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Question: The year is drawing to a close. It’s been a critical, difficult and complicated year. What are our main achievements on the international front? What has our country accomplished?
Sergey Lavrov: Speaking about achievements – though we usually assess our work in terms of effectiveness, not successes – I would single out the fact that we have managed to draw attention to the need to build a new multilateral and multipolar international system. The idea is not so new: its foundations are enshrined in the UN Charter, which sets down the principle of consensus among the leading states within the Security Council (I mean its permanent members) and collective security, i.e. collective efforts to overcome any risks and threats facing the whole humankind.
In recent years this bedrock principle has been subjected to a severe test. We have seen and still see attempts to solve complex and not so complex problems in the world in a unilateral way, through coercion, interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states in violation of the UN Charter and the principles of the OSCE. We have managed to draw attention to this problem, which is now being actively discussed at international venues, including the UN and the OSCE. I believe the most important accomplishment is that our approach in favour of equal, mutually respectful dialogue on any issue in global politics, economics and the humanitarian situation are shared by a growing number of states.
Question: By a growing number of states? But the importance of these states has changed. What the Americans are in fact saying is this: “You have got Crimea, but lost Ukraine.” We can counter by saying “You think you’ve got Ukraine, but you lost Russia.” Our relations with America are worse than they have been for a very long time. There has been a pivot of our policy towards the East and South-East. The Americans and the European Union practically shun us. What are we gaining and what are we losing? Are we already living in a Cold War era?
Sergey Lavrov: First of all, I disagree that we have lost Ukraine.
Question: That’s what the Americans say.
Sergey Lavrov: It may seem so to those looking at it from across the ocean. The Americans probably feel that it bolsters what they think is their leadership position in the world. In a recent interview President Obama made some statements that sounded as if he was comparing himself to Russia’s President Putin. One feels that this personal aspect worries and bothers him. I have always said and firmly believe that it is not very helpful when key political issues are determined by personal chemistry between leaders.
I don’t think we have lost Ukraine. A “divorce” between Russia and Ukraine is impossible. For centuries we have been linked by history, economy, geography, culture and civilisational values. And, after all, we are linked by bonds of family and kinship. I am convinced that the current tragic stage in the history of Ukraine will pass, the Ukrainian people will realise what happened in February and what is happening today, and they will want to restore harmony through national reconciliation and unity of all parts of Ukraine, but not on the basis of the diktat of just one ideology that has gained the upper hand in Kiev today, but on the basis of compromise, a balance of interests and genuinely equal relations between all the regions. I am sure that in such a Ukrainian state (I don’t see how Ukraine can survive and exist normally otherwise) the attitude towards Russia will be very positive and there will be no question of somebody having lost somebody else.
Question: Will it be an Ukrainian state that already has one foot in NATO, or an Ukrainian state that will allow elements of the US armed forces infrastructure on its territory? They could sign an agreement directly. What sort of Ukrainian state will it be?
Sergey Lavrov: The Ukrainian state I am speaking about must be based not on the wishes of one segment of the Ukrainian elite that is currently “running the show” in Kiev, but on the balance of interests of all Ukrainian citizens of all Ukrainian regions – the West, the centre and the Southeast – and of course on the balance of interests of all political forces. The Ukrainian leadership signed up for the need to build this process and find this sort of compromise, involving all the regions and all the political structures in April of this year when the Geneva Statement was adopted. Now attempts are underway to impose on a significant part of Ukrainian society a worldview of only one group of elites. I think this spells new complications for Ukraine.
You mentioned NATO, and whether Ukraine has one foot in the alliance. I don’t find it very pleasant when our observers start talking like this: “Yes, they passed this law and renounced the non-aligned status and said they would join NATO. But just filing the application, preparing the state, its law enforcement system and military organisations for filing the application would take at least six years.” In other words, the argument goes, they will join NATO, but not immediately. This is the wrong angle from which to consider the situation.
The idea of Ukraine seeking NATO membership is dangerous not only for the Ukrainian people, because there is no unity on that score, but for European security. We have all signed on, under the OSCE, and indeed within the Russia-NATO Council framework, to the principle of indivisible security, whereby no one should ensure one’s own security at the expense of the security of others, no one should shift the demarcation lines inherited from the times of the Cold War. However, the OSCE has set the task of erasing these demarcation lines. Unfortunately they still remain. They remain in the military-political field, in economics and in the humanitarian sphere, because the long-proclaimed OSCE principle of free movement is still not being implemented in practice. This should be kept in mind when considering such provocations – I can find no other name for them – whereby certain Western countries seek to perpetuate the crisis and confrontation in Ukraine, to build up the confrontation between Ukraine and Russia, for example, by playing up these provocative sentiments regarding membership in the North Atlantic Alliance.
Question: This is exactly what I'm getting at. When you speak about a Ukraine that would hear Russia, perhaps our intelligence agents see the rudiments of it, but so far the political elite is oriented entirely towards Washington. Some members of the Ukrainian government directly fulfill Washington’s orders: the National Security Council – Washington, the national personnel – Washington. There is Washington wherever you turn. Moscow is not there. As for Moscow, there's just: “give us money, help us and leave us alone.” This is the approach: “Give us free gas and leave.” Have we lost the struggle for this international influence?
This year they have been trying to press us out of the OSCE, out of the Council of Europe and so on. When the Russian President attends a summit he sometimes meets with downright rudeness. Diplomatic language is no longer used. There is a sense that something has happened to the norms of decency in the world community. They feel that Russia is not a great country, but a nonentity, and that they can be rude with us and infringe upon our national interests, which nobody recognises. How should we react?
Sergey Lavrov: In truth, they know that we are a great country. All the actions you have described are aimed at unnerving us, undermining our positions and minimising our influence in this region and the world as a whole. This will not succeed, because Russia has historically lived through far greater trials and tribulations and emerged from them with honour, as a stronger country.
You have mentioned that the Americans, Washington, are exerting influence on events in Ukraine. We are well aware, thanks to Wikileaks and open statements, how the Americans, from the moment events on Maidan started, started attempting to act through the European Union. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in a conversation with the American Ambassador in Kiev what she thought of the effectiveness of the EU’s actions in terms of American interests.
Question: We cannot quote her because we do not use foul language on the air.
Sergey Lavrov: As a rule we do not. But everybody knows that Nuland was directly involved in forming the government that came to power after the coup. The candidates were discussed by name. Let me note as an aside that the Americans are currently trying to form a coalition in Moldavia in the same way. This is a universally known fact.
What you are saying in enumerating specific instances of American interference in Ukraine against the background of what Russia is or is not doing, I think attests to only one thing: in reality it is becoming clear to everyone who is really violating the UN Charter principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.
Question: I see. Yes, they are bad. But what are we to do?
We went to Cuba and forgave their debts. I naively thought that we would set up a base there and give a boost to our relations. All of a sudden, US President Obama says that sanctions against Cuba have been in effect for 50 years, and that was no good. There is a sense that a big geopolitical chess game is being played. As soon as our influence shows clear signs of growth in Latin America, the Americans become jittery and try to stem it. As soon as we build up an excellent relationship with China, Barack Obama sends his wife over for negotiations. As soon as we reach out to India they immediately warn: “Be careful with the Russians.” Are they keeping track of us everywhere?
Sergey Lavrov: I sort of missed the bit about the wife. What happened there with Michele Obama?
Question: Michele Obama went to China and spoke with its leaders.
Sergey Lavrov: You know, we are friends with Cuba, with other countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa not in order to prevent them from normalising and maintaining good relations with America, Europe and whomever else. That is the difference perhaps. We for our part have, over the decades, called on the United States to reappraise its position and end the meaningless policy of trade and economic embargo, which ultimately made the friendly Cuban people suffer. We don’t want to be friends with anyone to spite somebody else or, by being friends with someone, keep our friends from taking steps that meet the root objective interests of their country.
In Ukraine the US policy is somewhat different. Yes, they tell us: “believe us that the US is not interested in infringing upon Russian interests in Ukraine or anywhere else. We have neither special plans nor any hidden agenda with regard to Ukraine. All we want is for the Ukrainian people to freely exercise its democratic choice.” We have a counter question: “What about the government coup which received instant support from you and was declared a democratic revolution, and what about everything else that happened afterwards in total violation of the agreements signed by the opposition figures who had come to power: Oleg Tyagnibok, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitaly Klichko?” In February they signed their names, together with Viktor Yanukovich and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland, to the need to create a national unity government. The following morning, when all this was torn up, we were told: “You see, Yanukovych has fled.” He had not fled, he was in his country. But even if one takes into account the Yanukovych factor, we ask the Americans and the Europeans: “Okay, the President left Kiev (although he was in Ukraine and was fulfilling his constitutional duties, at least he should have been). Let's leave that aside. An agreement was made to set up a national unity government that would prepare a new constitution involving all the regions, to approve it by referendum and then hold elections. Does the disappearance of Yanukovich eliminate the need for national unity?” You see, it makes no sense. To this, we get no answer.
If one really cares about the Ukrainian people, like the Cubans or any other people living through undeserved trials, for the Ukrainians the main thing is to return to the logic of national unity. Attempts are being made to fudge the constitutional reform issue, our Western partners are playing down this topic in their contacts with the Ukrainian leadership. But the resumed Minsk process presupposes not only an answer to the question of a ceasefire (thank God, it is holding), the pullback of heavy weapons and the grave humanitarian problems in the southeast, but also the restoration of economic ties, the ruined infrastructure in Donbass, and basic services that were cut off after the signing of the notorious executive order of Ukrainian President Poroshenko, which amounted to a virtual economic, social and financial blockade. The leaders of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR are still in favour of a direct conversation on the restoration of a common economic, and then political space.
Question: We shall see the outcome of the Minsk talks tomorrow. Everybody wants peace to return to that land, they want to see the heavy weapons pulled back and for Ukrainians to begin acting reasonably and to return to their senses, at least on the eve of the New Year and Christmas.
Sergey Lavrov: In addition to the immediate tasks that need to be addressed to facilitate the plight of civilians, it is necessary to start an early dialogue on economics, on the restoration of energy and trade links and social benefits. The DPR and the LPR want to stay in the hryvnia zone, but they are being pushed out of it. If it is a single nation, if the Ukrainian authorities consider this territory to be their own – and we support that – why are they trying to push a huge part of their population out of their economic and political space?
Question: You are not a naïve, but a very wise man, I’ve known you for many years. Perhaps we might “cast down our masks” and say that a de facto war is being waged against us, and that what we say is falling on deaf ears. Now they are trying to use Ukraine to create an armed conflict on our borders and drag Russia into it. We are accused of all possible sins. As you wisely said in your response to foreign correspondents, if there are Russian troops there why doesn’t CNN show them? You have always had excellent personal relations with US Secretary of State John Kerry. You have presented State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki with a pink hat with ear flaps. Everything was fine. In purely human terms there must come a moment when one feels like saying, “guys, we are all grown-up people. What do you think you are doing? It’s time to come to your senses.”
Sergey Lavrov: That moment came a long time ago. We are talking as frankly as can be. We are told: “You are waging a war and you have lost Ukraine.” We have just been talking about this. But if we have lost Ukraine why have about a million refugees from Ukraine headed towards our country, which is said to be the aggressor? Why have we provided conditions for Ukrainian refugees in the Rostov Region and other regions of the Russian Federation, which the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recognised as being “model” conditions? Today, on 25 December, the Russian Government, at its meeting, approved nine legislative acts that have to do with the Federal Migration Service and are aimed at making the stay of displaced Ukrainian persons and refugees on our territory still more comfortable. We are doing more than anyone to relieve the humanitarian suffering of the population in the southeast and to solve the problems that the central authorities in Kiev are facing: I am referring to our very flexible position on the gas problem.
Question: Does John Kerry understand this?
Sergey Lavrov: I am sure that everyone understands everything.
Question: But does John Kerry understand it?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t want to name names, but in one-on-one contacts with many Western partners they have shown that they fully understand what is happening, but they cite bloc discipline, which forbids them to publicly make any critical remarks about the Ukrainian authorities. That’s all there is to it.
Question: What kind of world is this? It is a wo rld with no truth and no lies. It doesn’t matter if someone is a scoundrel, if he is my scoundrel, I'm not going to say anything bad about him: is that it?
Sergey Lavrov: It is stricter than the discipline that existed within the Warsaw Treaty Organisation.
Question: You talk with people, without mentioning their names, and you tell them: “What are you telling us about the shooting down of the plane? As a matter of fact we are the only country that is constantly trying to get at the truth about the crash of the Malaysian plane. You proclaimed us the culprits at once, and introduced ferocious sanctions. You tell us about the peace process, and yet after Minsk, which was largely President Putin’s initiative, you again impose sanctions? What do you think you are doing?” They have no answer to that either?
Sergey Lavrov: When I discussed this topic with a colleague I cited the example you have just mentioned, and I suggested that we retrospectively look at our actions from the very start of the Ukrainian crisis. The Russian representative Vladimir Lukin, whom President Putin sent there, initialed the future agreement of 21 February. When the signing was about to take place everybody scurried off to their respective capitals to solve the question of signing it. We were invited, together with the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland, to sign the agreement between Yanukovych and the opposition as witnesses. Because under that agreement, President Yanukovych waived all his constitutional rights to introduce a state of emergency and use the army and the police, and renounced any actions to maintain law and order, we felt that such capitulation was not the right thing to do in terms of the powers of the head of state, and we decided that we would not sign as witnesses together with the European ministers. We received high-level telephone calls. We were told: “Okay, you are not signing, but at least say something in support of this agreement.” We accommodated them and said that though it was not an ideal solution it was a step towards ending the bloodshed and towards national unity.” Because the document urged the immediate creation of a government of national unity, we met them halfway. As you know, the following day the agreement was trampled underfoot.
Question: And it became clear that Viktor Yanukovych was not Salvador Allende?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes. Then there was the situation with the referendums in the Lugansk and the Donetsk regions. We were urged to do something to postpone these referendums until after the election of the Ukrainian President. Russia’s President publicly called on the authorities of the self-proclaimed republics to refrain from holding the referendums and to postpone them until later. That was another instance when we accommodated our Western partners, who argued that it would help to prevent a split of the Ukrainian people.
Question: But they turned a deaf ear on this.
Sergey Lavrov: They turned a deaf ear, although it was articulated by our President. Then there was a long discussion in connection with the Ukrainian presidential elections scheduled for late May. We were urged not to obstruct these elections, but it had never been our intention to obstruct them. Then we were urged to recognise their results and to recognise President Poroshenko as the Ukrainian head of state. We did: we recognised the results of elections and we recognised Poroshenko. Shortly afterwards, in early June in Normandy we established direct contact with him when a meeting was held between President Putin of Russia, President Poroshenko of Ukraine, President Hollande of France and German Chancellor Merkel. Then there were the Minsk accords. We were urged to contribute to achieving a ceasefire. The Minsk meeting was to a large extent held at Putin’s initiative. Incidentally the Minsk Protocol of 5 September reads that it was drawn up on the initiative of Poroshenko and the proposals of Putin.
As you have rightly said, immediately after the signing of the Minsk Protocol there was a new wave of anti-Russian sanctions, exactly like in February when a whole series of positive steps on our part did not only fail to calm down our Western partners, but were followed by the imposition of fresh sanctions. As you have rightly pointed out, the most severe sanctions, in terms of the Western partners’ desire to influence us, i.e. the sectoral sanctions, were introduced a few days after the shooting down of the Malaysian Boeing. This is a very murky story. As soon as we presented specific facts (several days after the tragedy the Russian Defence Ministry and Rosaviatsia presented facts and asked very specific questions, fully in keeping with the international practice of investigating such cases), our Western partners did not give any answer, but said that this had been the work of separatists with Russia’s help. And they introduced sectoral sanctions.
Now that we are really trying to establish the truth, when information comes to hand which is widely disseminated by our media and which is studied by the Investigative Committee of Russia, we are told that all this is a “fake.” And that’s that. To this day there has been no answer to our questions: where are the data from American satellites which were observing the area on that tragic day, where are the data from the American AWACS planes that were flying over the area and where is the testimony of the traffic controllers in Dnepropetrovsk who were in charge of that area of the sky over Ukraine? Also, very importantly, we have long been asking to be given the logbook of the missions of Ukrainian war planes based in the area. None of this information has been forthcoming. All we hear is that Russia and the self-defence forces are to blame for everything and all the questions are aimed at confusing the investigation.
Question: You are a naïve person after all, Mr Lavrov! We have already been indicted. Even if everyone comes forward and gives a hundred percent testimony that it was not we who shot it down, the whole world will go on saying that it is a fake, and that it was Russia that shot it down. They don’t want to hear the truth.
Sergey Lavrov: I am not naïve, but I am still convinced that the truth will find its way forward.
Sergey Lavrov: It is impossible to pretend not to understand when very concrete questions are asked again and again. They will have to be answered. The investigation is unlikely to proceed at a sluggish pace. Hard facts are being revealed, including by an eyewitness who worked at the airfield from which the war planes took off. We have already instituted criminal proceedings and it will be impossible to ignore this process, and the questions will have to be answered sooner or later.
Question: For many years you have been rightly regarded as one of the most popular Russian politicians. Whenever there is a chance to see you, people abandon everything and rush to their televisions. You command great trust. Apparently you are trusted not only by our TV audiences, but by the partners with whom you talk, and this trust emerges from personal relations. Whatever happens “at the top,” you manage to preserve human relationships. We have come to a point when President Obama of the US has asked Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to convey to “my friend Vladimir” that once elections were held in America, everything would be fine. That was several years ago. Now all of a sudden Obama is signing not only a Ukrainian freedom support act, but in so doing, a bill on possible direct aggression against Russia. We find ourselves in a new reality. It is clear that we can no longer count on America to be our partner. Do we have friends? Are there countries we can rely on to lend us a shoulder when others are trying to strangle us with sanctions aimed not against some kind of elite and the President’s cronies, but sanctions that truly undermine the quality of life of all people? Is there anyone in this world who would say: Russia, we are by your side”?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, it has openly been proclaimed that these sanctions are aimed at worsening the state of the Russian economy in order to provoke popular discontent with Government. This is an official position and it is absolutely unprecedented. The sanctions are inhumane and this is being publicly declared.
As for the attitude of the world towards us, we have a lot of friends. I would say that the majority of the world’s countries are our friends. We have spoken today about such time-tested friends as Cuba. We have warm and close relations with the overwhelming majority of Latin American states and various multilateral regional structures on the continent. Of course our closest friends are our CSTO allies and partners in the Eurasian Economic Union, which is being created and will come into force on 1 January 2015.
Everybody remembers the recent summits of Eurasian Economic Unionand the CSTO held in Moscow. Many Western observers have been gleefully declaring that differences and disagreements have spilled out into the open. There is never complete unanimity in any structure, be it NATO or the EU. But there they try to keep any dissent behind closed doors and to prevent it from spilling out. For example, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made a number of statements, and they came down on that country like a tonne of bricks.
Question: Turkey is coming under this kind of pressure today.
Sergey Lavrov: As soon as anyone shows signs of an independent position on foreign policy and other issues, he is called to order and hissed at.
After the experience of the Warsaw Treaty – an indestructible monolith – we have a somewhat different attitude toward building alliances, strategic partnerships and in general, relations with any states. We no longer seek to force anyone, we seek to come to terms. We have some economic advantages, our partners have some interests and these interests must be balanced. This is the essence of the approach we are promoting in the military-political sphere in the post-Soviet space, in the economic and humanitarian fields. I see nothing wrong there. We do not hide the fact that we do not agree on everything a hundred percent.
Question: Who are our friends? President Lukashenko of Belarus is perhaps our best and closest friend. Sometimes when I listen to him I wonder whether my Belarusian is failing me, or whether I have forgotten my Russian.
Sergey Lavrov: Belarusian President Lukashenko constantly stresses that no country is closer to Belarus than Russia. Differences on some current and perhaps more important issues are absolutely normal, this is life, we have to come to agreements.
Question: President Lukashenko of the Republic of Belarus has received an invitation from Ukrainian President Poroshenko to show him the way to the European Union. Until very recently the Europeans described Lukashenko as Europe’s last dictator. And now, in order to pull Belarus away from Russia, they are ready to take it to the Hague Tribunal or slightly “to the left,” to Geneva.
Sergey Lavrov: Regarding these contacts. When, on the eve of the CSTO and EAEU summits in Moscow, the Presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan stopped over in Kiev, there was gloating and joy in the West that these were public gestures designed to indicate their disagreement with Moscow’s policy. But how did the West learn what they were discussing in Kiev? One cannot take the television image at face value: if they have met that means they are against Russian President Putin. Truly, “simplicity is worse than robbery.”
We are interested in having our friends – Kazakhstan and Belarus – help to build a normal process of the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.
Question: When Ukrainian President Poroshenko was in the US, he said in so many words in an interview with CNN that Ukraine was effectively under direct rule by Washington. Do you have any doubts that Poroshenko was writing down word for word what he was saying and reporting?
Sergey Lavrov: A single figure, even one as important as the President, cannot solve all the problems and issues of the development of such a state as Ukraine. There are the Ukrainian people, and our consistent line is to remind everyone of the need for an all-Ukrainian dialogue, and this is beginning to bear fruit. The French and the Germans have been talking about it and the term “autonomy” has been used in Paris. You know, “continual dripping wears away the stone.” But in this case, we have to do it in the face of colossal pressure on the Kiev authorities from across the ocean. Even so, the French Ambassador to Russia in a recent interview (I think it was today) expressed his disagreement with what I said in an interview with France 24 to the effect that Washington has forced Europe’s hand on the issue of sanctions. He disagreed with this and said that Europe had an independent policy. I think it is important that French public opinion hear this from its ambassador to Russia. But the facts attest to the opposite. Joe Biden publicly declared that Europe would not have imposed these sanctions but for the United States. President Obama said the same during his press conference when he said that “lining up” the West on the Ukrainian issue was a key foreign policy achievement of Washington in the outgoing year.
It is not proper to deny the obvious. I am convinced that in the end, we will bring about the start of an all-Ukraine dialogue to reach an agreement on the specific rules by which all Ukrainians will be able to live within a single state, with full respect for their rights concerning language, culture, traditions and history. Of course economic decentralisation is a must.
Question: Realistically, this can only be done if Moscow and Washington sit down at the negotiating table. Otherwise, whatever agreements may be reached, they will seek Washington’s endorsement and then wonder whether an endorsement has been granted. It would be better for all the players to come out of the woods, to sit down and agree on the fate of the Ukrainian people, who have started saying “Ukraine is Europe” and not “Ukraine is Ukraine.”
Sergey Lavrov: We have been working on that since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, including in our relations with the Americans. I have already mentioned the Geneva statement of 17 April this year signed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Katherine Ashton, the then Ukrainian Foreign Minister Deshchitsa, and myself. It contains Kiev’s obligation to immediately start a constitutional reform with the participation of all the regions and all the political forces in Ukraine. We are pressing this point, and so far our Western partners have not come up with any counter arguments.
Question: On the other hand, we have developed special relations with the former Soviet, and now free Central Asian, republics. Perhaps the danger posed by the Islamic State has a lot to do with it. There is a sense that even if in 2015-2016 the Kurdish troops and units manage to keep the armed conflict at bay, all the same, the Islamic terrorism factor will be very important and will destabilise the situation. Does that mean that we may have a chance to restore very close relations with the Central Asian republics and build a totally different policy in our relations with them, create a joint powerful border service and protect the population of these fraternal republics from the looming threat? Would this lead to the creation of some new geopolitical structures, more powerful than they appear today?
Sergey Lavrov: This work has never ceased. The Central Asian states are close neighbours and allies, our partners in the CSTO, SCO and CIS. The CSTO summit recently held in Moscow reviewed compliance with earlier decisions of the Collective Security Council summit on strengthening, for example, the Tajik-Afghan border. That is indeed a massive programme being implemented by the CSTO in addition to what Russia is doing via bilateral channels in helping Tajikistan to defend its border. There was some “wavering” in the positions of our Central Asian neighbours at a certain stage when it seemed to them that they could more effectively defend themselves by shifting the emphasis to cooperation with the West in the military sphere, including when it comes to protecting their borders. I am sure they have now realised that Russia is the most reliable partner, with a vital stake in helping them to defend themselves against these threats, including terrorism and drugs from Afghanistan.
In addition to the historical links and comradely duty, there exists a thoroughly pragmatic interest. Unless we help them on the border with Afghanistan, all this will go directly through their territories to Russian territories. For us there is a combination, if you like, of moral and pragmatic considerations.
Question: It is odd that the Central Asian republics are reluctant to trust NATO and Washington. Haven’t they learned any lessons from the fate of the Presidents of Egypt and Libya, the fate of Syria and Afghanistan? Don’t they like “democratisation” in those countries?
Sergey Lavrov: In many ways, it has played an important, and I would say, instructive role.
Question: Have we lost Europe for a long time or, recalling the experience of the previous Crimea crisis when the genius of Russian Chancellor Alexander Gorchakov manifested itself, will we manage, many years on, to overcome this crisis thanks to the genius of Sergey Lavrov? Do we have a chance to pull the French over to our side by kindling their latent mistrust of the growing strength of Germany, and bewilderment at why Chancellor Merkel, our close friend until recently, has become such a fierce enemy? Will we be able to win over Italy, which wants to be friends with us? Will we be able to build a European policy in a subtle, intelligent, even elegant way, as Russia has done in the past?
Sergey Lavrov: We have not lost Europe because we cannot lose it: Europe without Russia is not Europe. Russia has more than once saved Europe from itself. Let us recall that during the Napoleonic wars an attempt was made to unite the European continent under the “iron fist” of a single ruler. During the Second World War a similar attempt was made not by the French, but by the Germans. And the sacrifices of the First World War, brought for no reason at all by the Russian people who have lived through colossal upheavals, are remembered today by our European colleagues. I am sure that one should constantly remind people of historical memory, pardon the tautology. What is being done to perpetuate the memory of those who gave their lives for the liberation of their country and Europe are not just events designed to give a boost to the prestige of the state. It is colossal and very important work aimed at preserving Europe on the basis of European values, at asserting Russia’s role in Europe. That should not be forgotten.
We continue to openly interact with all the countries on the European continent, even with those which publicly subject us to sharp, and I would say, arrogant criticism over what we are or are not doing. Italy, France, Germany… We maintain dialogue with practically any European country. There are contacts at the top level. By the way, during the OSCE foreign ministerial council meeting held in Switzerland in early December, I had about twenty meetings with the European foreign ministers. They all stressed their interest in overcoming this anomalous period we are living through as soon as possible.
What needs to be done to achieve this end? One has to give up attempts to impose one’s own point of view. A long time ago the Russian President proposed building a common economic and humanitarian space, a common security space between Russia and the European Union, and in the framework of the OSCE in accordance with the principles enshrined in the OSCE charter documents. Today some European politicians have been speaking about it publicly as if it suddenly “hit them” that the idea could provide a material, humanitarian and military-political basis and eliminate dividing lines. God forbid we claim authorship of that idea. But it is an objective task. The Helsinki + 40 process is currently underway in the OSCE. Next year will see the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. In 1975 the Cold War was still on, but an easing of tensions was already felt. At the time the two opposing blocs agreed on the principles enshrined in these documents, above all, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for people's right to self-determination, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, human rights, etc. Subsequently the OSCE added the principle of indivisible security and said that security should be equal and indivisible.
Question: But none of these things exist.
Sergey Lavrov: Yes. That is why when we are told, let us invent something new within the Helsinki + 40 process, we reply: “No guys, let us fulfill what we have agreed on, let us achieve what we wrote down 40 years ago.”
Question: We will never achieve that. Perhaps in order to achieve that, we would have to create a military bloc similar to the Warsaw Treaty? There is a feeling that they only listen to us when they are scared of us. Throughout the 1990s we were so “nice” and “tame,” we could be “stroked” and “scratched behind the ear.” Nobody thought that we counted at all. As soon as Russia became independent with its own point of view, we became subjected to humiliation. There is only one subtle difference: in the 1980s, as bad as we were, we were economically independent, but now there is a fear as to whether we will be able to pursue an independent foreign policy until we build up a powerful diversified economy.
Sergey Lavrov: Perhaps some actions of our partners can be described as an attempt to humiliate us. But their problem is that we are not humbling ourselves and we will not be humiliated. When they think, “we’ll introduce the sanctions now, and in a couple of months, or in six months or in a year the Russians will crack,” one has to be very naïve and ignorant of history, of the Russian people, of everything the Russians have done for Europe and for upholding their independence. It will take a bit more than a few months or six months for this awareness to sink in for the European politicians.
Question: It took 50 years in the case of Cuba.
Sergey Lavrov: But those are not European politicians. In Europe I think they may see the light much earlier. You have mentioned the period between the two Crimean wars. Let me quote Alexander Gorchakov, who said after the end of the first Crimean war: “Russia is not getting angry, it is concentrating.” That is basically what we are doing now.
Question: At that time “concentration” resulted in an industrial boom in Russia, in the last 15 years of the 19th century our country was transformed into one of the most powerful industrial states.
Sergey Lavrov: This is precisely the aim of the decisions made recently by the President and the Government of Russia. It has been recognised and officially declared more than once that the current situation is the result not only of external factors (sanctions and the market situation), but the need to dramatically intensify our actions to modernise the economy. But something tells me that this time around it will not be just about words. For Alexander Gorchakov and Russia, the process of concentration and triumph took about 20 years after the second Crimean war. I am convinced that there will be no war this time, and the concentration in which we are immersed will eventually spread to our European partners: they need to concentrate to become aware of all the realities. This process is already taking place; major politicians, for example in Germany, have published their views and called for an end to building up confrontation and for seeking agreements that would take into account the interests of all Europeans, including of course the Russian Federation.
Question: Have you counted how many hours this year you spent on board a plane?
Sergey Lavrov: I haven’t. My aides usually show me the statistics at the end of the year.
Question: I have a feeling that you spent about 20 days in Russia and the rest of the time you were travelling and working.
Sergey Lavrov: I hope you don’t get the impression that I am never in Russia.
Question: Let us put it this way: you always have Russia in your heart, but your job forces you to be a globe-trotter.
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, indeed, we have many partners. I have mentioned our closest friends and allies in the CSTO, the Eurasian Economic Union, there is also the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS, and we have bilateral relations with states on all continents, and of course we have growing and ever closer and expanding links with the integration groups in the Asia-Pacific region, in Latin America and Africa. We have a broad agenda. Our foreign policy concept stresses openness to any contacts with any countries that are ready to cooperate on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. This is in our interests. Especially since it is very important today for our businessmen to have a good political framework in promising regions, all the regions that I have listed, the APR, Latin America and Africa.
More and more of our citizens are now travelling all over the world. There is currently a slight dip, for understandable reasons. But that trend will turn around. This also calls for contacts, for addressing the issues of organising their holidays and ensuring the safety of our citizens abroad.
Question: How is fine-tuning of policy carried out? When you are out of Russia are you in constant contact with the Russian President over the phone? Is it possible that you could arrive to find that the situation has changed? Before embarking on negotiations do you confer with the President and agree on the positions? And what about the outcome? Can you give us a glimpse into the inner workings?
Sergey Lavrov: We have a fairly large number of basic documents: the Concept of Foreign Policy, the Security Doctrine of the Russian Federation, specific directives on areas of our interaction, geographically and substantively. They are regularly updated in the interdepartmental format, the President approves them and they set the direction that enables us in most cases to act on this basis.
Question: Direction or no direction, the spoken word also matters, doesn’t it?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, of course. We are all made of flesh and blood. A piece of paper will never work until a person gives it life.
Question: When the Russian President speaks, one can see that he is well versed and very interested in international issues. The sense of constant contact is like a finger on the pulse.
Sergey Lavrov: We have regular meetings in the framework of the meetings of permanent members of the Russian Security Council. There things are discussed in a very hands-on manner, without bureaucratic procedures, which provides a solid basis for our practical day-to-day work.
Question: We have a brilliant Foreign Minister. But I think that in you, our intelligence service has missed out on a brilliant officer: one who would not reveal the details of techniques even under torture.
In conclusion I would like to ask a question that I’ve been asked more and more frequently of late, because it is an alarming question: will there be war?
Sergey Lavrov: War? You remember the song: “Do the Russians Want War?” We never wanted it and we do not want it now. We will do everything to make sure that there are never wars, not only close to our borders but in other parts of the world. This is one of our main tasks.
лучшие комедии. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov programme on Russiya-1 TV Channel, 25 December 2014.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov programme on Russiya-1 TV Channel, 25 December 2014