The Elders

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Hearing the Russian perspective

Six Elders were in Moscow in late April to meet President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials to hear their approach to a variety of current geopolitical crises, in particular the situation in Ukraine.

At a time of rising global tensions, the Elders travelled to Russia to talk directly with top Russian leadership for a frank exchange of views.

Highlighting the importance of the trip, the Elders formed at short notice their largest-ever delegation for a foreign diplomatic mission.

On the first day of their Moscow visit, the six Elders met the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Lavrov was pleased to meet the Elders again after their encounter at the Munich Security Conference in February where the Elders had presented their proposals for UN reform.

One of the topics they discussed was the mistakes made by all sides in addressing the crisis in Syria.

Lavrov publicly praised the potential of The Elders, saying their experience could help resolve world problems.

On Ukraine, he insisted that the Minsk II agreements should be fully implemented. But, in his view, it was the sequence of agreed steps that was important.

Earlier that day, Ernesto Zedillo greeted warmly Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre and an old friend.

At his meeting with the Elders, Trenin expressed his view that Putin had influence over, and responsibility for, the rebels in eastern Ukraine but did not want a new military campaign there.

On day two of the visit, the Elders listened to warnings from Yevgeny Primakov (left), Russia’s veteran Middle East expert and former Prime Minister, over the threat posed by Islamic State (Da’esh).

Primakov was frank in his concern for Russia’s economic situation, but insisted that the country would not be brought to its knees by sanctions.

Here, the Elders sit with Andrei Kortunov, Director-General of the leading Russian foreign policy think tank, the Russian International Affairs Council.

Kortunov informed the Elders that Moscow views on the Ukraine were divided between ‘hawks and doves’ – those who want to use military action to solve the problem and those who do not. The hawks believe that Ukraine’s statehood is doomed.

Kofi Annan told Kortunov, “All of us are looking for ways to de-escalate and reduce tensions.”

The Elders met with Mikhail Gorbachev (second from the right), President of the Soviet Union (1990 – 1991) at the same time many of the Elders held high office. The Elders and Gorbachev started their meeting by reminiscing over their previous encounters.

Gorbachev is credited with introducing ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’, the policies which led to the opening up of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. His presidency also oversaw the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev told the Elders he felt that the West, in particular the United States, had made a crucial mistake at the end of the Cold War in pressing for a unipolar world that did not accommodate Russia.

He expressed his shock and dismay over the war in Ukraine. For him it was unthinkable that there should once again be conflict on the European continent.

On the final day of the visit, the Elders met President Putin (left) at his residence outside Moscow. During the two-hour meeting, they were impressed by his charisma and extensive command of international affairs.

Kofi Annan said of the meeting:

“We are pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss Russia’s role in international affairs with the President. To be successful in defusing conflicts and building trust, high-level dialogue and effective action are essential.”

President Putin echoed the sentiments of Sergey Lavrov (left) telling The Elders, “There is a need for the active position you take in international affairs, especially now.”

Several topics were discussed throughout the visit, including the Middle East – particularly Syria, Iraq and the growth of extremism, – Ukraine and Iran nuclear talks.

The Elders intend to continue their discussions on these critical developments with Russia and other governments.

The Elders who participated in the mission to Russia from to 27-29 April 2015 were Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Ernesto Zedillo.

Photos: Grigory Sysoev | The Elders

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