including tourist visas, is resumed. We hope for the gradual return of the practice of diverse exchanges between our countries.

Question: Recently, Australia has been taking unprecedented measures to build up its military power. Is there a threat because of which the Australians decided to arm themselves so actively? What is the reason for this and what is Russia’s attitude to this?

Answer: Indeed, in 2020, Australia has embarked on the largest modernization of the naval forces since the Second World War, the purchase of new combat aircraft and helicopters, ground armored vehicles, long-range missiles, hypersonic weapons is envisaged. The official pretext is the degradation of the military-political situation in the so-called The Indo-Pacific region due to the escalating strategic rivalry between the United States and China.

At the same time, as a loyal ally of Washington, Canberra is actively involved in the aforementioned rivalry. In general, Australia actively participates in the efforts of the collective West aimed at maintaining hegemony on the world stage by any means, preventing the formation of a more democratic and fair multipolar world order. And all this, of course, is covered by slogans about the struggle of “liberal democracies” against “autocracies”, to which both China and Russia are counted.

Question: Hence the resulting question about the plans in the formation of the AUKUS alliance. Was the conclusion of a deal with the US and the UK a surprise for Russia? What consequences of AUKUS can we expect in geopolitical terms for the Asia-Pacific region?

Answer: The military-technological alliance of the USA, Great Britain and Australia was formed in an atmosphere of the strictest secrecy. The biggest surprise of this Anglo-Saxon project was, of course, for Paris, from which until the last moment it was diligently concealed that a multibillion-dollar contract with the French corporation “Naval Group” for the construction of submarines for the Australian Navy was decided to terminate.

As for the consequences for the Asia-Pacific region (APR), it can be stated with all certainty: The creation of AUKUS does not contribute to strengthening peace and stability. The priority task of the trilateral partnership is to assist Canberra in creating a nuclear submarine fleet.

In addition, it is already known about the purchase by Australians of American Tomahawk sea-based cruise missiles, agreements on the rotational deployment of aircraft of all types of the US Air Force, the expansion of other forms of bilateral military cooperation; the possibility of using the bases of the “green continent” by UK nuclear submarines is being discussed. All this cannot but cause serious concern. Such actions contradict the objectives of ensuring the safe and sustainable development of the Asia-Pacific region, increase the danger of a regional arms race and generate serious risks for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Question: From time to time, anti-Russian stereotypes and sentiments manifest themselves in Australia. To some extent, this can be explained by the remoteness of the country from Russia and the orientation towards the course of other English-speaking allies of Canberra. Is there an opportunity against this background to improve the attitude of Australians to our country and how can this be done?

Answer: Anti-Russian sentiments in Australia are systematically whipped up by mainstream media, in which it is almost impossible to find positive or at least neutral-tone material about Russia today. A particularly rabid position is characteristic of those local media that are part of the empire of the Australian-born American media magnate R. Murdoch. Periodically, horror stories are launched about a certain “fifth column” allegedly operating in Australia. The fact that the official Canberra considers it its duty to join almost every anti-Russian attack of senior Anglo-Saxon partners does not heal the information background either.

It is clear that all this inevitably affects public sentiment. But Australians are critical-minded people and, in my opinion, are not inclined to unconditionally take on faith everything that newspapers write about Russia and politicians say. Anyway, I have never had to deal with manifestations of hostility, bias in human communication. On the contrary, friendliness to Russian culture and sincere interest in Russia are ubiquitous. I have repeatedly heard from ordinary Australians words of sympathy and respect for the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin.

In general, I am convinced that the wider the various exchanges between our countries will be, the more difficult it will become to impose on local society the “image of the enemy” in the person of Russia.

Question: Let me ask you a question about the foreign trade relations between Australia and Russia. Imports of Australian goods to Russia are almost three times higher than Russian exports to Australia. Apart from sanctions and COVID-19, what are the reasons for this imbalance and what are the prospects for correcting the situation?

Answer: It seems to me that it is hardly possible to discuss this topic in detail at the present time. Precisely because bilateral trade is affected by extraneous, non-economic factors. I am referring to the application by Australia, following the example of other Western countries, of illegal economic sanctions against Russia from the point of view of international law. This abnormal situation, in principle, constrains the growth of mutual trade turnover and certainly does not favor the optimization of the balance sheet and its other parameters in accordance with mutual interests.

Question: Australia becomes the first country to export liquid hydrogen. To what extent does this affect Russia’s economic interests?

Answer: Russia and Australia have high potential in the innovative field of hydrogen energy. Both countries are implementing appropriate national strategies that recognize the role of hydrogen in the development of a low-carbon economy, and strive to become one of the world leaders in its production and export. Does it follow from this that we are doomed to competition? Not obvious. It seems that there is a huge scope for mutually beneficial cooperation in this unexplored area so far. An example is the interesting ideas of the famous Australian entrepreneur E. Forrest on the establishment of hydrogen production in Russia.

Question: Russian investments in Australia have been at a very low level since 2013, while Australian investments in Russia, on the contrary, are growing significantly. What hinders our investments and how to fix the situation?

Answer: The fact that Australian investments in Russia are growing is positive in itself. This is the result of a lot of long-term work to increase the investment attractiveness of our country. Regularly communicating with the heads of local mining and technology companies that work in Russia, I hear only positive feedback – this business brings them a good profit. In addition to providing in-demand services in the field of mining technology, Australian companies are also implementing a number of investment projects. I will name, for example, Tigers Realm, which is successfully developing the Fandyushkinskoye Field coal deposit in Chukotka, seriously investing in the development of the corresponding infrastructure. Since 2014, an explosives factory built by the Orica Corporation has been operating in the Murmansk Region.

A major Russian investment in Australia is Rusal’s 20% stake in an alumina production facility in Queensland. This is a project that obviously brings practical benefits to both Russia and Australia. The prospects for new investments probably depend on the presence of quite interesting and practically significant projects for Russian business here.

Question: Immigrants from Russia in Australia are a very diverse audience, often acting in conflicts with each other, grouping for ideological or national reasons. This, in particular, is the most striking difference between the Russian-speaking community and other communities in Australia. How are the Embassy’s relations with the Russian-speaking community in general developing at the moment, what are the trends?

Answer: I cannot agree with the fact that the Russian-speaking community is supposedly distinguished by internal conflict and disunity. Such problems are no more peculiar to immigrants from our country than to any other large diaspora on the “green continent” that has developed over a long historical period.

The community began to form about 100 years ago, when a group of Ural Cossacks arrived in Queensland (now, by the way, compatriots with the support of the Embassy are preparing related commemorative events in Brisbane). Since then, thanks to the efforts of several waves of migrants, a developed infrastructure of “Russian life” has been created here: there are more than 40 schools, Orthodox parishes, clubs, Cossack associations, charitable societies, veteran associations, various media, business communities, theaters, sports, folklore, dance and other creative collectives. It’s impossible to list everything. This infrastructure is used today by descendants of early immigrants, in whose families Russian culture and native language are passed down from generation to generation, and recent immigrants from Russia and other CIS countries. Of course, the official policy of multiculturalism carried out in Australia plays a favorable role.

What is important is that the absolute majority of compatriots have the warmest attitude towards Russia. Despite the remoteness, they strive not to break away from their historical homeland. This is the main thing that unites them, although, of course, ideas about how to organize life in the diaspora can sometimes differ, giving rise to disagreements and mutual misunderstanding. However, everything can be resolved through dialogue.

The Embassy, as well as the Consulate General in Sydney, maintains daily contact with compatriots. Communication is invariably mutually respectful and friendly, constructive. Russians living in Australia know that they will always find support from us. Every year, commemorative events dedicated to Victory Day with processions of the “Immortal Regiment”, concerts of folklore ensembles and fairs on the occasion of Russia Day, the celebration of Maslenitsa, Sabantuy, and other holidays of the peoples of our country are held in various cities of the country. We hope that with the easing of anti-epidemic restrictions, more favorable conditions will appear for all this activity, and the popular practice of organizing trips of Russian-speaking youth to Russia will return.

The most significant trend in the development of the community is connected, in my opinion, with the coming to the forefront of a cohort of young activists who are ready to take the baton from the older generation. Recently, the Council of Russian Compatriots in Australia gathered several dozen such energetic, creative, sociable people for a youth forum in Melbourne. It was an interesting meeting that convinced us that the best traditions of “Russian life” on Australian soil will be continued and multiplied.

Question: Alexey Viktorovich, you also concurrently represent Russia on the islands of Fiji, Vanuatu, Nauru and Tuvalu. How have relations with these Oceania countries been developing recently? What can connect them with Russia that could be used to develop cooperation?

Answer: Let me start with a brief historical digression. The first contacts of Russia with the countries of Oceania date back to the XIX century . The most important contribution to the study of the region was made by the expeditions of I.F.Kruzenshtern and Yu.F.Lisyansky, F.F.Bellingshausen and M.P.Lazarev, N.N.Miklukho-Maklay. Russian navigators have discovered more than seventy geographical objects in the region, which have received Russian names. By the way, on the embankment in the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila, there is a monument to Vice Admiral V. Golovnin in honor of the arrival there in 1809 of the ship under his command.

In the 70s – 80s of the last century, after the states of Oceania gained independence, our country began to establish diplomatic relations with them. With Tuvalu, this happened quite recently – the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations was celebrated last year.

We have been maintaining a meaningful political dialogue with our Pacific partners for many years. During the pre-pandemic period, there was a tradition of regular meetings of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov with high representatives of island states on the sidelines of the sessions of the UN General Assembly to discuss topical issues on the global and regional agenda. Now we are jointly preparing to resume this useful practice, and we expect to hold another meeting (in a virtual format) in the near future. We always advocate that the voice of these countries should be heard and taken into account on the world stage.



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