Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, talks with RT’s editor-in-chief in an exclusive interview about the challenges Russia faces amid the Ukraine conflict
The Saker, July 20, 2022 —
Question: You just returned from a trip and are about to leave again soon. This “international isolation” is so tight that you are almost never home.
Here’s a question from our subscribers. At different levels, from the deputies to public officials, our talks with Ukraine are on and off. We say it’s impossible to hold talks now, but the next thing you know someone is saying it would be good to start them. Does it make sense or is it just a diplomatic ritual?
Sergey Lavrov: It doesn’t make any sense given the circumstances. Yesterday, the President touched on this while speaking at the news conference following talks with the leaders of Iran and Türkiye in Tehran.
Vladimir Putin once again made it clear that the Ukrainian leadership asked for talks early on during the special military operation. We didn’t say no. We approached this process honestly, but the first rounds of talks held in Belarus showed that the Ukrainian side didn’t really want to seriously discuss anything. Then, we passed our assessment of the situation over to them noting that if Kiev was serious about the talks, they should give us something “on paper” so we could understand what kind of agreements they had in mind. The Ukrainian side gave us a document that we found agreeable (yesterday the President again cited this fact) and were ready to conclude a treaty based on the principles outlined in it. Building on their logic, we drafted a corresponding document, which we made available to the Ukrainian side on April 15. Since then, we’ve heard nothing from them, but we hear other people such as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Olaf Scholz, Boris Johnson (though, not now for obvious reasons), President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Chief Diplomat Josep Borrell say that Ukraine must “win on the battlefield” and should not engage in talks, because it has a weak position on the front. First, they need to improve the situation and start dominating the Russian armed forces and the Donetsk and Lugansk militias, and only then start talks “from a position of strength.” I don’t think this approach holds water.
Question: It doesn’t hold water because Ukraine will fail to do so?
Sergey Lavrov: It won’t work. They will never be able to formulate “things” that really deserve people’s time. We understood this. It is no secret that Kiev is being held back from taking any constructive steps, and they are not just flooding it with weapons, but making it use those weapons in an increasingly risky manner. Foreign instructors and specialists are there servicing these systems (HIMARS and others).
With strong support from the Germans, Poles, and Balts, our US and British (Anglo-Saxon) “colleagues” want to make this an actual war and pit Russia against the European countries. Washington and London are sitting far away, across oceans and straits, but will benefit from this. The European economy is impacted more than anything else. The stats show that 40 percent of the damage caused by sanctions is borne by the EU whereas the damage to the United States is less than 1 percent, if you look at the cumulative negative impact of the restrictions.
I do not doubt that the Ukrainians will not be allowed to hold talks until the Americans decide they have created enough destruction and chaos. Then, they will leave Ukraine alone and watch it get out of this mess.
Question: Do you think this plan is actionable? A big war, a clash between Russia and the European countries? In fact, it’s about a nuclear war.
Sergey Lavrov: The Americans are not thinking about this. Ambitious people who want to reach new heights in their careers have come to the White House. I’m not sure how they will try to fulfill these goals as part of this administration. They are acting irresponsibly and building plans and schemes that are fraught with major risk. We are talking about this publicly. We could have told them, but the Americans don’t want to talk to us, and we will not chase them.
The dialogue we had before was not meaningless if only because we could look into each other’s eyes and lay out our approaches. As soon as the special military operation started, the United States tore this dialogue down. I think that Washington hasn’t yet understood that it is playing a dangerous game, but many people in Europe are beginning to realise this.
Question: Is a Russia-US clash, a nuclear war possible in our view?
Sergey Lavrov: We have initiated several statements (Russian-American statement and statement by the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) to the effect that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and that it cannot ever be unleashed. This is our position and we will firmly stick to it.
Moreover, we have an endorsed doctrine that clearly explains in what cases Russia will be compelled to use nuclear arms. Our partners, colleagues, rivals or enemies (I don’t know how they refer themselves with regard to us) know this very well.
Question: We consider Vladimir Zelensky the legitimate representative of Ukraine. Why is that? We say with good reason that everything happening in that country is a result of the coup, a forced change of power. This did not happen under Zelensky, but he became president because of these events. Why did we acknowledge this initially?
Sergey Lavrov: Guided by his own ethical considerations, President of France Emmanuel Macron recently let everyone listen to a recording of his February telephone conversation with President of Russia Vladimir Putin in which the Russian leader expressed himself clearly. President Macron tried to persuade him not to bother too much with implementing the Minsk Agreements. He said that Donetsk and Lugansk were illegal entities and that it was necessary to work in the context of the suggested interpretations – allegedly Zelensky wanted this. Vladimir Putin replied that Vladimir Zelensky was the product of a state coup and that the established regime hadn’t gone anywhere.
Do you remember how events developed after the coup? The putschists spat in the face of Germany, France and Poland that were the guarantors of the agreement with Viktor Yanukovych. It was trampled underfoot the next morning. These European countries didn’t make a peep – they reconciled themselves to this. A couple of years ago I asked the Germans and French what they thought about the coup. What was it all about if they didn’t demand that the putschists fulfil the agreements? They replied: “This is the cost of the democratic process.” I am not kidding. Amazing – these were adults holding the post of foreign ministers.
Crimeans and the east of Ukraine refused to recognize the results of the coup. In Crimea, this led to the holding of a referendum on reuniting with Russia and in Donbass to a refusal to deal with the new, illegitimate central authorities that started a war. Then Pyotr Poroshenko began a presidential campaign. The election took place in late May, 2014. President of France François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders tried to persuade the President of Russia to say nothing in advance about his refusal to recognise the results of the Ukrainian elections. Vladimir Putin replied: since Poroshenko is holding the election with the slogans of peace, promises to restore the rights of all Ukrainians, including the residents of Donbass, we will not question the legitimacy of this process.
It turned out that Poroshenko quickly forgot his election promises. He cheated his voters, lied to them and his Western sponsors, and unleashed another round of war that was stopped with great difficulty in February 2015. Later the Minsk Agreements were signed. He recently admitted that he had no intention of fulfilling the agreements and signed them only because Ukraine had to build up its strength economically and militarily to “win back its land,” including Crimea. This is why he concluded these agreements.
Question: We did not realise this, did we?
Sergey Lavrov: Well, I still hoped that some conscience was left there. Poroshenko revealed his true attitude towards the Minsk Agreements: he would not fulfil a document endorsed by the UN Security Council. Thus, he confirmed once again, this time in public, that he was not a legitimate president, one that relies on the foundations of international law.
Vladimir Zelensky came to power with slogans of peace as well. He promised to return peace to Ukraine. He said all citizens of the country who wanted to speak Russian would be able to and nobody would harass them or discriminate against them. Listen to what he is saying now.
In the role of Servant of the People Zelensky played a democrat, a glad-hander, a teacher, one of the people, who defeated the oligarchs and paid off the IMF. The people became free. He dissolved the corrupt parliament and the government. There are video recordings that cannot be hidden. They show how Zelensky upheld the rights of the Russian language and Russian culture…
Question: He is an actor, Mr Lavrov!
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, an actor under the Stanislavsky system – quickly turns coat. He was recently asked about his attitude towards the people of Donbass. Mr Zelensky replied that there are people and there are species. He also said that if people feel Russian, let them go to Russia “for the sake of the future of their children and grandchildren.” This is exactly what Dmitry Yarosh said the first day after the coup in February 2014: “A Russian will never think like a Ukrainian, will not speak Ukrainian and will not glorify Ukrainian heroes. Russians need to leave Crimea.”
The elite that came to power after the coup have already established their national genetic code. Arseny Yatsenyuk “in between” Dmitry Yarosh, Petr Poroshenko and Vladimir Zelensky called the residents of Donbass “subhuman.”
Question: Do you remember Petr Poroshenko saying that Ukrainian children would go to school, while Russian children would sit in basements? He said this to the people he considered to be their own.
Sergey Lavrov: Now they say that they will liberate their lands…
Question: Without any people?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t know how Kiev is planning to treat these people. They would start an uprising.
Question: What people? They will try to wipe them out in HIMARS strikes. You mentioned conscience, but you can’t judge others by your own standards. If you have a conscience, this doesn’t mean that your “partners” have it as well.
Before you entered the room, we talked with Maria Zakharova about those whom you have described as seemingly serious people. Of course, we poked fun at them, which was bound to happen. Take the recent comment by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who has replaced our beloved Jen Psaki. When asked what President Joe Biden was doing the previous two days, she replied that he was thinking about the American people.
I mean that Western leaders are crumbling. Many of them have symptoms of “limited adequacy” and sometimes even “limited sanity.” They are going to be replaced. Are there grounds to believe that those who will replace them will display fewer symptoms of “limited adequacy”?
Sergey Lavrov: I would put it differently. The current political establishment that has been raised in the West can be said to have “adequate limitations.” They consider themselves to be adequate, but they have limited competence in terms of political experience and knowledge.
Question: Why is that?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t know, but many people have taken note of this. Henry Kissinger mentioned this recently when speaking about Gerhardt Schroeder and Jacques Chirac. He didn’t put it bluntly, but he clearly hinted at the stark contrast.
There is a tendency towards the average in political processes. You should elect people who are easy to understand and who will focus on simple, banal subjects. They invented the green transition, shouting that everyone will have no air to breathe soon and will die, and that dolphins and fish will disappear, leaving human beings alone in a desert. They have to deal with the effects of the green transition now. President Vladimir Putin explained the details of this mechanism in Western politics and how it has led to a painful flop because of the lack of proper calculations.
I don’t know the reason for their inadequacy. Maybe the absence of strong leaders is convenient for someone?
Question: For whom exactly?
Sergey Lavrov: For the bureaucrats in the European Commission. There are 60,000 of them, which is a lot. They have become a thing-in-itself. It is no coincidence that Poland, Hungary and other countries have asked why they should listen to these people, in particular in the areas where they have no competence. This is really so.
Question: In other words, it is a kind of a “deep state” in Europe, isn’t it?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, it seems so. But it is not quite a “deep state” but the elite, the European Commission.
Question: Is it a “shallow state” then?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, and the pendulum is moving away from the side that was associated with rapid integration. The requirements that are being enforced by Brussels, which are not always based on formal arrangements, are becoming annoying and are preventing countries from living in accordance with their own traditions and religious beliefs. Today they are pestering Budapest with their propaganda of non-traditional values, but Hungarians don’t want this, just as we don’t want this and many other nations. The European Commission demands that Budapest must revise its position, or it will not receive the approved funding. I believe that this is bad for the EU.
Question: But good for us?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think so. I believe that we should stay aloof. We cannot be happy that people in Europe will suffer from the cold and lower living standards.
Question: I agree about suffering from the cold. But maybe the Europeans will finally have enough of being forced? Maybe pro-nation politicians will come to power, those who will care about their own people and therefore will not quarrel with Russia? No country can benefit from quarrelling with Russia.
Sergey Lavrov: This is true. It is a proper process of recovery. People are abandoning the illusion that Brussels should decide everything for them, that everything will be the same every day with cheap energy and food, that everything will be fine. This would be in the interests of Europe and European nations, but I don’t know how it will happen.
We will not be happy, but we won’t feel overly concerned either. I believe we should stay aloof. They have created these problems for themselves; they have opted for living in these conditions and for abandoning the natural and beneficial ties, which have been created over decades in energy, logistics and transport links. This is their choice. Love cannot be forced. This process, when they complete it, if at all, because it is incompatible with unilateral profiteering, will cost the subsequent economic development in Europe dearly. They should not ask us to revive agreements. They have been proved unreliable. We cannot rely on such “partners” when planning long-term strategic investment in the development of our country and its foreign ties. We will work with other partners who are predictable. They have always been there for us in the East, in the South and on other continents. Now that the share of the West in our foreign economic ties has been reduced dramatically, the share of our other partners will increase commensurately.
As for trends in Europe, there is also total lack of responsibility when it comes to explaining the reasons for the current crisis to their own people. Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz says he has no doubt that there are political rather than technical reasons for Russia’s intention to limit gas deliveries via Nord Stream. He has no doubt! As if the facts, which we have made public on numerous occasions and which President Putin has mentioned, do not prove that Europe has been systematically and consistently reducing the capabilities of Nord Stream 1 and has suspended Nord Stream 2, and how it retrospectively adopted restrictions on the operation of Nord Stream after all the investments had been made and the financing rules could not be changed. Nevertheless, the European Commission insisted on its decision, and it was adopted. Instead of using the pipeline to its full capacity, we have halved the transit of gas through it.
We are being accused of using hunger as a weapon. Ursula von der Leyen has said this.
Question: Cold and hunger. Do you remember General Frost? Now we have General Grain and General Heating.
Sergey Lavrov: US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has made a pompous statement that the United States would not allow Russia, China or anyone else to break the international economic order, which has allegedly been approved by the international community. She said that economic integration has been weaponised by Russia. This is going much further than the other rubbish we have been hearing and looks like an agony. They don’t know how else to explain their own failure.
Question: You mentioned the green transition and how they are trying to force the LGBT agenda on some East European countries for which, like for us, it is completely alien. For you, an experienced person who has observed many processes for decades, it must be clearer than for us, the ordinary people. This agenda includes green transition, LGBT, MeToo, BLM, cancelling ballet at Britain’s biggest dance school, the ban on math exams in some schools because the minorities would not be able to learn it, the ban on using the words “breast milk” and “mother”. People are contemplating but cannot understand what the idea is and who benefits from it. Who do you think is behind it?
Sergey Lavrov: We cannot step in their shoes and see why they are doing what they are doing. It is incomprehensible. If a person has some inclinations, why shouldn’t they be left with that? Let them have these inclinations. Why is it necessary to make a movement banner out of it?
Question: Why did the new White House Press Secretary openly declare that she is gay and black?
Sergey Lavrov: I am also interested to see how and where the Western political thought has been evolving. Some progressive philosophers, from the point of view of imperialism and colonialism, believe that the gold billion, or those who lead it and make political decisions, want to reduce the population of the planet because the resources are limited. Too many people, too few resources. As Mikhail Zhvanetsky joked, there should be fewer of us. He said it in Soviet times, when there was not enough food and goods. And now I read this explanation in some Western publications. It is horrifying.
Question: Which is not very logical, because the golden billion is reducing its own ranks this way, while the population in Africa is increasing. In Nigeria, which now wants to be friends with us, there are seven children per woman.
Sergey Lavrov: No, all these ways are constantly promoted there.
Question: It will take some time for them to get there… Look at the Hollywood elite: every second child is transgender or something, or non-binary, and they will have no grandchildren. Yes, it seems that they have started with themselves.
Sergey Lavrov: Maybe it is part of the plan, to reproduce less. I said that I cannot explain this, and shared with you one of the conspiracy theories.
Question: Both before the special military operation and today, people have believed that the West cannot manage without Russia. This is true in many respects, as the fact that they have lifted some of the sanctions clearly shows. What is less clear is whether the new package of sanctions passed this week contains new restrictions or lifts the sanctions adopted earlier. But what if they can manage without Russia after all? What prospects do you see? Can the West do completely without Russian energy carriers in the future, if not during the upcoming winter but in 2023 or 2024? Will it refuse to launch Nord Stream 2 and stop using the resources of Nord Stream 1? Is it possible? What do you think about this?
Sergey Lavrov: The new package of restrictions includes both the sanctions and various exceptions from them because the West has already run out of spheres where it can inflict damage on Russia. Now they have to think about what they have done and how it affects them. As far as I know, the West has now introduced some clarifications, and this will help facilitate Russian food exports. For many months, they told us that Russia was to blame for the food crisis because the sanctions don’t cover food and fertiliser. Therefore, Russia doesn’t need to find ways to avoid the sanctions and so it should trade because nobody stands in its way. It took us a lot of time to explain to them that, although food and fertiliser are not subject to sanctions, the first and second packages of Western restrictions affected freight costs, insurance premiums, permissions for Russian ships carrying these goods to dock at foreign ports and those for foreign ships taking on the same consignments at Russian harbours. They are openly lying to us that this is not true, and that it is up to Russia alone. This is foul play.
Unfortunately, the West has been trying to involve UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in these games. He became concerned about the food crisis and visited Russia, and he advocated a package deal at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is necessary to lift the artificial and illegitimate restrictions on Russian grain, and action should be taken to clear mines at Ukrainian ports where Ukrainian grain is stored. Antonio Guterres said that he would persuade Europe and the United States to remove all obstacles hampering Russian grain deliveries, and that Russia would cooperate with them, Türkiye and Ukraine in clearing mines at Black Sea ports, to facilitate grain shipments. We replied that, in principle, it was possible to demine Black Sea ports without Russia, but that we would be ready to cooperate if they asked us. The UN Secretary-General actively promoted this package.
Last week, our colleagues visited Istanbul in order to coordinate this mechanism. We agreed on the basic principles for exporting Ukrainian grain. However, when members of the Russian delegation reminded those present about the second part of the package deal, the Ukrainian side flatly refused, and the UN delegation simply blushed and kept quiet.
Yesterday, we indicated to the UN Secretary-General that this was his initiative to begin with. In reply, Antonio Guterres proposed first resolving the issue of Ukrainian grain shipments, and said that Russian grain deliveries were next in line. This is foul play. People engaged in big politics should not behave in such a way. This means only one thing: I am convinced that the UN Secretary-General has come under tremendous pressure, first of all, from representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom who have settled in around him in the UN Secretariat in the posts of undersecretary-generals and who are actively using this “privatised” structure in their own interests. This is highly regrettable.
Question: How are they putting pressure on him, exactly? Technically, how do we explain this to people? Do as you’re told, or… what? Go to jail?
Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think they are using any personal methods of blackmail. Just, when the UN General Assembly is voting, they come up to the ambassadors, inform them that an anti-Russia resolution has been put to the vote while reminding them, for example, about their account in Chase Manhattan Bank or their daughter at Stanford. Things like that.
Question: But it’s kind of the same thing.
Sergey Lavrov: It happens. Well, of course, they don’t act with such arrogance here. Members of the UN Secretariat (the majority of them are from Western countries because the number of delegated secretariat seats depends on each state’s contribution) aren’t always neutral, as required by the UN Charter and the Regulations on the Secretariat. That’s life. I can assure you, it has always been like this.
Regarding the second part of your question, I think that Western politicians are now making every effort to avoid showing they have been mistaken. The ruling parties will try to do this by hook or by crook – they have no other way. But the opposition – in Austria, voices are increasingly heard (there’s the Austrian Freedom Party, which Brussels does not favour very much, but it’s a legitimate party). In other countries, the opposition is rising their heads: why are we doing this? Why can’t we just look at things and reach agreement? Many people have questions.
Developing countries don’t view the situation as Russia having crossed some “red line.” They remember what the Americans did in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Yugoslavia in 1999. With no notice, no warning that American interests were being infringed on, no calls to do something about it…
Question: No eight years of trying to reach agreement…
Sergey Lavrov: The United States bombed countries located 10,000 kilometres away from its coastline and razed cities to the ground. Europe never even dared to make a sound.
Question: No need to protect large communities of American compatriots living there…
Sergey Lavrov: That’s right. Our situation is totally different. There is a real threat, not something invented in order to spread our imperialist tentacles across the ocean – there’s a threat on our borders. For many years, we have been cautioning the West against turning Ukraine into an anti-Russia, with NATO infiltrating that country, against creating direct military threats to our security. Everyone is perfectly aware of this.
Returning to Europe, I don’t think that it is in European interests to completely cut off all ties with us and switch to LNG, which the Americans are trying to…
Question: …foist on them.
Sergey Lavrov: I wanted to use a less polite term, but foist will do. It will be their choice. Serious scientists write that Germany’s entire economic activity, its prosperity of the past decades was due primarily to Russian energy resources they bought at affordable, reasonable and predictable prices. True, LNG is a more flexible commodity. Gas has to be bought at the “end” of the pipeline, while LNG can be redirected. But this is also a disadvantage. When demand rose in Asia, the Americans sent their LNG there, because it was a better deal. This can lead not only to higher prices, but also to a shortage of supplies at a certain stage. But if they do this, we won’t have any particular problems.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin said that, given what they are doing with Nord Stream 2 (we’re ready to launch it, it is under operating pressure), in the current situation, 50 percent of the volume intended for that pipeline are already reserved for internal consumption: for heating purposes, for the chemical industry and for other industrial projects.
We will redirect supplies without any serious losses. I do not doubt it. We have buyers, we have demand; after all, there are applications within the country too – connecting households and facilities and developing the chemical industry.
Question: And thousands of villages without gas…
Sergey Lavrov: That’s why I mentioned connecting them.
So it will be their choice. I would like to say again: we should not (and, thank God, no one is trying to) invent any solutions implying the possibility, the probability, or even desirability of returning to the situation we had six months ago, where it was possible to restore the old supply chains. I think that they need to be discarded and new ones should be built that will be more reliable. This is what we are doing now, including the North-South corridor from St Petersburg to the Indian Ocean, and from India to Vladivostok. Several projects are already halfway through implementation. If and when, at some stage, Europe suddenly says that they have overreacted and are interested in restoring our economic relations and trade, we shouldn’t push them away. We will see how good the offer is, and only then react.
Question: We say if they duped you once, they’ll do it again. You mentioned the diversification of our areas of cooperation. We have covered the East (China, India) extensively. This time, you are going to Africa, which is south. What are you going to do there? What are your expectations? What should we expect?
Sergey Lavrov: We have long-standing good relations with Africa since the days of the Soviet Union which pioneered and led a movement that culminated in decolonisation. We provided assistance to the national liberation movement and then to the restoration of independent states and the rise of their economies. Hundreds of enterprises were built, which now form the basis of many African economies. At the UN, we led the movement to have decolonisation formalised as an integral part of international law and everyday life.
Then, there was the period when the Soviet Union disappeared and the Russian Federation emerged. We were confronted with major problems, not in Africa, but much closer, in our country.
We have been rebuilding our positions for many years now. The Africans are reciprocating. They are interested in having us. We never engaged in teaching them anything, but helped them overcome their problems so that they could live in their country the way they wanted to.
Question: They think we did teach them something, but in a good sense.
Sergei Lavrov: No. We helped them fulfil their goals. That’s how it was. We never told them not to be friends with America or anyone else. To this day, we are not lecturing them, unlike the Americans who go around Africa telling everyone “do not talk with the Chinese or the Russians. All they care about is their selfish interests, even when they trade with you.”
We visit each other every year. Once a year or every two years, the Foreign Minister visits African countries. We’re trying to cover as many countries as possible in a period of two to three years. This year, it will be Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo. We have good traditions and economic foundations in these countries.
Egypt is our number one trade and economic partner in Africa with trade just under $5 billion. The first nuclear power plant is being built. The construction of a Russian industrial area on the banks of the Suez Canal is nearing completion. Our relations with Africa have even brighter prospects now that the African Union decided last year to establish the African Continental Free Trade Area. Specific criteria and tariffs for this area are being agreed upon, which will take some time. This will benefit Russia as Africa’s rising partner in terms of boosting our trade and investment which are quite modest compared to the United States, China and the EU. We must work hard, with our colleagues, to prepare for the second Russia-Africa summit. The first one took place in Sochi in 2019. The second one is planned to be held next year.
Question: Maybe in Odessa?
Sergey Lavrov: No, probably not in Odessa. We will announce the venue later. An economic forum will be held concurrently with the summit with round table discussions on trade, energy, cybersecurity, agriculture, outer space and nuclear energy.
It is important to step up our efforts. Africa has a population of 1.4 billion people, which is comparable to China and India. This is a great portion of the modern world and probably the most promising market. That is why companies and countries with good vision are building long-term strategies with regard to Africa, which is the continent of the future. We have an excellent political foundation underlying our relations and a good mutual understanding based on the fact that thousands of Africans who hold positions in their respective governments have studied in Russia and continue to do so. We need to use this human and political capital to achieve economic advancement.
Question: What kind of relations do we have with our “exes?” (I understand exes are rarely friends, but it still happens occasionally.) Do we have real friends among our exes, including Belarus? What is going on in Kazakhstan with mixed signals coming from there? Is there a sense that we ourselves are a little to blame for some things, that we let them go and gave them away to Europe, America, and even Türkiye? What do you think?
Sergey Lavrov: There was such a period. The Soviet Union ceased to exist. We signed the Belovezh Accords. Of course, the countries that were not invited to Belovezhskaya Pushcha were hurt. No doubt about it. I understand them. Then, some efforts were made to improve this situation (to make amends, so to speak). A special meeting was held in Alma-Ata in late 1991. But it still left a bad taste in the mouth. Most importantly, it was an event followed by some processes.
Our leadership did little to prevent the cooling of relations with our neighbours, closest allies, and comrades-in-arms during the first years of independence and sovereignty. We have lived together for many hundreds, even thousands of years. I remember that time. I was Deputy Foreign Minister in 1992-1994 before I left for work in New York. My scope of duties included international organisations, but at some point Andrey Kozyrev asked me to take up the CIS matters. I didn’t do it for long, though. The situation did not look too good (clearly, the Foreign Ministry was not the one to decide on building policies in this area, the Presidential Executive Office was). Back then, everyone thought they had no place to go. We lived together all that time and shared the language, the universities and the tastes. So, we thought we’ll just keep on living like that. Of course, over the long decades and centuries, the economy had become intertwined to the point where breaking ties was impossible.
True, the West wasn’t sitting on its hands. And not only the West. If you look at Central Asia now, you’ll see multiple “Central Asia plus partner” formats there, such as Central Asia plus the United States, or “plus the European Union,” or “plus Japan,” “plus China,” “plus Türkiye,” or “plus India.” “Plus Russia” is there as well. Despite the fact that we have the CIS, the EAEU, the SCO, the CSTO, there was no association where all five Central Asian countries and Russia were together. Now there is.
This is how things are, not only in foreign ministries, but in our economic agencies as well. It’s an important process. Water and energy were shared. Our Western “partners” are now trying to infiltrate these particular areas. The EU and the United States are coming up with their own programmes which will tailor the ongoing water and energy use processes that rely on the Soviet legacy to their needs, the needs of external players. Clearly, it makes sense to join efforts in this department which is what we are encouraging our partners to do. They agree, but the West is trying in every possible way to disrupt this natural process and meddle in our dealings with our “exes,” as you put it. Poet Andrey Voznesensky once famously said, “Don’t return to those you once loved.” This is the opening line. However, the poem ends with “Anyway, you have nowhere else to go.”
Question: A trendy modern poetess Vera Polozkova has the following line, “She is friends with all her exes as if they had never let her down.”
You, and the Foreign Ministry, said that you knew nothing about the special military operation before it began. At least, you knew nothing about it long before it started. Perhaps, this is not true, but that was the impression. May I ask you how you found out about it? What did you feel? I remember well what Tigran Keosayan and I felt at home at night, when we learned about it. I wonder what you felt back then. What do you think about the people who are now called “frightened patriots” who were frightened and left, those who are “ashamed” etc.?
Sergey Lavrov: The time and date of when I found out about it is not my secret.
Question: So, this is not a state secret?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not a state secret, but it is not my secret, either. If I may, I would like to leave it at that.
The sense of inevitability is what I felt when this announcement was made. Not joy. Imminent hostilities, with the citizens of your country going to defend justice and risk their lives, are not a reason for joy. It was a sense of inevitability and even relief. For many years we were unable to answer the question posed by the people of Donbass and many of our citizens as to how much longer we would allow them to mock common sense, the people, the UN Security Council resolution and every other aspect of it that was brazenly sabotaged.
Question: What do you think of those who are ashamed of being Russian?
Sergey Lavrov: We are now having a big discussion about foreign agents, and whether it was the right thing to do to draft a new law, which some people consider an extension to the old one and ask if it was right or wrong.
I watch talk shows, including those that you host, where issues are debated that everyone can relate to: so they left, what do we do about them now? How do we feel about them if they return? Or should they even be allowed to return? I don’t have an opinion. Each person is the master of their own destiny. That’s the way it is. But everyone must have a conscience. And everyone has to deal with their own conscience. This is how I see it. But there is something I cannot accept, and that’s people publishing things – I have a duty to read some resources designated as foreign agents in my line of work, and they describe with such lustful pleasure those insurmountable (from their point of view) problems that the Russian Federation is facing. They…
Sergey Lavrov: Yes. They predict collapse. One of them wrote that Russia was threatened with death in terms of high technologies, because it has neither brains nor institutions. It is your country you are writing this about!
There are others. When Roscosmos, in response to the sanctions, told the Americans that, since they did not want our engines anymore, we would discontinue supplies to both the US and the UK, they imposed sanctions on our corporation, making any further contact impossible. A foreign agent site launched into a story about how our corporation had violated every conceivable obligation, and was now irreparably tainted as a dishonest partner that no one would ever deal with. We say double standards. That’s how they work, plain and simple.
My opinion is that these people should be left alone with themselves and realise what they have done. How to treat them is another matter. Will their former acquaintances stay in touch with them? How will the state go about renewing relations with them? That is another question. What is important is to leave them alone with their own conscience.
Question: Your trust that every person has a conscience has already done you a disservice with Petr Poroshenko and the Minsk agreements. Maybe you should just stop believing this. Not everyone has a conscience, unfortunately.
We all wonder, and every person in the country wants to know when “this” will end. We all want the special military operation to end as soon as possible, so that people stop dying – our soldiers, and the civilians that their former Ukraine is hitting every day. Ukraine still considers them its citizens de jure, but this isn’t stopping it, as we know. When will it end? We do not know. I won’t ask you about it. Obviously you don’t have an answer.
But where do you think it should end? I am not asking about the goals that Vladimir Putin announced at the start – the goals, and hence the potential results of this operation – the demilitarisation and denazification. This much is clear. Where should it end geographically? Where would it be reasonable, right and good for us?
Sergey Lavrov: As regards any projections or timeframe, I have just recalled an amusing fact. Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitry Kuleba recently said that Vladimir Zelensky had set a deadline for joining the European Union, but he wouldn’t reveal that deadline, because many in the European Union might get scared and try to slow down their accession to the EU.
We don’t have any deadlines. As for the special military operation and geographic goals, President Vladimir Putin said clearly (as you quoted him): denazification and demilitarisation, which means no threats to our security, no military threats from the territory of Ukraine. This goal remains. Geography-wise, the situation was different when the negotiators met in Istanbul. Our readiness to accept the Ukrainian proposal was based on the situation as of the end of March 2022.
Question: That was the DPR and the LPR?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, more or less. Now the geography is different. It is more than the DPR, the LPR, but also the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions and a number of other areas. This process continues, consistently and persistently. It will continue as long as the West, in its impotent rage, desperate to aggravate the situation as much as possible, continues to flood Ukraine with more and more long-range weapons. Take the HIMARS. Defence Minister Alexey Reznikov boasts that they have already received 300-kilometre ammunition. This means our geographic objectives will move even further from the current line. We cannot allow the part of Ukraine that Vladimir Zelensky, or whoever replaces him, will control to have weapons that pose a direct threat to our territory or to the republics that have declared their independence and want to determine their own future.
Question: How can this be arranged, technically? This is our territory. Then there are the republics that will accede to us. In fact they already have – the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. You are diplomats, so you cannot say this. I’m a journalist, and I call a spade a spade. Further west, there is the territory controlled by Vladimir Zelensky. They have a common border. So either there should be a 300 kilometre buffer zone or something between them, or we need to march all the way to Lvov inclusive.
Sergey Lavrov: There is a solution to this problem. The military know this.
Question: A secret one? Do you think there is a chance that we will leave half-way? This is something our subscribers and viewers are fearing.
Sergey Lavrov: I see no reason to question what President Vladimir Putin announced on February 24, 2022, and reaffirmed a few days ago – our goals remain the same. And they will be met.