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Question: Can an armed confrontation flare up between Russia and Western countries?
Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, the global situation is becoming more tense and less predictable. We have repeatedly noted that this situation is, first of all, the result of never-ending unilateral US actions and those Western countries that have been subjugated by the United States. This is a small group of countries, which account for an insignificant share of the world’s population but which are trying to preserve medieval-style domination in global affairs. They are hampering the objective process of establishing a polycentric system of international relations.
They are inciting a confrontation, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and strategic uncertainty, and freezing the channels for dialogue. They are creating situations when the price of a bluff or a mistake can assume global proportions.
Russia would like to hope that common sense will prevail on the other side. Despite our different positions, we are jointly responsible for the future wellbeing of the entire human race and for the effective resolution of key issues facing the world today.
But common sense implies the ability of the Western leaders to act responsibly and predictably, to unfailingly honour international law while relying on the UN Charter. We have been increasingly forced to question this ability recently.
Question: What Western leaders does Russia perceive as its worst partners?
Sergey Lavrov: Russian diplomacy does not view global developments in such terms. Our entire foreign policy philosophy rejects the perception of bilateral relations through the prism of denial.
We are ready to work diligently with everyone in the interests of strengthening international and regional security and stability and advancing a positive bilateral agenda.
Clearly, it is not easy to deal with some of our partners. It is particularly hard to deal with those denying the primacy of international law and opting to use blackmail, threats and provocations instead. This serves to create additional problems in international relations, and opportunities for constructive cooperation are reduced.
International life is a two-way street. It is pointless to play a zero sum game with Russia. We hope that the West, particularly the United States, will realise this sooner or later.
Question: Can you comment on the incidents involving poison chemical agents in Douma, Syria, and Salisbury?
Sergey Lavrov: As for Douma, there was no chemical attack there on April 7. This was yet another underhanded provocation masterminded by those who are not interested in establishing peace in Syria.
We are not asking anyone to take our words for granted. For this reason, right from the start, we have been openly in favour of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigating what happened. The investigation could be joined by national experts from the United States and France.
Instead of that, when an OPCW team was already in Beirut and ready to leave for Damascus and then to Douma, an act of aggression was committed against Syria, a sovereign state and a UN member.
We cannot accept the logic that arbitrary punishment is the best proof of guilt. This is nonsense. Subsequent accusations to the effect that the Russian military allegedly delayed the experts’ departure on purpose in order to be able to “clean up the location” are absurd as well. Any expert will confirm that it is impossible to clear the residue of a chemical attack in a destroyed neighbourhood because substances penetrate deep into the soil and the walls of buildings.
OPCW experts at last visited Douma on April 21. They took the necessary samples. On April 25, they revisited Douma. We expect an objective and independent investigation following their trip, including visits to all the facilities related to the alleged chemical attack and to the production of poisonous agents by extremists. For our part, we helped the experts in their work as best we could.
We have found eyewitnesses of the provocation and some unwitting participants in the show staged by the White Helmets, including a boy, Hassan Diab, and other Douma residents. During their visit to the OPCW Headquarters on April 26, they described how this fabricated video on the chemical attack had been recorded.
The tragic incident involving Sergey and Yulia Skripal occurred in Great Britain on March 4. London claims that a combat nerve agent was used. Since the moment of this incident, the British side – let me stress, in contravention of its international obligations – has refused to inform us about the aid administered to the victims or the progress of the investigation; they are not allowing consular access, which is required in cases involving Russian citizens.
More than that, London has neglected not only the norms of international law but also elementary ethics and plain common sense. Without providing any evidence or even waiting for Scotland Yard to finish its own investigation and clarify the whole picture, the British government accused Russia and launched a large-scale anti-Russia political and information campaign. Our proposals on a joint investigation and legitimate demands to provide facts, including samples of the substance used, were ignored.
The British authorities’ behaviour in this instance raises many questions. Specifically, they are concealing information about the activities of the secret laboratory at Porton Down not far from Salisbury. The victims themselves have been hidden by the British secret services.
Russia is primarily concerned about the state of health and status of the Skripals who were dragged by the British into this provocation. The British authorities’ refusal to grant us consular access are grounds to regard the circumstances as an abduction or premeditated isolation. This is absolutely unacceptable.
London has substituted empty claims and “megaphone” diplomacy for a professional expert investigation within the framework of the related international mechanisms.
Once again, we are ready for substantive cooperation with the British side. We call on London to honestly cooperate in criminal proceedings concerning an attempted premeditated murder, which were initiated by Russia’s Investigative Committee on March 16, as well as within the framework of the relevant requests sent to the British side by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia.
Question: Is it possible to say that the war with Ukraine is the “original sin” of sorts that caused all the problems that ensued?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, I would like to draw your attention to a crucial point for understanding what is going on – Russia is not waging war with Ukraine. The war against their own people was unleashed by the nationalists, who came to power in February 2014 as a result of a coup, who reject dissent and want to forcibly impose their rules. The war is going on between Kiev and Ukrainian regions.
The internal political crisis in Ukraine was inspired from the outside by a group of Western states led by the US, which regards the whole world as its sphere of influence, touts its exceptionalism and pides the world into “us” and “them.”
In a telling moment, the EU member states - Germany, Poland and France - that endorsed the February 2014 agreement on the settlement of the crisis between the government and the opposition renounced their guarantees under that document as soon as the radicals trampled on it. NATO, which, before the coup, had been calling on the then president of Ukraine not to use the army against the protesters, abruptly changed its tone after the coup and began calling on the putschists, who seized power illegally, to use force “proportionately” against opposing regions.
There is nothing pro-Ukrainian about the West’s part in this story, it is entirely anti-Russian. We see that for the United States and a number of its satellites, talk of creating a common space of peace, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic was a smokescreen, a cover for pursuing their archaic practice of seizing geopolitical space and shifting the piding lines eastwards – both through NATO’s expansion and within the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership programme. For years, Kiev was under pressure to make the false choice “with us or against us,” between developing cooperation in the East or in the West, which eventually led to the collapse of Ukrainian statehood that has never been too strong. The result for today is the de facto loss of independence, human suffering and the economic breakdown of a country that had every chance to become one of the most stable and economically robust in Europe.
Obviously, a durable settlement in Ukraine is only possible with the full and consistent implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures. There is no alternative. The laws must be adopted on special status, local elections in Donbass and amnesty, and constitutional reforms must be carried out. These aspects are of crucial significance for achieving peace inside Ukraine. Finally, Kiev must engage in direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk in order to jointly search for compromises and coordinated solutions to existing problems.
Unfortunately, Washington, London and a number of other Western capitals have failed to draw proper conclusions from the Ukrainian tragedy. Dubious zero-sum geopolitical games continue in various parts of the world. Efforts are being stepped up to create a global missile defence system, to the detriment of strategic stability. NATO is bolstering its capacity and increasing its military activity in Europe, which is out of touch with realities and is leading to the fragmentation of the European security space. What is most alarming is the open disregard of the US and its allies for international law and the UN Charter, and their interference in the internal affairs of states, up to and including attempts to topple local governments.
The April 14 missile strikes on the Syrian Arab Republic, carried out on absolutely false grounds, was a glaring example of this destructive policy. This act of aggression against a sovereign state has had a negative impact on international and regional stability and played into the hands of terrorists. The ringleaders of such actions must eventually realise that such irresponsible conduct is fraught with the most serious consequences for global security. Those who are playing with fire in various regions, trying to tame the terrorists to use them in geopolitical games, will have to pay for it in their own countries. There is no hiding from threats like terrorism in isles of safety reserved for the chosen ones.
Question: The last general election in Italy showed that the “wind of populism is blowing through Europe.” Don’t you think that this wind benefits Russia? Or maybe by framing faraway Russia as an enemy Europe is seeking to overcome its internal challenges related to populism and the economic crisis?
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the current political trends in Europe, this is a question for the Europeans, I believe.
All I can say is that Russia does not interfere in the ongoing domestic policy debates and refrains from expressing preferences when it comes to assessing election results in various countries of the European Union. We wholeheartedly wish that European countries overcome the challenges they face. Russia is ready to work with all politicians who are interested in as well as committed to the promotion of a pragmatic dialogue with our country.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that a small but extremely aggressive group of Russophobic countries operates within the European Union. It is ready to do anything to prevent Russia-EU relations from getting back on track and plays the anti-Russia card in order to achieve its selfish aims. This does nothing to improve the situation on the European continent and prevents us from coordinating our efforts with the view to finding effective solutions to the matters that are relevant for both Russia and the EU.
We hope that our EU partners will be able to overcome this “inertia mentality” and identify their priorities without the help of extra-regional players, and will not take their cues from the anti-Russia minority that I have already mentioned. We strongly believe that people in Europe in their vast majority want a peaceful as well as prosperous Europe and do not want to return back to Cold War-era confrontation that some are pushing for.
Question: Why are more and more major powers (China, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and even the US) becoming isolated? Don’t you think that states are becoming increasingly authoritarian?
Sergey Lavrov: As I have already pointed out, we are currently witnessing the emergence of a multipolar world order. New economic and political centres of power emerge and become stronger, but this multipolar setting has yet to evolve into a stable system.
It is in our common interest that all international actors opt for constructive instead of destructive actions being guided by international law, not force. The multiple problems the world is facing today can be effectively resolved only by combining our capabilities based on the UN’s central role. In other words, the emergence of a multipolar world order is expected to facilitate mutually beneficial cooperation and fruitful partnerships taking into consideration each other’s interests.
As for Russia, our foreign policy is designed to promote a positive, unifying agenda for preventing international affairs from sliding into chaos and confrontation and settling the multiple crises and conflicts through political as well as diplomatic means. We have never relied on Russia’s natural advantages to the detriment of others, and will never do so. As a responsible country and permanent member of the UN Security Council Russia acts as the guarantor of global stability, opposing UN Security Council resolutions that seek to justify unilateral use of force against unwanted “regimes” in violation of the UN Charter.
It is highly satisfying that Russia is not alone in its efforts. Specifically, I would like to highlight the importance of Russian-Chinese comprehensive cooperation that can be viewed as a positive model of interstate relations in the 21st century. Russia works closely with its allies and like-minded countries, both bilaterally and within various multilateral formats such as the EAEU, the CSTO, BRICS and the SCO.
The Group of Twenty is another important platform where G7 members that are no longer able to resolve many matters on their own can reach agreements with the BRICS, supported by like-minded countries, in a spirit of consensus. All in all, G20 is a prototype of a fair global governance system that prioritises the balance of interests instead of dictating solutions.
Question: In several cases, there has been discrepancy between Donald Trump’s actions and his rhetoric about Russia. How does Russia see it?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, it is not a good thing when words do not correspond to actions. Unfortunately, it often happens, not only in the Russia-US relations but in other international matters as well, that Washington’s statements do not correlate with the subsequent actions. Take Syria, for example. Although the US Department of State and the White House vowed and protested that their only goal is to banish terrorists from the country, in reality the United States is putting down roots on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and is essentially pursuing the course towards destroying Syria. Some US allies are also encouraging this policy.
We have repeatedly said that we take a favourable view of President Trump’s words about his wish to establish a normal dialogue between our countries. Even more so, we fully share this attitude and we are ready to do our share to lead our bilateral ties from the artificial deadlock created by the Obama administration. However, we will make conclusions about our partners’ real commitment to a constructive and mutually respectful cooperation only based on their actual actions.
For now, our relations are still on the downward path. Positive signals from the US President, if any, get completely levelled out by the off the scale Russophobia in the US establishment, which presents our country as a threat and supports “system-wide restraint” of Russia using sanctions and other leverage. All this, clearly, is a result of political infighting in Washington and has nothing to do with reality.
The March 26 decision of the US authorities to expel 60 employees of our diplomatic missions and to close down the Consulate General in Seattle was yet another provocation. The formal grounds for this deportation and deprivation of Russia of its consular office, which is Russia’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, do not stand up to any criticism. Obviously, we could not leave that hostile act without a response. Notably, Washington carried out this measure soon after a telephone conversation between the presidents, which was constructive. Donald Trump called Vladimir Putin on March 20 to congratulate him on winning the presidential election and once again confirmed his intention to find areas of common interest with respect to a wide range of issues. He suggested having a top-level meeting as soon as possible; he invited President Putin to the White House and spoke about his wish to improve the coordination of efforts at the international scene and work together on containing the arms race.
While many in Washington continue to plummet into a self-replicating Russophobia, cooperation on important global issues is stalling. This has a negative effect on the situation in the world, with so many problems accumulated that are just impossible to resolve without cooperation between Russia and the United States.
I hope that common sense will eventually prevail in Washington. We want normal, predictable and, if you like, friendly relations with the United States. But not at the cost of trading principles and Russia’s national interests.
Question: How much do sanctions cost Russia and what does it cost Europe? How it is that whatever we do in Europe is wrong but whatever you do is right?
Sergey Lavrov: There are different assessments of the damage. Different numbers are given. Meanwhile, in our view, the main loss is the loss of trust, that will be hard to re-establish.
Any unilateral measures of economic pressure are not only illegitimate under international law, as experience shows, they are also fruitless. Initiated by the US administration and embraced by Brussels as a tool of long-term pressure on Russia, the sanctions did not lead to any changes in our foreign policy. They did not force us to give up on what we consider to be right and fair. However, we never – unlike the leaders of some Western countries – pretend to be the sole possessor of ultimate truth. We hear assurances from Brussels, from NATO and the EU, that they are open to dialogue with Russia but only if Russia repents and pleads guilty to everything it is blamed for. We never act like this. We always stress that we are ready to compromise, to respect the legitimate interests of all of our partners, who in turn recognise Russia’s interests and want to talk on the basis of pragmatism, rather than follow the logic of zero-sum games.
The Russian economy has adapted to the sanctions pressure. Moreover, we managed to turn it to our advantage. The banking sector is getting healthier. Inflation has gone down considerably. The budget’s dependency on oil prices is decreasing. At the same time, we used the situation to look for new points of economic growth, boosting domestic production, and also expanding commercial and economic ties with those states that are ready for honest, mutually beneficial cooperation. And these countries are a majority of the world.
It is no secret that a significant part of anti-Russia policies is generated from across the ocean and is subsequently imposed on Europe, accompanied by invocations of the need to strengthen “trans-Atlantic solidarity.” How much does that correspond to European interests? Meanwhile, the US itself does not suffer any harm. Will Europe win if the sanctions spiral goes on spinning, especially considering that producers from other regions are replacing European producers in the Russian market? Only EU residents will able to answer this question.
Russia is not separating itself from Europe or closing itself off. I think that time undeniably works toward the restoration of Russia-EU relations for the benefit of our people and for the stability and wellbeing of the European continent.
Question: Allow me to ask a question on the war in Syria that may seem cynical: everyone seeks to use the Kurds only to give up on them afterwards. Why is that?
Sergey Lavrov: I wouldn’t agree with this kind of a sweeping statement. Not everyone acts this way. For example, over the course of the conflict in Syria Russia has never used anyone to advance its own selfish interests. The Russian military personnel deployed in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government made an enormous contribution to eliminating ISIS, a military and political hotbed of terrorism.
By protecting their homes and Syria as their homeland, Kurdish militia also contributed to the common efforts to defeat terrorism. They acted as an integral part of Syrian society, as citizens of their country.
Russia has been consistent in calling for the Kurds to be able to take part in shaping Syria’s future after the conflict on equal terms with other ethnic and religious groups. President of Russia Vladimir Putin reaffirmed this position at a news conference in Ankara on April 3, 2018.
The question of using the Kurds only to give up on them should go to those who incite separatist sentiments by giving false promises of protection, to those who prevent the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic from restoring control over large swathes of national territory, to those who encouraged the Kurds to unilaterally proclaim a federation and who helped establish forces intended to take over functions that are the exclusive domain of the Syrian state.
Question: My daughter asks me: why is it so difficult to achieve peace throughout the world? What would be your answer?
Sergey Lavrov: Maybe the world is just more complicated than it seems. International relations are becoming increasingly complex and multi-faceted, resulting from interactions of a plethora of actors, including states, supra-national institutions and non-governmental structures. They are different, and not always consistent or rational in their actions.
However, peaceful coexistence and sustainable development are possible. All it takes is to renounce the philosophy of hegemony, lawlessness and exceptionalism, renounce the illegitimate use of force or obediently following block discipline in situations when others are trying to impose approaches that run counter to your national interests. Finally, it is important to recall the fundamental principles of international relations set out in the UN Charter, including the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in domestic affairs and resolving conflicts through peaceful means. To put it in simple terms, we have to respect each other. Taking any other path would only lead to an impasse.
Russia will be proactive in its efforts to preserve and develop sound undertakings in global affairs and contribute to finding solutions to the challenges the humanity is facing.
Building of the Russian Embassy in Kingston