Sergey Lavrov: “We stand for our truth and the interests of our people inhabiting territories established by their ancestors”

20:42 05.04.2024 •

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the embassy round table discussion to settle the situation around Ukraine, Moscow, April 4, 2024:

This was the third meeting with the ambassadors representing the Global Majority to discuss Ukraine and issues arising from the hybrid war waged against Russia by the hands of the Ukrainian regime, a war that has been plotted by the West for many years now. We are now observing its impact on various aspects of international life and global security. This is one central crisis among others that everyone is concerned about.

We discussed the situation in and around Gaza. Many ambassadors noted the parallels. We reiterated our position where we condemned the terrorist attack of October 7, 2023 and the untenable methods Israel is using now. In fact, Tel Aviv has resorted to collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Our stance is well known. We have expressed it, including in the presence of the Ambassador of Israel, who understands and has reiterated the importance of respecting the provisions of international humanitarian law. I hope this position will come to the Israeli military’s ears as well.

With regard to Ukraine, we covered in detail the specific plans hatched by the West to embroil as many countries from the Global South and the Global East (the Global Majority) as possible into the scheme that promotes the 10-point Zelensky peace formula. This scheme is widely known and it is effectively an ultimatum that forces Russia to surrender, capitulate, and retreat to the borders of 1991. Recently, Mr Zelensky “kindly suggested” that “we start” with the borders as of February 2022. It doesn’t hurt to dream of things. Also, the formula demands to put the Russian leadership on trial, force them to pay compensations and limit their ability to defend their territory.

In addition to this ultimatum, the Zelensky formula contains other seemingly harmless sections such as food, energy and nuclear security, prisoner exchange, and humanitarian issues. Several meetings in the Copenhagen format have already taken place. Now Switzerland, at Ukraine’s request, is convening a two-part “peace conference.” It is planned to use the first one (the Swiss want to convene it before the summer) to finalise the proposals that must be adopted to establish peace (as they claim). They are luring in participants (their goal is to bring in 140 delegations) in a primitive and fraudulent manner.

Not long ago, publicly and without mincing words, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba laid out their plan to lure in the participants of the “peace formula.” Here is what he had to say, quote: “The peace formula is a menu, and any country can pick the issue it wants to work on. For example, you want to work on a prisoner exchange, but not on holding the Russian leadership accountable. In that case, all you need to do is sign up for a prisoner exchange or any other items that are comfortable for you, and not get involved in something that you find politically sensitive.” It’s a fairly straightforward approach. He went on to say, “At the first summit, we will gather all the countries that will choose at least one item on the menu. They will form groups around such items, adopt an action plan and identify the path to achieve the goals under respective items. Between the first and the second summit, talks with Russia may take place according to the rules that the participants will agree on at the first summit.”

It’s all clear. The first summit will be used to agree on an ultimatum. The menu method is used to get onboard as many countries as possible. Allegedly, these countries can come in to discuss just matters of food security, but they will “glue” the tribunal for the Russian leadership to it themselves. That’s all there is to it. In fact, this is recognising the fact that the “peace formula” is an ultimatum. There’s an interesting parallel with the “menu” metaphor. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the Munich Security Conference in February, “…our default, of course, is to work in the first instance with fellow democracies… And if you’re not at the table in the international system, you’re going to be on the menu.”  Dmitry Kuleba encourages the Global Majority countries to be on that “menu.”

We can obtain information that was not meant to be shared. After all, when you have more than two people in the room, you can be almost 100-percent sure that there would be a leak. We saw a paper the European Union has concocted for the Ukrainians. It describes the tactics for holding all these so-called peace conferences. Let me just list the key points. The number of people present at these gatherings is what matters the most to them. They have an objective to have 140 countries, which means almost all the countries of the world, except for NATO and EU members as well as their closest allies. The paper advises Ukraine to invite as many countries as possible using arguments as described by Dmitry Kuleba – just let them choose an innocuous, innocent topic such as food security, prisoner exchanges or humanitarian matters, and do not ask anything else from these countries. It will then be up to the Ukrainians to do the talking and explain everything, but if the invited countries do not want to participate in any of the segments, do not insist. Just make sure they come and talk about food.

Second, the paper advises Ukraine to refrain from drafting any outcome document. Coming up with a paper so that all 140 participants agree to sign it is unimaginable. The West may be able to persuade or force many, if not most, countries to attend these events, but they come there to listen, rather than to sign something. They do not intend to sign any documents.

The third and the most important point for our Ukrainian would-be comrades is to make a family photo. The EU guidelines for its Ukrainian subordinates says that everything else does not matter as long as you have a photo with 140 people in it.

All the allegories and metaphors revolve around the notion of an a la carte menu, i.e., who wants to be at the table and who wants to be on the menu. You can either be at the table or on the menu, but in any case it all boils down to what Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has been saying all along when using the jungle versus the garden metaphor, or saying that we are at the table, and you are on the menu, etc.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that there cannot be any grey zones in Europe and that everyone had to decide whether they stood with President of Russia Vladimir Putin or democracies, with autocrats or with those who respect Western values. She emphasised that Kiev promotes European values, despite the fact that the leaders in Kiev, starting with Vladimir Zelensky himself, have been advising Russians to get out and referring to them as sub-humans. All these Budanovs have been saying that the only way to hold Russians accountable and make them pay a fair price was to ensure their physical elimination.

Advisor to the Head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office Mikhail Podolyak said that “Ukraine would get every” Russian, be it through legal pursuits or physically. Statements of this kind are in no short supply. These are the European values, just like banning Russian-language education, media outlets, cultural life or even depriving people of the possibility to communicate in Russian in their everyday lives. We have shared all this information with our colleagues.

What the West has been saying about Ukraine and putting its bets on defeating Russia is also quite telling. In his interview with CNN, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said: “We cannot afford Russia to win this war. Otherwise, the US and European interests will be very damaged. It’s not a matter of generosity alone, it’s not a matter of supporting Ukraine because we love Ukrainian people. It is in our own interests and it is also in the interests of the US as a global player, someone who has to be perceived as a reliable partner, a security provider to the allies.” If Russia succeeds, no one would be able to rely on US assistance anymore.

This really shows what is actually going on. Europe recognised that it has no aspirations and all it wants is for the United States not to lose its dominant role in global affairs, no matter the cost. They say that if Russia succeeds, no one would be able to rely on US assistance anymore, while forgetting how people relied on the United States in South Vietnam or later in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. And every time, it did not work.

Let me give you a rather quirky example. The United States has been dealing with Haiti, a tiny country, for over a century now. They started long before the United Nations was established, and they are still there. Now the US is trying to use a scheme which involves sending Kenyan peacekeepers to Haiti without setting up a UN operation. If the track record built by the United States during all these reckless undertakings is any guide, we cannot say that the whole world has been relying on US support and assistance to this day.

In his perorations about the Ukrainians and why Europe took up this issue, Josep Borrell echoed Reichskommissar Erich Koch’s words who said in 1942: “Ukraine is merely an object of exploitation for us. It should pay for the expenses of the war, and its population to a certain extent should be utilised as second-rate people for the tasks of the war, even if they have to be caught with a lasso.” This is what we are seeing right now.

We have explained all this and told our colleagues that we have nothing against them being invited to attend these conferences. We will not follow the West in trying to prevent others from attending the gatherings we hold since colonial-style and dictatorial posturing of this kind are alien to us. We simply tell them what kind of an event they are being invited to attend.

Speaking about attitude to the United States and its reliability, I would like to quote from a recent issue of Politico: “In every conflict the US has engaged in recent decades, … political will in Washington to remain engaged in foreign countries typically fades once big business has squeezed what it can out of America’s presence.”

It is common knowledge that American business has large assets in Ukraine. Washington owns half of the most profitable “grain business.” American companies have bought or taken over the most fertile land in Ukraine.

Here is one more quote from a smart person I saw on the internet: “Startup Ukraine has not taken off. Experienced businesspeople engaged with startups have no compunction abandoning unsuccessful projects that are beyond salvation. Continuing to support Zelensky would cost the West a price that it is clearly unable and unwilling to pay.”

I am not trying to draw attention to the cynicism of the current events, notably, cynicism that underlies all Western actions. We just wanted to have a frank discussion with Global Majority countries. We wanted to do this openly. We understand that they are being brainwashed mostly behind closed doors, each country separately. We believe that it would be much more honest to say openly what we think about this and to listen to their views.

We know that nearly all Global South delegates said that they had attended these events to hear what the organisers had to say and to tell them that it did not make sense to address the given issue without Russia. I believe that it is an important message, as they say. But this will not stop the West. They are anxious to do everything possible to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia. They either fail to see the radical changes on the ground or are unable to learn from failure. However, forward-looking politicians are making their conclusions.

And lastly, here is what I would like to tell our colleagues regarding their argument that the West and Ukraine should not hold any discussions without Russia: Discussions can be held but only on conditions of absolute equality, without ready-made formulas on the table that are misguided and have no chance of success.

They had a chance in April 2022 in Istanbul. As one of the Ukrainian negotiators who signed the draft admitted, the agreement was foiled by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with US support. Since then, the new realities have been determined by the situation at the battlefront. The residents of not only the Donetsk and Lugansk republics but also the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have spoken up in their support.

President Vladimir Putin said in a recent statement that we need an honest conversation based on the new realities, primarily, the security interests of Russia. He emphasised that he is ready, just as we are, to guarantee agreements that would take into account the security interests of other countries, including Ukraine. But this can only be done on an equal basis, when all sides formulate their legitimate interests.

If the West, especially the United States, continues to insist on the “peace formula,” it will be a waste of time and intellect, if they have any left. We have reaffirmed our support for the initiatives advanced by the Global South countries.

In July 2023, President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa and six other African leaders came to Russia. They had a meeting with President Putin. Later, they met in the same format on the sidelines of Russia-Africa Summit held in St Petersburg  at the end of July 2023, where they coordinated a document on the humanitarian aspects of the situation. We have adopted it, and it was being used. It was aimed above all at assisting the exchange of prisoners and helping children left without parental care, and it also addressed several other humanitarian issues.

President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva put forth a number of ideas, which I discussed with him during G20 meetings recently held in Brazil.

There is also the initiative of the Arab League, which has established a special contact group. Several other countries have formulated their ideas, even if not explicitly or clearly.

The most clear-cut plan was advanced by China last year; it comprises 12 principles and approaches. According to China, it would like to begin by getting the approval of these principles by all the main parties concerned. Unlike the menu of Zelensky’s formula, from which any element can be picked at will, the 12 points of the Chinese plan are interconnected and interdependent; you cannot take one and refuse to “order” other provisions. All these points should be discussed and complied with in their entirety. The most important thing for us is that the Chinese document is based on the analysis of the causes of the current developments and the importance of dealing with them. It is based on the top-down logic and formulates the root cause of the conflict as the absence of effective mechanisms for guaranteeing collective equal security, when the security of individual countries cannot be guaranteed at the expense of other countries’ security.

Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui has recently undertaken his second tour of the countries involved in these conversations in one way or another. He visited Russia, Ukraine, and several Western capitals. During a briefing summing up this trip, he said that China hoped that there would be an international cooperation framework recognised by both Russia and Ukraine so that all the parties can be involved on an equal footing. These are the principles I am talking about.

Critics pointed out that this plan lacked substance. What they mean by substance are all these crazy Russophobic shenanigans from the Zelensky formula about reparations, holding a tribunal, capitulation, and disarmament. Still, the great Chinese civilisation came up with a reasonable plan and put it on the table in keeping with its traditions. I believe that there is a growing number of countries in the Global South who understand that the first step would be to move away from the calls for ensuring food and energy security. Understanding the root causes of what is going on right now must come first.

This is exactly what we are trying to achieve as part of our ongoing contacts when we explain Russia’s positions. We explain the root causes going all the way back to at least 2014, or even to 2007 when President Vladimir Putin spoke at the Munich Conference. This is what I wanted to say so that you do not get an impression that we are engaged in any kind of backstage dealings with anyone, while the media fails to properly inform people about what is actually going on.

Question: Have European countries showed any interest in attending the meeting?

Sergey Lavrov: We do not invite them.

Question: Considering how the meeting went, and judging by the reaction from the countries of the Global South and East, will there be enough participants to make a good group photo?

Sergey Lavrov: We could take a great group photo right now, but making a cheap impression this way is not what we are after.

I believe that it will all happen, and ambassadors will report to their capitals. I am also certain and firmly believe that, unlike the West, we are honest when presenting all the options. This is not the way the West works. They tend to focus on contacting specific ministers or even presidents, making all these lofty promises to some of them, while using threats and intimidation against others. Just come, and you will not have to do anything, they say. This is not about joining sanctions – just be there. But I know for sure that they will seek to demonise us.

For this reason, we will continue undertaking preventive efforts. We do this regularly by holding events like the one we have here today, as well as abroad, through our embassies. We respect the ability of all the parties to decide for themselves either based on facts or under pressure. After all, we live in a non-linear world.

Question: It appears that we are in a stalemate and in a diplomatic standoff – there is the Vladimir Zelensky formula on one side, and China’s proposals, on the other, along with the Istanbul format. What must change in order to start searching for a compromise?

Sergey Lavrov: We have demonstrated our good will and intentions many times, and stand ready to do so moving forward at any moment. We were not the ones who stopped and dismantled the Istanbul agreements. Everyone knows this very well. We were not the ones who passed laws banning talks with Ukraine, and we were not the ones who produced this ultimatum in the form of the so-called Zelensky formula and its iterations, just as President Vladimir Putin has been saying all along.

What does the West want from us? They said that instead of negotiating in Istanbul, they had to inflict on us what they called a strategic defeat on the battlefield. If they want to change their tack, they must start by making the first step and force Vladimir Zelensky to cancel his order banning talks. It is not that we believe that talks with this man can succeed, but this would demonstrate that he can and has the willpower to move away from this boorish everyday rhetoric.

Today, his Western colleagues have been trumpeting his words about the need to at least come back to the borders as they were drawn in February 2022, not 1991. This is ridiculous and pathetic. In fact, we are in a stalemate, but we were not the ones who caused it. You can just as well say that this is a checkmate situation.

But our conscience is clear. We stand for our truth and the interests of our people inhabiting territories established by their ancestors. These people have been living there for many centuries. If they want to reach a fair, realistic deal and strike a balance between us in terms of our security interests, we are ready to move in this direction any moment. But for that, we do not need a foundation or a liner of any kind such as the Zelensky formula, no matter how you describe it, in order to move from stating the readiness to launch talks to actually starting the negotiation.

The ball is rolling. We focus on our objectives, just as President Vladimir Putin said. They will be carried out in full. There is no other way we can ensure that Russia and its people are safe.

If anyone is smart enough to reject this misguided Zelensky formula policy, let them step forward. The ball is not in our court.

Question: The Ukrainian leadership has almost no legitimacy left. Against this backdrop, who, in your opinion, could act as a partner for holding talks on Ukraine? There will be an important election this year. In your opinion, whom will you be dealing with?

Sergey Lavrov: Everyone understood that you cannot negotiate with this person even when no one contested his legitimacy.

When the Istanbul talks fell apart in April 2022, the understanding that this would not make any sense has started creeping in. We believed in his proposal to launch direct Russia-Ukraine talks. There were three rounds of talks in Belarus, and several online rounds of talks. After that, there was a face-to-face meeting in Istanbul where the Ukrainians showed an outline of a treaty for the first time, and we approved it by signing the main provisions.

David Arakhamia headed the Ukrainian delegation at these talks. In a recent interview, he said that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson prevented him from signing the treaty. This is when we understood that instead of talking to Vladimir Zelensky we must focus on those who decide what Zelensky does or does not do.

As soon as we can set the record straight, then we can probably discuss the possible negotiating formats. Today, no one in the West is ready for this. Calls for persuading Russia to adopt the Zelensky formula are more akin to provocations. No one takes them seriously anymore. I would advise those who treasure their reputation to stop mentioning it.


read more in our Telegram-channel