The Ukraine crisis: Geopolitical aspects

10:56 31.05.2024 •

Photo: MFA

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the ambassadorial roundtable discussion of Ukraine crisis settlement, Moscow, May 29, 2024.Main points.

- Our discussion today, The Ukraine crisis: Geopolitical aspects, will focus on the deeper causes of this crisis, which go as far back as the period preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent years. Today, many responsible historians, political scientists and experts in the West are highlighting what their colleagues have been mentioning for years or maybe even decades: when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, when the Soviet Union opened up to Western Europe, the United States and the West in general, ready to interact on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect, no one thought of dissolving NATO as well. And, by and large, the idea was not even on the table. Today, many consider this a mistake.

- Just yesterday, Jeffrey Sachs, American economist and political analyst, again said this in an interview with Tucker Carlson. In his opinion, it was a historical mistake. But history knows no ‘what ifs.’ NATO is out there. Moreover, apparently, the alliance had reasons for not reciprocating the Warsaw Pact and dissolving itself. NATO could have proposed an arrangement to the former socialist camp where the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe would remain the only multilateral platform, with no closed military blocs, and where everyone would henceforth coexist in a new way, on the basis of openness and mutual respect, working towards mutual benefit – but it didn’t.

- We can now say with certainty that the reason for this decision was the US’s unquenchable need to keep NATO as an instrument of control over Europe – including Germany, which hosts dozens of US military bases. This was sure to make the Germans follow orders from Washington. When the United States sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines to eliminate competition in the European energy market, this made Germany just take it and keep silent, buying American liquefied natural gas, which costs 50 or 100 percent more than Russian pipeline gas. NATO was needed to keep Europe in a subordinate position to the United States. This is the reason why the North-Atlantic Alliance was not dissolved along with the Warsaw Pact. On the contrary, they began to use it to strengthen American hegemony on this continent, and now also on other continents.

- Not so long ago, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was asked whether NATO was a purely defensive alliance that was protecting the territory of its member countries and doing nothing else. He answered in the affirmative. But threats to the NATO countries were allegedly coming from different parts of the world, including the Indo-Pacific Region. Therefore, the alliance will expand its infrastructure and create unions in that region (in the Asia-Pacific Region, which they, for a well-known reason, call the Indo-Pacific Region). Mr Stoltenberg said that, in this sense, the security of the Euro-Atlantic Region and the Asia-Pacific Region was indivisible. So, many countries on our common continent should be prepared for NATO’s attempts to ensure our security as well.

- But let us go back to the period of the USSR’s disintegration… The USSR was the leader of the Socialist camp and promoted the principles of respect for the UN Charter in association with countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. But all of a sudden it was no more. You may remember how the US economist, political scientist and academic Francis Fukuyama announced the “end of history.” He said that from now on, the liberal world order would predominate and that they expected no counteraction from any part whatsoever. But this meant just one thing: they decided that the United States and the collective West now had New Russia, as well as all former Soviet republics and all former members of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation  “in their pocket.”  This was obviously the opinion that prevailed over there for rather long. They are obsessed with this idea even today. The developments we are currently witnessing are the consequence of the US-led collective West’s desire to stick to their international hegemony, whatever the cost.  

- The West decided that Russia was in its pocket. When in 2000, after the first election of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation, Russia started returning its dignity and the right to its lawful place in the world arena, the United States did not take it seriously at first. The Americans thought these were some individual manifestations of the national character, even more so since at that time, in the 2000s, advocating respect for its own rights, Russia defended them in the world arena exclusively through the offer of cooperation and equal agreements. There are many examples to this effect.

- Despite the promise and commitment (given to the Soviet leaders and later the first heads of the Russian Federation) not to expand the alliance eastward, the expansion still took place. Even in the late 1990s, Foreign Minister of Russia Yevgeny Primakov was ready “not to posture” and not to start aggressive resistance to the violation of the “word of honour” by our Western partners. Instead, he started looking for compromise. By way of compromise, the sides agreed, and the West assumed this commitment, that substantial combat forces would not be deployed on the territory of new members (we accepted the latter’s existence). The Russia-NATO Council sealed this commitment. It also acted in many other areas. Now the West has destroyed all this by its unilateral decision.

- We suggested defining the meaning of the term “substantial combat forces." We sent them specific proposals with figures on heavy weapons, firearms and the number of military that fell under this definition. They bluntly refused even to discuss this.

- As we displayed goodwill time and again, offering to lay solid foundations for our cooperation with NATO, they did not agree to anything that limited their freedom of action in any way, including moves to the detriment of our interests. We began to realise (not so much the futility of further relations with these states and their leaders), but the need to bring our message home to them as clearly as possible. This is what President of Russia Vladimir Putin did at the 2007 Munich conference. He openly and politely told the Western leaders there that it was impossible to dictate their will to every country and that the world was much more versatile than the Western civilisation, all the more so since it started quickly degrading in the context of the suggested ideas. Mostly, European states, the US and other countries of the collective West did not take seriously the warning made at the Munich conference, either. They smiled and decided that Russia was expressing its discontent in such a way.

- Notably, we have never given up on the idea of overcoming the confrontation which was building up and posing an increasingly growing threat. In 2008, we proposed concluding a European Security Treaty with a fairly straightforward goal in mind. Several years before that, the OSCE countries gathered for a summit and put their signatures under the principle of indivisible security which stated that no country or organisation within the OSCE area would strengthen its security at the expense of the security of other countries, and no organisation would claim dominance within this geopolitical space. NATO did exactly the opposite and continued to draw in new members, turning its ravenous eye to the former Soviet republics other than the Baltic countries, which had joined the alliance earlier.

- In 2008, we put on the table a draft treaty on European security which covered the provisions that were included in the OSCE Summit Declaration. It was duly codified and contained a provision about legal obligations. But they rejected it outright saying that only NATO members could obtain legal guarantees… In 2010, Russia proposed concluding a Russia-NATO treaty as opposed to a treaty within the OSCE. They turned it down as well. Our goodwill has repeatedly run up against this kind of behaviour.

- In December 2001, President George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty. President Putin let him know it was a reckless move. President George W. Bush said the Americans would be building a missile defence that was directed not against Russia, but against the DPRK and the Islamic Republic of Iran. He spoke mistruth. Everyone is clear now that the United States and its allies’ missile defence configuration is aimed solely at deterring Russia and China.

- A similar fate befell the INF Treaty. In August 2019, the Americans withdrew from it accusing Russia of violating its provisions (allegedly, we deployed the corresponding ground-based missiles in the Kaliningrad Region). The United States refused to talk with us and made that step unilaterally. President Putin said back then that we deplore that move, because it was a destabilising type of weapon, and came up with a proposal whereby Russia would declare a moratorium, even though the Treaty would cease to exist because the United States had withdrawn from it. Russia will comply with the provisions of the treaty, thereby declaring a unilateral moratorium. It will continue to do so until the US-made land-based missiles get deployed elsewhere on the globe.

- Back in 2019 when it hadn’t happened yet, we were trying to somehow save the situation and to prevent a new destabilising kind of weapon from spreading across the globe. President Putin came up with an initiative. He sent letters outlining our stance, including a unilateral moratorium, to NATO countries and urged NATO members to collectively join our moratorium (having proclaimed the unilateral moratorium ourselves) now that the treaty was no longer valid. Furthermore, his message stated that since they had doubts about Russia deploying the corresponding missiles on its Iskander systems in the Kaliningrad Region, which were prohibited by the now defunct treaty, we encourage them to come and make sure that this was not the case.

- In turn, we would like to be able to come to Poland and Romania, where MK-41 anti-missile systems are deployed in the third position area of missile defence. According to an ad posted on the manufacturer’s website, these systems can be used not only for missile defence, but also as launchers for those very intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles that were banned by the treaty. That is, we offered a fair deal where they come to us, and we go to them. We will be able to see how things actually are and to observe the moratorium without any treaty. They flatly refused. This alone shows that they were not playing fair.

- In January 2020, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu invited President of Russia Vladimir Putin to attend the inauguration of the Memorial Candle monument in Jerusalem honouring the heroic residents and defenders of besieged Leningrad. In his remarks, Vladimir Putin expressed concern over the growing international tensions. He called on the permanent members of the UN Security Council to show responsibility, to sit down together at a summit and discuss whatever concerns or complaints they all had. He called for a candid discussion of their respective views on international relations (at that time), of any problems each of them saw and the ways to address them. China was the first to support his call, and then France. The United States remained silent, the British looked to their “big brother,” and the issue was eventually dropped.

- The most recent attempt was made in the midst of the war that the Kiev regime waged on Donbass in violation of the Minsk agreements. When Ukrainians said they would not comply with the UN Security Council-approved agreements, Washington clearly saw that as an example to follow.

- Nevertheless, in early December 2021, it was President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to highlight the very serious situation and the need to stop the Ukrainian regime from violating the Minsk Agreements. We proposed signing two agreements, one with the United States and the other with NATO countries. We distributed both drafts, which spelled out how European security could be ensured with full consideration of the legitimate interests of all participants, including Russia, Ukraine, and European countries. The main point was that Ukraine should not join any military bloc. We were told that it was none of our business. They refused to discuss the proposals, even though before that, they had been sounding the alarm for months – in fact, they had reached out to us (the CIA director and other emissaries) seeking a solution that would not involve the use of force.

- And all through the wrangle, the Ukrainian regime continued to use force on an increasing scale. The West rejected our December proposals, and in January-February 2022, Ukraine, still sabotaging the Minsk Agreements, announced the start of Plan B and intensified the bombing of Donbass exponentially. We had no choice but to declare a special military operation. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this in detail.

- The current Western geopolitical line does not differ at all from its previous policy when it was driven by the sole desire to prevent Russia from getting stronger and occupying a befitting place in the world arena. They wanted to encircle our country with a belt of unfriendly states. This happened in 2008 when they encouraged the then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to attack South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers. Something similar is happening now in Moldova. They are trying to completely take it over having put in power the leaders that proceed from the interests of the West rather than their own people. There are many other examples as well.

- Their goal to isolate Russia and prevent it from developing and implementing in full its opportunities is utopian. But the quality of the current Western politicians makes it possible to assume that they may turn utopia into their practical programme. Let them have a go, as they say. Nobody doubts that this is doomed to fail.

- They have the same mentality and set the same goals they did when they realised after the Soviet Union’s collapse that Russia was “disobedient” and rejected the demands to fulfil their orders. This is manifest in the specific bends of the situation around Ukraine. There is already talk on the sly about hitting any part of the Russian Federation. At the news conference after his visit to Uzbekistan, President of Russia Vladimir Putin spoke in detail about this. I am sure you are familiar with his statements.


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