Sergey Lavrov: “Personally, we are not discussing anything behind the curtain; we always work in the open”

11:27 29.12.2023 • Sergey Lavrov , Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Photo: MFA of Russia

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with TASS news agency.

December 28, 2023


Question: How can the Palestinian-Israeli conflict be settled? Does the two-state formula stand a chance? Or are other solutions to that years-long conflict being discussed behind the curtain?

Sergey Lavrov: Personally, we are not discussing anything behind the curtain; we always work in the open. It is time everyone drew a lesson from the consequences of US attempts to play at behind-the-curtain diplomacy in the Middle East. It was Washington’s policy of monopolising mediation and undermining the international legal framework for a settlement that resulted in the current escalation in the conflict zone.

Russia’s stand is based on the decisions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly and the Arab Peace Initiative. The formula for a lasting peace is well known. It involves establishing an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem, a state living in peace and security alongside Israel. The task of international intermediaries is to help the parties launch a dialogue during which they can settle all their disputes. It will not be easy, of course, but the only alternative to talks is continuing bloodshed. Without a political horizon, Israelis and Palestinians will continue living from escalation to escalation, like they have over the past 75 years.

It is unacceptable to justify terrorist attacks, let alone instigate them, or to respond with the use of collective punishment methods in gross violation of international humanitarian law.

This vicious circle of violence must be broken, and the injustice from which several generations of Palestinians have been suffering must be righted. This is the only way that we can bring about stability in the zone of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation and in the Middle East as a whole.

The same logic must be used for post-crisis development in Gaza. I would prefer not to speak about details now, especially since all discussions of the future of the Palestinian enclave are based on various leaks and rumours. It is alarming that, according to the available information, the United States is again trying to solicit solutions that have nothing in common with international law, like it did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and many other countries and regions, which have been left in ruins because of Washington’s opportunistic actions.

We will focus above all on the opinion of the Palestinians themselves and also our regional partners. Ultimately, the adopted solution must ensure the realisation of the Palestinians’ legitimate right to establish a state of their own in all their national territories, including the West Bank with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Question: Does Russia have any information showing changes in the volume of Western military assistance to Ukraine? Is it possible to say that the West has side-lined this issue during the aggravation of the situation in the Middle East? If so, what are the chances that Kiev will decide to hold talks with Moscow under such conditions?

Sergey Lavrov: Despite the abortive offensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the West continues to send weapons to Kiev and to raise the stakes by using deadlier and longer-range systems in the Ukrainian conflict. NATO is supplying weapons, including cluster munitions and depleted uranium shells.

The so-called Ramstein format continues to function, and representatives of over 50 countries discuss Kiev’s requests for military equipment and ammunition each month.

Tragic developments in the Middle East have temporarily ousted the Ukrainian crisis from the front pages of Western media outlets. However, the majority of unfriendly governments continue to prioritise Russia’s strategic defeat on the battlefield. Neither Washington, nor Brussels refrain from assisting the Kiev regime because they realise that it would be doomed without such assistance. They remain committed to containing Russia at the expense of Ukrainians and their lives.

We have to state that the regime of Vladimir Zelensky is not inclined to make peace. Its representatives think in terms of war and resort to highly aggressive rhetoric. There is no talk of ending hostilities. On September 30, 2022, Zelensky banned talks with the leadership of Russia, and this ban remains in force. You are free to draw your own conclusions.

Question: More and more menacing developments are taking place in the field of arms control, including US preparations for nuclear tests in Nevada and the deployment of US systems, capable of launching intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, in Europe. Is it possible that during 2024, Washington will completely demolish all pillars of nuclear stability, and that arms control mechanisms will be entirely forgotten? Is it still possible to conduct dialogue on agreements in this sphere, including the New START Treaty?

Sergey Lavrov: The situation in the field of arms control continues to get worse, due to the destabilising policies and destructive actions of the United States. At the same time, the Americans are deliberately adding to the tension in the field of international security. These inseparably interlinked processes enrich one another.

As for the methods they use, the Americans opt either to dismantle contractual frameworks by withdrawing from them, as was the case with the ABM, INF and Open Skies treaties, or create conditions which make it impossible for the other side to fulfil their obligations. This is what happened with the CFE Treaty and the New START.

Washington follows a simple logic. The very foundations of US dominance are crumbling, which is largely attributable to the blunders of the Americans themselves, so confident were they in their exceptional nature, their infallibility and impunity. They placed their bets on force in an attempt to slow down the erosion of their hegemony. This is why they have been seeking to secure their military supremacy and have a free hand to use force. And this is how we can explain their refusal to accept any restrictions in terms of arms control or other instruments for ensuring a strategic balance of interests among international actors.

Let me share just one example with you: the United States used a far-fetched pretext for dismantling the INF Treaty. In reality, the United States felt that it needed the missiles banned by the treaty, including against China. The restrictions became a nuisance to them, so they got rid of them without any hesitation. This step clearly had a negative bearing on regional and global security. With the United States moving forward with its plans to deploy ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe and Asia-Pacific, Russia faces the increasingly urgent question of whether sticking with the moratorium on deploying similar weapons makes any sense, considering that this moratorium hinges upon the non-deployment of these US-made weapons in these regions.

As for the prospects for dialogue with the United States on the New START or reaching an agreement to replace it with another treaty, we sent a clear signal that there will be no dialogue as long as Washington continues with its anti-Russia policies. It is obvious to us that the American proposals on launching nuclear arms control talks while keeping them separate from the negative military and political context and the dismal state of relations between Russia and the West are inadequate. We can see through what Washington is after: they want to mitigate nuclear risks to themselves while securing an advantage in terms of other military capabilities. This approach, which the Americans refer to as compartmentalisation – a rather obscure and opaque notion, is absolutely unacceptable. It basically means that Russia is an enemy, but we want to get something from it. The fact that the United States and its allies persist with their efforts to promote escalation in and around Ukraine without hiding their intention of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia, makes this even more unacceptable.

We do not reject the concept of arms control. That said, any eventual dialogue on ways of minimising the potential for conflict or agreement on the way we will coexist with the West in the future, would require equality and respect for Russia’s core security interests, as well as acknowledgment of the whole new geopolitical reality. There is no point in discussing this topic any further unless the United States and its allies are ready to accept this.

Question: What are your expectations for the further development of relations between Moscow and Yerevan, given the past few months’ complications in the bilateral dialogue? Do you think it is advisable to keep Russian military bases in Armenia? What is your assessment of the prospects for the republic’s cooperation with NATO?

Sergey Lavrov: Unfortunately, official Yerevan has succumbed to Western persuasion and is trying to reformat its foreign policy. Armenia is ready to exchange the time-tested alliance with Moscow for some vague promises from the West, not even concrete assistance. To justify this strategic turnaround, they are trying to blame Russia for all Armenia’s troubles, including the loss of Karabakh. We have repeatedly voiced Russia's concerns publicly, so there is no point in now once again listing the unfriendly steps taken by the Armenian authorities.

Armenia has been and remains our strategic partner in the South Caucasus. We are confident that all these difficulties are temporary and will be overcome with enough political will to do so. The sustainable and systematic expansion of Russian-Armenian ties meets the fundamental interests of the people in both states, who share common values and a common cultural code.

Trade, economic ties and industry-based dialogue between Moscow and Yerevan are making impressive progress, providing the groundwork for relations between the two countries and important support for the stability of the Armenian economy and the well-being of the Armenian population. The rapid growth of the republic's GDP in recent years is largely due to cooperation with Russia and Yerevan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union. On December 14-15, the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation, co-chaired by the deputy prime ministers, met for its 22nd session in Yerevan. Next year, Armenia will chair the EAEU. We wish our colleagues success.

Armenia is facing a number of challenges today. However, these challenges are unlikely to be removed with the help of Western players. Unlike Russia, the US and the EU do not seek to bring peace and stability to the republic or the South Caucasus. Their interest is completely different – they want to squeeze out Moscow and other regional countries and create a new hotbed of tension like the Balkans, the Middle East and Ukraine. The way out of this difficult situation is obvious. What is needed is to implement the trilateral agreements between Yerevan, Baku and Moscow at the highest level.

We believe that speculation on the expediency of keeping the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia can only do harm. The agreement on its deployment, signed on March 16, 1995, was primarily guided by both states’ national interests and their common objective to strengthen stability in the South Caucasus. Today, our military is a key element in ensuring peace in this region.

Recently, Yerevan has been developing cooperation with NATO and some of its member states. This year, Armenia took part in several dozen events with the alliance. It continues to update its armed forces in accordance with NATO standards; the republic’s military is undergoing training in a number of NATO member states.

This cannot but cause us concern. We have repeatedly drawn the attention of our Armenian colleagues to the fact that NATO’s real goal is to strengthen its positions in the region and set the stage for manipulation under the “divide and rule” scheme. I hope that Yerevan is aware that deepening interaction with the alliance leads to a loss of sovereignty in national defence and security.

Question: At the end of this year, there has been a sharp deterioration in the situation in the Middle East; in the summer, the African continent had tumultuous times. Does the Russian side expect a build-up of tension in any other regions in the coming year? Where are the greatest risks?

Sergey Lavrov: The world is remains stormy, and one of the reasons is that the Western policymakers provoke crises thousands of kilometres away from their borders in order to solve their own problems at the expense of other peoples.

Just remember the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the invasion of Iraq under the false pretext that there were WMD there, the collapse of Libyan statehood, and the intervention in Syria. The outbreak of armed conflict in Eastern Europe through the expansion of NATO and the transformation of Ukraine into an anti-Russian springboard can be mentioned in the same breath. The most recent example is the aggravation of the situation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone. There are also knots of conflict in other regions. You mentioned Africa, but there is also Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula. The Americans openly encourage separatist trends in Taiwan, in the teeth of repeated warnings from Beijing that this runs counter to the fundamental interests of China.

It can be said that at a time when the West is holding onto elusive dominance, no one is safe from its geopolitical intrigues. And there is increasing recognition of this in the world. We can feel this when communicating with our partners in the international arena. Most of them agree with us that sooner or later our Western colleagues will have to accept the realities of a multipolar world, and then all issues will be resolved based on a balance of interests. However, until this moment, the crisis development is likely to continue.


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