Interview Part 3
Question: Russia has officially lost 500 soldiers in just one week of fighting, and other estimates are much, much higher. At this rate, we’re looking at one of the most costly campaigns in recent Russian history, far deadlier that Afghanistan or Chechnya, for example. The official message was that Russians would be welcomed with open arms, and that the Ukrainian army would lay down its weapons. What has gone wrong?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a subjective view. Yes, there are losses. There are always losses in such situations. But I have already spoken about this.
As for what has gone wrong, I don’t think you’re familiar with our plans, which are kept secret. They underlie the operations of our group which is implementing the special military operation on orders from President Putin. Yours is an abstract question.
I would like to point out that this situation cannot be considered separately from all the other developments, from the past 30 years that were full of various events in relations between Russia and the West, and between the West and the rest of the world, in particular the United States.
President Putin has said on numerous occasions that the threat has come right to our border. I don’t think it is a big secret that the Pentagon is seriously concerned about the chemical and biological facilities in Ukraine, where it has built two military biological laboratories that were creating pathogens, in Kiev and Odessa. They are worried now that they will lose control of these laboratories. At the same time, the Americans categorically refuse to establish a verification mechanism in keeping with the Biological Weapons Convention and continue to build its military biological facilities along the perimeter of the Russian Federation. Miliary bases were being built in Ukraine, including by the British, and many other things were taking place there. The CIA had an extensive presence there at all times.
The Ukrainian army was clearly not trained to fight against Poland. When similar events took place in Iraq, the United States announced that they were a threat to the US national security. Has anyone wondered why the US decided to restore order in a country 10,000 kilometres away? Nobody did, because this is arrogant great-power behaviour. When Russia pointed to the threat it was facing, we were told that there was no threat at all, and that we were safe. They think that they can determine the conditions of our security when the threat is right on our border. We don’t interfere in situations 10,000 km from our borders to set things right according to “our rules.” What we are doing now is a forced decision, because they refused to listen to us and instead kept lying to us for the past 30 years.
There will probably come a time when we will need to come to an agreement, but we will only do this on the basis of the principle all sides have adopted: not to strengthen one’s security at the expense of others’ security and not to claim dominance. Only an equitable dialogue. But our Western colleagues are not ready for this; they are playing at absolute good by grossly abusing diplomatic methods and by forcing small and medium-sized countries to carry out their orders. This happened in global history many times before. So, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions.
The operation is ongoing, and its goals have been stated clearly: the demilitarisation of Ukraine, which means that no weapons that can pose a threat to Russia must be deployed there at any time; the denazification of Ukraine, because the Nuremberg Trials’ verdict has not been reversed; and, of course, guarantees for Ukraine without its admission to NATO. President Putin has pointed out that NATO’s expansion is unacceptable to us, but we are ready to openly discuss security guarantees for Ukraine, for Europe and for the Russian Federation.
Question: Just to follow up on what you said on Russia’s demands. You said yesterday that Russia isn’t looking for Ukrainian capitulation. Are you now prepared to deal with Ukrainian President Zelensky? What exactly does he need to agree to to stop the fighting? Are you looking to take control of the whole of Ukraine before talks make any kind of progress? Does that mean the full destruction of the Ukrainian army?
Sergey Lavrov: No, that does not mean what you have referred to in such an emotional manner. Let me spell this out one more time for you. Despite all my efforts to explain this, I keep getting questions as if no one hears my answers. We are ready for talks. When President Vladimir Zelensky asked to hold talks, President Vladimir Putin immediately agreed and sent a delegation. After that Vladimir Zelensky changed his mind. Probably the Americans told him to slow down. Later they said that they were going to come. They were not there on the agreed day, however, and arrived only 24 hours later. We waited for them there. The talks took place. We communicated our negotiating position to our Ukrainian colleagues. They promised to come to this round of talks with their negotiating position. We are ready to talk, while continuing our operation, because we cannot allow Ukraine to retain infrastructure which poses a threat to the security of the Russian Federation.
We will see to it that the demilitarisation is carried out all the way through, meaning the destruction of infrastructure and weapons posing a threat to us. Even if a peace deal is signed, it will definitely include a provision to this effect.
Question: President of France Emmanuel Macron and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin are frequently in touch. Do you think President Macron and France have a special role to play for achieving a diplomatic solution?
Sergey Lavrov: France has quite a long-standing tradition of acting as a mediator in various conflicts. We remember President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, who helped settle the situation which started with Mikheil Saakashvili’s criminal order to bomb peacekeepers and South Ossetia. We know that President of France Emmanuel Macron and his predecessor contributed proactively to creating the Normandy format. In fact, it is within its framework that the Minsk agreements were signed. These agreements were an important step in these efforts, but the story did not end there. With the Minsk agreements signed and approved by the UN Security Council, neither France nor Germany did anything to force Ukraine to fulfil them. On the contrary, they started saying that Ukraine does not have to carry them out and that it is up to the Russian Federation to do its part. They said that there must not be any direct dialogue between Kiev and Donetsk or between Kiev and Lugansk because this is all just for show, while the real “culprit” is the Russian Federation. We tried to bring our French and German partners to their senses and showed them the Minsk agreements and the UN Security Council resolutions saying that all key matters must be settled with Donetsk and Lugansk. This did not help.
I have already mentioned that President of France Emmanuel Macron has been quite proactive in his efforts. He has talked with President of Russia Vladimir Putin on the phone quite a few times and visited Russia just recently. Another telephone conversation between them is underway at this very moment. If France succeeds in bringing about an agreement this time, this will only make us happy, as long as the agreement is based on principles approved by the OSCE and enshrined in international relations. However, yesterday President of France Emmanuel Macron said that statements on the spread of neo-Nazism in Ukraine are lies, as I have already mentioned. Hearing this from an ally… Don’t they see any parallels with what is happening in Ukraine regarding Jews and Russians: aggressive statements, torch processions and lots of violent crimes, including in Donbass. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is France’s partner within the Normandy format (which no longer exists, as far as I can see) said that it was ridiculous to describe what is happening in Ukraine as genocide. Hearing this from a German representative is not a very pleasant experience. If our German colleagues are unable to recognise these cues… Olaf Scholz has recently talked about the seriousness of the situation in Europe by claiming that they have not seen anything of this kind for 75 years. Does this mean that our German colleagues forgot or failed to notice how Yugoslavia was bombed, or maybe they just missed the whole thing?
You see, no matter where our discussion takes us, we always come across double standards. This absolute good our American colleagues are now trying to create with your assistance implies that you can do as you please: hand out guilty verdicts whenever you deem necessary and sweep under the carpet things you find inconvenient because of the direct involvement of the West, primarily the United States. I do understand that solidarity and allied relations are important for you, but this does not benefit the world or international relations in any way. What you are now trying to establish in the Russian Federation is a dictatorship without democracy, brotherhood, or equality of any kind.
Once again, we welcome the mediating efforts of President of France Emmanuel Macron. President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has explained on multiple occasions our vision of settling the current situation.
Question: The European Union gives weapons to Ukraine. Do you consider this an act of war? Do you think there is a risk of sliding into a nuclear war?
Sergey Lavrov: It is not us who started the talk about a nuclear war. Conversations to this effect were started by your Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who urged President of Russia Vladimir Putin to keep in mind that France also had nuclear weapons, and by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, and by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said that, if necessary, they would deploy nuclear weapons even closer to the Russian Federation. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss went on record as saying that she was ready for a war between NATO and Russia. This is the talk you are trying to use in a bid to accuse us of all this. I reiterate: it is not us who bring up the subject of nuclear war, of a Third World War, in these discussions. It is probably needed to keep the public in the West on tenterhooks, to continue fanning Russophobia until any Russian becomes a target for aggression. Students are expelled, performers are not allowed to perform, and athletes see their wings cut… Among other things, this is a case of dishonest, dirty rivalry to make things easier in sports, arts, and other areas of human activity. This is obscene. My great hope, therefore, is that our main partners will get past this madness. We will be ready to hold talks, but, as I said, solely in a business-like, pragmatic, and equitable manner. If they hope that the world will be different after what is going on now and that Russia will keep its head down and obey the diktat, they are up for a great disappointment. They should remember Russian history.
Question: One of my colleagues mentioned the results of voting on the General Assembly’s resolution. You are certainly familiar with these results. You must also be familiar with how the Security Council voted. Given this attitude towards Russia’s current approach, do you think Russia’s foreign policy priorities, its development vectors might change in any way, maybe switch gears? So far, no security guarantees have been provided by the West. We have heard from you many times how important this is. Do you think the campaign Moscow has launched in Ukraine will result in some kind of security guarantees provided to Russia by the West?
Sergey Lavrov: All conflicts end in agreements, so this isn’t up to us. Our approach is well known. No one has listened to us for 30 years. The West is perfectly aware of our concerns. Endlessly ignoring them with such arrogance has not worked and will not work. Only naive people could have thought otherwise.
As to switching gears – we are ready to work in all areas where there is mutual readiness to do business based on a balance of interests. I can assure you that those countries that have banned their companies from operating in the Russian Federation did so under enormous pressure. They are saying now they are prepared to suffer, as soon as this can “teach Russia a lesson.” Even the Deputy Director of the US National Economic Council said the United States would like to avoid a sharp rise in oil prices because it would benefit Russia. Do you understand? Not because fuel prices at gas stations would rise, American voters would not be happy about the inconvenience and would be dissatisfied with their government – but because it would benefit Russia. Their minds only work one way – how to punish Russia as much as possible. Indeed, this affects both the economy and the social sphere. I assure you that we will deal with whatever problems the West creates for us out of its determination (I emphasise once again – not to ensure their own security, this isn’t about the security of the West at all) to use Ukraine as a tool and a pretext to prevent Russia from pursuing an independent policy. There are few countries left on Earth that can afford such a luxury. Sanctions are a tax on independence, if you like.
Returning to your second question about security guarantees, I have quite enjoyed rereading an article that John Mearsheimer, a professor at University of Chicago, wrote in September 2014 after the events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. He said the West was steering Ukraine along the path of false expectations towards an imminent crash. “The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernise Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer” and boost its economy. Ukraine doesn’t have to be caught in the middle, between Russia and NATO. That would be the best option for Ukrainians. But instead, we are inciting Ukraine to gang up on the Russians. We are enticing Ukraine with the idea that one day, the country will become part of the West, and we will defeat Putin. And things will be just as we want them. And time is on our side. Well, Ukrainians are happy to play this game of course. And they no longer want to compromise with the Russians. On the contrary, they want to take a tough stance. Well, if they do, it won’t end well for them. What we are doing now is provoking just such an outcome. I believe it would make much more sense to create a neutral Ukraine. It is in the US interests to end this crisis as quickly as possible. It is in Russia’s best interests as well. And most of all, it is in Ukraine’s best interests.
He wrote this seven and a half years ago and published it in Foreign Affairs. A very authoritative and respected publication the White House and the Department of State listen to. Yet, apparently, this time it was not heard. I am sure that the White House and the American leadership are aware of this opinion. But alternatives are simply ignored because the real aim is different. Their aim is not to protect Ukraine’s security while relying on a balance of interests of Ukraine, the United States and Russia. It is to demonise and finish off the Russian Federation. This was the original goal. Now, unfortunately, there are no doubts left.
Thank you all, colleagues. I understand your emotions, but journalism involves juxtaposing facts. I invite you again to visit the Foreign Ministry website.