Sergey Lavrov: “I do not see anyone we can talk with. I have cited the statements made by the Ukrainian, American and European leaders and politicians. None of them are ready for a serious conversation. They are playing with negotiations in the form of a conference in Switzerland”

16:30 06.05.2024 •

Photo: MFA

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Bosnian Serb television network ATV, Moscow, May 5, 2024.

Question: I would like to start with a topic which has been dominating the global agenda since 2022 and touched not only every Russian household, but all people in general. People have been calling it various names, be it the special military operation, the Ukraine conflict or a war. What we hear today, including in the Western media, is that Russia is winning on the front. In your opinion, what has changed since 2022 against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict?

Sergey Lavrov: As far as terminology is concerned, stopping the war the West had already unleashed at that time against us by the hands of the Nazi regime in Kiev was precisely our objective when we launched the special military operation.

We were honest in what we did, and expected the other side to demonstrate the same kind of dignity when in February 2014 the West, represented by France, Germany and Poland, helped broker a deal between the then-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, and the opposition for calling a snap election and forming a national unity government. European Union representatives signed this deal, but the very next morning the opposition decided that it could not care less about the deal or the EU in general and went on to perpetrate a government coup. They announced a government of the victors instead of forming a national unity government. Their first initiative was to terminate the official status of the Russian language in Ukraine. However, at least 80 percent of Ukrainians think, live and communicate in Russian.

This is how the war started. The republics that refused to accept the government coup were labelled as terrorists. Crimea peacefully returned to its home port, to use President Vladimir Putin’s words. Meanwhile, the Donbass republics had to experience a real war, artillery strikes, with air forces bombing peaceful cities. You know how it happens. Singing the Minsk Agreements took a whole year with Germany and France, represented by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande, acting as guarantors. The UN Security Council approved the Minsk Agreements too. There was a sincere belief among us that having these agreements implemented would serve our interests. But the West has recently acknowledged that their only objective when signing the Minsk Agreements was supplying more weapons to Ukraine.

The war was quite long in the making, and has been waged for a long time too. The West has introduced its usual tools into the mix, including sanctions, blackmail and threats. We did not have any other choice. In late 2021 and early 2022, the Kiev regime clearly opted for settling what it called as the Donbass issue by force. We decided to defend our own security, since NATO has been trying to draw Ukraine into its ranks and had already plans to set up military bases on its territory, including on the Sea of Azov, which is on Russia’s doorstep. We launched the special military operation to protect Russians who have been living on this land for centuries since Cathrine the Great added them to the Russian crown. Russian military commanders and manufacturers defended and developed this territory, while the Kiev regime outlawed these people by banning the Russian language across the board, be it in education, media, culture, or even everyday communications. This is what the special military operation is all about.

Today, we can hear Western leaders recognising that Ukraine has been facing an increasingly challenging situation. This is quite an elaborate way of saying that their idea of inflicting what they call a strategic defeat on us is doomed to fail. The most farsighted and simply smart, serious Western politicians understand this. Still, the West has been searching for the weapons it delivers to Ukraine across the world. Over 50 countries have been contributing to these efforts.

At first, the Americans led the charge. Today, they designated NATO as the focal point. It holds its Ramstein-format meetings. Several days ago, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said at a meeting of this kind that they would never lose. This means that instead of talking about inflicting a defeat on Russia, they are now focusing on not suffering a defeat themselves. This can be viewed as a Freudian slip on Lloyd Austin’s behalf since he basically recognised that the Ukrainians are not the ones doing the fighting. They are just tools and their bodies have very little value. The West keeps saying that it would not let its people die in Donbass. So they pretend that they care about having fewer Ukrainian killed there, too. This is a racist logic that I do not want to discuss.

As for what to do next – there is much debate now about the planned conference in Switzerland, a meeting where Bern intends to bring together representatives of the West and the Global South. However, despite the loud declarations that this new initiative is aimed at developing generally acceptable approaches, this is not true. I spoke with Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Ignazio Cassis at the end of January in New York, when we both participated in the UN Security Council meetings. He told me about “the plan.” I immediately tried to bring him down to earth and make him see that they would not be allowed to deviate from Vladimir Zelensky’s formula, which involves Russia’s eventual capitulation, the payment of reparations, a tribunal for the Russian leadership, and more of the same. Ignazio Cassis assured me that we were wrong. He said that Switzerland, as a neutral country, would make every effort to ensure a realistic framework for discussion. But the Swiss Confederation is no longer a neutral state. The country is now at the forefront of supporting and arming the Kiev regime. This state takes the toughest stance against Russia, consistently joining the ever-new sanctions.

The concept behind the Swiss conference is showing through already, and it is nothing short of Vladimir Zelensky’s peace formula all over again. Admittedly, they tried to underscore Switzerland’s independence by focusing on three tracks: nuclear safety, food security in the context of see shipments, and humanitarian issues.

This doesn’t change anything. Vladimir Zelensky’s formula also includes these three issues as something to disguise its openly illusory and Russophobic nature. Vladimir Zelensky and his team insisted that Russia should not be invited to this conference under any circumstances. That was because he needed space to woo the countries of the Global South and sign them up to the common platform, which will be subsequently presented to Russia as an ultimatum.

When our Swiss colleagues say they want to invite Russia to the first conference, they are not telling the truth. We will not participate in any events that promote Vladimir Zelensky’s peace formula in one way or another. This much has been clear to everyone for a long time. We are serious about being open to negotiations based on the reality. Everyone knows this, too – from experience.

We have discussed China’s twelve-point initiative. In 2023, we met twice with the leaders of seven African states, led by President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa. They put forth their ideas. Following the second meeting between Russia and the African Union, a document was approved that outlined specific humanitarian steps to be taken.

We spoke with President of Brazil Lula da Silva who has his own view of things. I was in Brazil recently and participated in BRICS and G20 events. I had a lengthy conversation with President Lula and his advisers to discuss any ideas they had.

We hear statements about Russia refusing to negotiate almost daily. They say they want to, but Russia is refusing. That is not true either, but we no longer expect honesty or decency from our Western partners.

We will continue accomplishing the objectives of the special military operation. The demilitarisation of Ukraine is a necessary step. This is clear to everyone, considering the militant clique that is now in charge in Kiev. Denazification, too, is inevitable – and this is also clear to everyone. Kiev’s racist laws legislate the concepts that are part of Nazi ideology and glorify individuals who were convicted by the Nuremberg Tribunal. This is unacceptable in today’s Europe.

When High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other EU and NATO leaders say that they are supporting Ukraine and defending European values, for which Ukrainian citizens are dying, they expose themselves. This happened in Europe in the past when Napoleon and Hitler used the countries that they occupied in their wars against Russia and the Soviet Union.

At a fundamental level, this has remained part on their mentality. President of France Emmanuel Macron has recently said in an interview with The Economist that Russia has always been a threat for all Europeans and particularly for Germany and France. The ambitions of Napoleon and Hitler were based on their views of Russia as a threat. I am not going to comment on the French president’s views. He is obviously acting from fiercely anti-Russia positions. I am aware of the system of power in France and the French’ claim to a role in Europe and the world. It cannot be ruled out that Macron needs this “caveman Russophobia” to become Europe’s leader, using a subject which the West has made the main issue on the international stage.

When we look at what the West did in other parts of the world, including the Balkans, it is clear that the focus on this subject rests on hyped-up information wars. We will see where this leads. The West is lying. There is no doubt of this.

Speaking about threats to Europe, when the special military operation began, and for some time before it, they called for admitting Ukraine to NATO to prevent Russia from attacking a member of the alliance. Now they say that if Ukraine loses, Russia will attack NATO. Where is the logic? There is none. There is only a desire to justify the policy that the US has forced Europe to adopt. For me, this happened in a strange way. Europe has naively agreed to do a job forced on it by Washington, which does not want to be criticised by its own people ahead of the election.

Question: Speaking about the European leaders who openly made unflattering remarks about Russia, I would like to mention your British colleague, David Cameron, who first said, and then presumably regretted his words, that the Ukrainians can use British weapons to strike targets on Russian territory. How is this possible?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, use them to strike any targets inside Russia. David Cameron does not regret his words. People like him have no regrets; they don’t know what regret is.

It has been reported that Reuters, which interviewed him, has suspended the version you mentioned and announced that a new text would soon be posted. But they ultimately posted the same text.

David Cameron has reaffirmed his view that Ukrainians can use British arms to strike targets in any part of Russia. This is the British. Their reputation is well known.

Question: I know that you are not paid to be optimistic, but what if Ukrainians and your Western partners proposed ceasing fire and sitting down to negotiate an agreement? Who would you agree to speak with, and what would you tell them?

Sergey Lavrov: I do not see anyone we can talk with. I have cited the statements made by the Ukrainian, American and European leaders and politicians. None of them are ready for a serious conversation. They are playing with negotiations in the form of a conference in Switzerland. The Copenhagen format has no future. The West is using any trick in the book, including blackmail and lies, to involve as many developing and Global South countries in these get-togethers. Some countries agree to attend, telling us later that they only do so to explain the pointlessness of such events without Russia or based on ultimatums. Some of them have become disappointed and stopped attending such events.

Question: The Balkans are also a major global hotspot, and it has been this way for quite some time now. Everyone knows how the West has been pressuring the Serbs, the Republic of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Republika Srpska, and the West has substantially increased this pressure in recent months. We can all see today what is going on within the UN General Assembly with Germany and Rwanda trying to push through a draft UNGA resolution on Srebrenica laying all the blame on a single nation. In your opinion, what is the purpose of this draft resolution on Srebrenica and why they chose to submit it at this juncture?

Sergey Lavrov: What they want is to subdue the Serbs. This is what they had on their minds all along and stay focused on this objective. Thet have already tried to make the UN Security Council adopt a resolution of this kind ten years ago. We used our veto power at that time. I find it hard to explain what guides the Europeans, from a practical perspective, in their efforts to promote this idea, except for one possible explanation. They believe that the Serbs are too restive and independent in their actions since they refused to join the sanctions against Russia. The Serbs do not want to recognise Kosovo’s independence and do not want Kosovo to join international organisations. The West is basically offering Belgrade an ultimatum. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik has been cast as the main villain who allegedly seeks to dismantle the Dayton Accords, while in reality he and his team are the only ones in Bosnia who are fighting for the Dayton Principles.

They keep telling Belgrade: do you want to join the European Union? Considering that President Aleksandar Vucic reaffirmed his European-centred policy vision, go ahead and recognise Kosovo and join the sanctions against Russia, since being part of the EU entails fighting Russia by default. How can you tell the Serbs anything of this kind, while turning a blind eye to the history of our friendship, the way we fought for freedom, independence, and even the Orthodox faith? The West could not care less about all of this. I would even go as far as saying that this is precisely what they are after. They want to destroy the relations we have forged between us, and have been quite successful in this regard.

What the Council of Europe did recently was a shame. PACE voted to accept Kosovo as a full member, and the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers is scheduled to take up this item on its agenda in a couple of weeks. There is no doubt that they will be able to have this decision approved. They have already sought to justify what they do with Kosovo in the Council of Europe by saying that Kosovo has made great strides in its anti-corruption efforts and building an effective judiciary. But everyone knows about the total chaos reigning in Kosovo. Still, our Western colleagues have no qualms casting Kosovo nothing short of a beacon of democracy. Democracy was something alien for this territory at all times. This is a land of organised crime and ethnic cleansings targeting ethnic Serbs.

I heard that Serbs have been leaving this region since 2003, and this outflow carries on. In January 2003, about 15 percent of those who identified as Serbs at that moment had already left. They are also seeking to eradicate the Orthodox faith. This is an obvious fact. And the West likes it this way. The West wants to damage the Orthodox faith beyond repair in order to place the Orthodoxy under the leadership of the Patriarch of Constantinople who, in turn, takes his orders from the United States, depends on it from a financial standpoint and is ready to satisfy every whim it has.

The same goes for the way they treat Republika Srpska. Today, there is a self-appointed high representative from Germany, who does not have any legitimate status, since the UN Security Council has not approved his candidacy according to the rules, but this representative is doing everything to discredit Republika Srpska and promote a unitary structure for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has been seeking to approach certain political forces within the Bosnian Croat community. However, they do have a vision on ways to assert their identity and the Dayton principles dealing with the equality of the three state-forming nations. How sad. And all this comes from people who often accuse us and other countries of violating the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. What they present as their agenda for Bosnia and Herzegovina today amounts to an outright effort to derail a UN Security Council resolution.

This may well explain why the United States Permanent Representative at the Unite Nations in New York Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, after the council passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza for the month of Ramadan, that even if the resolution was adopted, and the United States did not prevent this from happening by abstaining during the vote, everyone knows that this is a non-binding resolution. However, the UN Charter stipulates that all Security Council resolutions are binding documents. However, when it comes to resolutions on Palestine or the Balkans, the United States denies them their binding nature if they reflect the interests of others, in this case, the people of Serbia. This is what we must understand to begin with.

Question: What is the role of international organisations, when they work the way you have explained and as things are in fact? Must we continue to believe in these principles?

Sergey Lavrov: We should believe in them, of course, if only because all current problems stem from the fact that the UN Charter is grossly violated.  It fully retains its relevance if used in an honest way in the entirety of its principles and with account taken of the close interconnection between these principles. If this had been so, many of the West’s actions would have been illegitimate. Specifically, the West has never been guided by the key principle of the UN Charter that the United Nations is based on the sovereign equality of states. Name at least one instance where the West talked to whoever it may be as an equal.

China is a great power, the world’s fastest growing economy, and number one economy in PPP terms.  The US Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State travel to China to harangue their hosts and publicly demand that they stop cooperating with the Russian Federation.  PRC President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi replied that China made its own decisions on who to cooperate and have relations of any kind with.  The Chinese said they never cooperated with anyone against anyone else, and we are also committed to this position. The West, in the meantime, is doing precisely the opposite, trying to create an anti-Russia and an anti-China coalition. An anti-Russia coalition is their immediate goal, while an anti-China one is being knocked together in anticipation of the moment when China emerges as the main threat (that’s how they call it) and the main adversary.  They are beginning to introduce sanctions against China.

Where international organisations are concerned, everyone must follow the principles of the UN Charter in their entirety. They are just paying lip service to territorial integrity with regard to Ukraine, the same as in 2014, when people in Crimea voted in a referendum for a return to the Russian Federation.  There followed an immediate demand to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In 2008, when Kosovo suddenly proclaimed independence in a situation where there were no military hostilities and negotiations were in progress between Belgrade and Pristina, the West said that this was fully in keeping with the self-determination principle enshrined in the UN Charter.  No one is concerned with the logic. They said this and their entire propaganda machine intended to brainwash the man in the street is up and running at full capacity. There is no leaving this path any longer. 

Yet another worrisome point is that the West has put the secretariats of international organisations under its control. The UN, for example, has a category of employees with “permanent contracts.” We were against this arrangement back in the 20th century and were fighting it in the 1970s and 1980s. But later the General Assembly voted for contracts, including permanent ones. People with these contracts dominate the UN Secretariat. Just imagine: a person comes to work in New York, knowing that he or she will live there until retirement.  They get residence permits and subsequently are naturalised. Their children go to school and to university. All their money, naturally, is deposited in US banks.

There is a report entitled Composition of the Secretariat. It lists many names from other civilisations (Indian, Pakistani, African, etc.), with “Senegal-US” or other identity in the parenthesis. Practically everyone there has dual citizenship. It is clear, therefore, that if the United States decides to use those people in its interests (and it uses them regularly), it has all the necessary leverage for this purpose. This is why we need to reform the UN, including its Secretariat, to remove the existing slant in favour of the Western countries. The same goes for the UN Security Council, where it is necessary to do away with the historical injustice expressed in the over-representation of the West and under-representation of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The same kind of action is needed inside the Secretariat.

This is difficult because many people have become “welded” to their jobs. To some degree, they are united by corporate solidarity. But look at its leadership: all the key posts – Secretary-General, his deputies for politics, for peacekeeping, for humanitarian matters, security department, etc. – are filled by representatives of NATO countries. Russia heads the counterterrorism directorate and China – that dealing with economic and social issues. These are important areas, but all the administrative leverage is in the hands of NATO members.

Question: You have been serving as Foreign Minister for a very long time, 20 years. You interacted with representatives and leaders of the United States early on, and you did so more recently. What has changed? What kind of people are sitting in Washington now, and why are they impossible to talk to?

Sergey Lavrov: These individuals are captive to centuries of Western hegemony on the global stage. They are hostage to colonial and neo-colonial policies and they still want to continue to live at the expense of others.

They created globalisation and strengthened the US dollar, hailing it as the world’s main currency, not the property of the United States, but the property of global society, the backbone of world trade and investment. They also hailed the World Trade Organisation, fair competition, the presumption of innocence, and market mechanisms. But as soon as China took advantage of that globalised system imposed by the Americans and began to outplay the United States, they immediately blocked the WTO Dispute Settlement Body. Once China filed complaints at DSB over US discrimination, they just shut it down. The DSB is inactive now; what methods they have used to do it is beside the point. In much the same way, when they decided to punish Russia, they shrugged off the inviolability of property and stole our state reserves, a national asset essentially contributed by Russian taxpayers.

It is worth negotiating when the other party embraces the need to find a balance of interests, not when they use any means to try and impose their will, to force the other party to obey. So far, this is what we have seen them do; the only dialogue they agree to is one between the hegemon and the rest of the world. They do not seem ready for a fair dialogue, as required by the UN Charter.

There has been much debate. The 2024 United States elections are scheduled to be held soon. There is no split between Democrats and Republicans on Russia or China. Some may take a tougher stance, others may use an even tougher rhetoric than that, but we do not see any difference in principle. Both parties (whichever of them wins the election), by and large, see Russia as their enemy. An opponent, or an adversary – these are technicalities. The American establishment sees what they describe as a “strategic defeat” of Russia as their goal anyway.

As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said in response to a similar question, we are ready to work with any leader of the United States who has the trust of the American people, if they are ready. Well, as we Russians say, love cannot be forced.

Question: While Russia’s relations with the West have soured, its relationship with China is flourishing. What are China and Russia’s strategies for the future with regard to the new world order? What is your and your Chinese partners’ vision of the world? Will our future be based on the principle of a balance of forces or the concept of collective security?

Sergey Lavrov: Russia-China relations are now better and more effective than ever, in keeping with international law and key principles of the UN Charter. They have never been better in our history, and this is above all thanks to President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping.

We have developed a system of relations in all spheres, including the economy, investment, trade, science, high technology, space exploration, nuclear generation, culture, sport and arts. Active events are held in absolutely all spheres of human activity at the level of multifaceted Russia-China partnership and strategic cooperation, just as this is stipulated in our documents. They also say that relations between Russia and China are much firmer, stronger and more reliable than the military alliances of the past century. This is true. Russia and China have formed a duo that is having a strong positive influence on the international situation.

Without this Russia-China link, the situation on the international stage would have been much worse, first of all because the West would have thought that it can act with impunity and immunity. We are relying on the structures we are creating or have created with the People’s Republic of China. Their effectiveness is growing, because of the growing interest in them. For example, BRICS has doubled the number of its members. This year, Russia is chairing this association, which already has 10 members. Interest in the SCO is growing as well. Like in the case of BRICS, countries are “standing in line” to join it.

Russia and China are actively working in Southeast Asia jointly with ASEAN nations. We have our supporters in the G20, first of all the BRICS countries and those who share our views. There are many multilateral platforms where we are working together and venues that are becoming regional development centres.

In Eurasia, we have the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN, the Gulf Cooperation Council and a number of other associations, including in South Asia. Now that Eurasia is becoming the driver of global economic growth, it is only fitting for these regional associations to strengthen their role in the development of this geopolitical and geoeconomic trend. This process has already begun. Contacts are being developed between the SCO and ASEAN, and between the EAEU and the SCO and ASEAN. Taken together, as President Putin said, this is absolutely naturally developing into a Greater Eurasian Partnership, which we see as a structure that is open to all Eurasian countries, including those on the European part of the continent.

So far, Europe is trying to block out and isolate Russia. There is no need to say that this is unwise. It only shows the standards of the decisions made by politicians in Western Europe. Doors should be left open. Nature, history and the Lord have given us a common and very rich continent. If you want to live better, you should make use of these advantages.

But those across the sea tell the European part of the continent that they should buy expensive gas to punish Russia. Europe is struggling with tremendous economic problems because the United States is using it above all to support Ukraine and wage a war against Russia. Everyone is predicting the demise of Germany as an industrial miracle. That miracle rested on the cheap and reliable Russian pipeline gas. Where are the Nord Stream pipes? They have been blown up. We have no doubt that it was done at the very least with the Americans’ support. This can be concluded from the fact that they have been refusing to provide any information about investigation at the UN Security Council. Likewise, they have not made any, even the smallest move to prove their accusations against Russia. You remember how dead bodies were demonstrated in Bucha in early April 2022, and new sanctions were immediately adopted against us. To this day, we have not received the lists of people whose dead bodies allegedly lay in that street.

Speaking about Russia-China relations, they are a flexible junction in many organisations, including the UN, the SCO and BRICS. The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has an agreement with China on the parallel promotion of the EAEU’s integration processes within the framework of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

I mentioned the role of regional organisations in Eurasia. Increasingly more countries in Africa no longer rely on the globalisation mechanisms, which worked well until the Americans discredited them and proved their own unreliability, but on the mechanisms that are developed within the framework of the African Union and subregional African associations.

The same is taking place in Latin America. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is increasingly more relying on itself. President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called for working towards replacing the US dollar with their own currencies. This process is also underway in BRICS, where alternative payment systems are a goal formulated during last year’s summit.

The growth of the economy and the development of such trends make nations look at the organisations that are responsibly for security. The North Atlantic bloc was established after WWII, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was established in 1975. Both NATO and the OSCE were built on the principle of Euro-Atlantic solidarity. In other words, the United States is using NATO and the OSCE to control its allies.

We have long become disillusioned in these Euro-Atlantic principles, in particular, because the Americans have destroyed the system of arms control and are unable to work honestly in the humanitarian and economic spheres. We believe that the Euro-Atlantic security model has discredited itself and failed. We are now speaking about creating a Eurasian system of security. When countries that respect their history and traditions want to chart their own course and independently determine their future, they can also come to an agreement in the sphere of security.

We are working on this at the SCO, fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime. These efforts are also being taken at the CSTO and the CIS. A forward-looking conversation is only possible if the countries located in the western part of the continent see the futility of their colonial policies aimed at subjugating others and interfering in the affairs of other regions, like the South Caucasus or Central Asia, and when they are ready to develop cooperation not on the balance of forces, which you mentioned, but on the balance of legitimate interests. So far, there are no preconditions for this.


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