The following talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, was delivered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to staff and students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) on March 23.
Published on A Socialist In Canada, Mar 27, 2022
The following talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, was delivered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to staff and students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) on March 23. The full text of the talk and answers to questions is here below. It provides invaluable background and explanation to the current crisis over Ukraine. The English translation is originally published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Explanatory notes in brackets [ ] are by A Socialist In Canada.
The talk by Minister Lavrov is six pages in length; the remaining text is equal in length and consists of Minister Lavrov’s answers to questions. Enclosed below that are two supplementary readings:
* Text of the section on Ukraine in the weekly update by Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, March 24, 2022.
* Weblink to interview with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, published in RT, March 26, 2022.
This website posting can be read in pdf format, with weblinks, here: Sergey Lavrov speaks on Ukraine, March 23, 2022
I think our meeting is quite timely. At difficult stages of history, one always wants to talk with like-minded people and get a sense of the mood at your alma mater. We love and value it. It continues to perform its functions, training top professionals not only for our ministry but also for many other spheres of activity, such as the economy, business, civil service, the media, and more.
I would like MGIMO to cherish its traditions and remain a state university, which preserves and multiplies the traditions that were laid down during the years of the Great Patriotic War, from the very first days of its existence. I want to extend my special thanks to the University’s leadership and personally to Mr. Anatoly Torkunov for focusing precisely on this aspect of the academic process. As we can see today, morale-building is extremely important.
The current developments in the world are not so much about Ukraine as about attempts to shape a new international order. Ten or so years ago, our Western colleagues began urging everyone to respect what they called “rules-based order” and to follow these “rules” instead of “international law,” which they have been calling on states to respect ever since the UN came into being. No one presents these “rules” to anyone because there are none. They are created from scratch for each particular case. They are written within a narrow circle of Western countries and palmed off as the ultimate truth. We are witnessing the apotheosis of the Ukrainian crisis. There is no doubt that containing any rival is one of the “rules” that the West is eager to implement. Today, Russia is that rival, but China has been declared next in line (or this process will take place in parallel). The goal of this “rules-based international order” is the full revival of the unipolar world.
NATO is an obedient tool, and it has always been this way. The European Union is coming up with numerous speculations and ideas concerning the need to create a “strategic autonomy”. President of France Emmanuel Macron has been actively advocating this idea. But the EU has lost its independence. So far, only a modest decision on the Strategic Compass, a 5000-strong rapid deployment brigade, has materialised. But in conceptual matters, the EU has fully merged with NATO and the United States. A process has been underway for years, where neutral, non-bloc EU countries, which are not NATO members, provide their infrastructure for military exercises. European Mobility, designed to facilitate eastward movement, does not differentiate between a NATO member and a neutral country. In any case, this caters to the needs of the North Atlantic Alliance, which has been expanding east throughout the recent years (despite all of its commitments).
The Alliance has disregarded our numerous proposals to implement what we seemed to have agreed once and for all both at the OSCE and within the framework of Russia-NATO relations. I am referring to the premise that no country should strengthen its own security at the expense of the security of others. This is the key component of indivisible security, which has been formalised at the highest level at a number of summits. They replied that the legal guarantees of security could only be provided within NATO rather than in the context of some “contractual” relations with the Russian Federation. This was creating a temptation for countries that failed to join the alliance after the disintegration of the Warsaw Treaty Organisation. Eventually they were drawn into NATO. The aim was to contain Russia, as for that matter any other country demonstrating independent behaviour on the international scene. As for Russia, Ukraine has been chosen as a tool to suppress Russian independence. Let us recall what Zbigniew Brzezinski said about what Russia would be like with a friendly Ukraine and what if Ukraine were unfriendly. In the latter case, Russia would be a regional power rather than a great power.
To be an active tool for containment, Ukraine had to become “anti-Russia,” as President of Russia Vladimir Putin recently noted. Ukrainian authorities encouraged neo-Nazism and passed legislation on ‘de-Communisation’ and on glorifying winners in World War II, among which they listed Shukhevich, Bandera and all other collaborators–who should have been tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal. But nobody was interested in this subject. The “civilised” West silently watched and even encouraged this, while also encouraging the drafting of programmes for the national-patriotic education of young people through state support for various scout associations. The Plast organisation that provided military and ideological training to Bandera, Shukhevich and their supporters, remains active. At the same time, they beat up veterans and tore off St George ribbons on May 9. They split the Russian Orthodox Church and created a quasi-organisation with the help of the United States and the Constantinople Patriarchate. Everything was aimed at achieving specific goals.
The term “cancel culture” has now become popular. I believe that all of this is aimed at cancelling our common history and is part of an aggressive containment of the Russian Federation. No one ever even tried to abide by those radiant statements made in 1991 when Moscow was the venue for an OSCE meeting and when such freedoms as access to any domestic and foreign information were proclaimed. It was noted that all of us are one, that we had a common destiny, a common European home and a common space all the way to the Urals and then on to Vladivostok.
At the same time, a policy was being formulated with regard to Ukraine with the aim of alienating it from the Russian Federation to the greatest possible extent. In 2003, during the Ukrainian presidential election race, EU officials, foreign ministers and EU members openly interfered in the election campaign and noted that the people of Ukraine had to decide whether they supported Europe or Russia. This is how they put it. The either-or principle was already stipulated at the time. At some stage, during subsequent election campaigns, when Ukrainian voters did not support the EU in the second election round, EU officials, in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, forced the country’s Constitutional Court to organise a third round, and the required voting results were obtained. [See: Orange Revolution of 2004-05, Wikipedia.]
This mentality and a striving to create an “anti-Russia” has evolved for many years. In 2013, when Ukraine was negotiating an economic association agreement with the EU, once again driven by this either-or approach, we drew the attention of the Ukraine government to the fact that it was discussing zero tariffs with the EU while Russia and Ukraine also had zero tariffs in the CIS free trade zone. Russia managed to coordinate protectionist tariffs with the EU during the 17-year WTO accession talks. This was achieved through much suffering. We said honestly that, if Russia and Ukraine had zero tariffs, and if the same tariffs were stipulated for Ukraine and the EU, this would seriously jeopardise our agreements with the EU, and that such agreements might be violated. We proposed a simple option, that is, holding trilateral Russia-Ukraine-EU talks. Brussels noted arrogantly that this was none of our business, and that the EU was not meddling in our trade with China. At that time, Russia and Ukraine had enormous volumes of trade. This arrogant approach was displayed in 2013.
President Viktor Yanukovich later realised that it was necessary to search for compromises, so as not to lose the Russian market. Russia would otherwise have been forced to shield itself from zero European tariffs. He asked the EU to put off the signing of this agreement. Well, this served as a pretext for staging the Euromaidan protests on Kiev’s Independence Square. Yanukovich was thinking about his country’s economic interests. In turn, the EU and those goading him on were thinking of how to contain Russia to the greatest possible extent and to limit the potential for its development.
The Euromaidan protests later escalated into bloody violence. Talks took place with Germany, France and Poland guaranteeing the economic association agreement, signed by the parties. And then in the morning, a coup was staged [February 21]. Later, we asked the European “guarantors” why this had happened. We wanted to know why they had failed to force their clients to fulfil the specific agreements, all the more so since it involved holding early elections. In any event, political changes would have taken place there. After that, they started calling the Euromaidan part of the democratic process.
I would like to recall that in 2014, a coup took place in Yemen and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi immediately fled the country. The entire progressive humankind still considers him the President of Yemen and demands that he be allowed to return home. Serious talks on this matter are underway. The situation with Ukraine is completely different. Those wishing to be an obedient “tool” in the hands of the West, rather than those opposing the West and advocating friendship with Russia, gained power there. The very first “instincts” of this new government and the putsch’s perpetrators was to make an immediate demand that the status of the Russian language, enshrined in Ukrainian legislation, be abolished, and that Russians be expelled from Crimea. They dispatched military units to Crimea to storm the Supreme Council building. You remember all the rest.
All these years we have been talking with our Western colleagues and blaming them for letting a bloody coup happen, contrary to all European “values”. They said that we had “annexed” Crimea. That is, they are cancelling everything that happened before the [Crimea] referendum (March 15, 2014]. This is their culture. In their dialogue and their logic, they cancel everything that exposes them: they do not care about agreements, guarantees, the EU, the coup, the blood. The referendum in Crimea happened because the lives of Russian people were under direct threat. But the Westerners start with the referendum. They are not interested in what led to the referendum that they call “annexation”. There are numerous such examples in history.
This is just like the current events. They believe they began on February 24, 2022, not in November 2021, when the President of Russia proposed the initiatives on European security; not in December 2021, when we drafted agreements for the Americans and NATO countries; not during the meetings between the delegations of Russia and the U.S., and Russia and NATO. During these meetings, they flatly refused to make legally binding guarantees of indivisibility of security, under which no state would strengthen its security at the expense of others. All of this has been forgotten.
The Ukrainian authorities amassed 120,000 military personnel along the line of contact in Donbass, artillery attacks intensified, and they started talking openly about a ‘plan B’. As we see now, they had such a plan. We have documents that confirm that and that show that we were justified in our concerns that direct aggression would begin and there would be an attempt to take Donbass by force. But no one remembers this anymore.
They say that Russia “invaded” [Ukraine] on February 24, 2022. It is a play on words that the West is so famous for. They chop away the inconvenient periods in history and even the most recent ones, as is the case here.
We have already said that after the February 2014 coup, Dmitry Yarosh and other neo-Nazis stated that Russians would never speak Ukrainian, would not think as Ukrainians, would not revere Shukhevich and Bandera, so they must be banished from Crimea. We provided this example to our Western colleagues. They said that those were fringe elements, not the Ukrainian people. [See this recent example: Ukrainian ‘Nazis’ are real. But their influence is marginal, by Doug Saunders, senior columnist, Globe and Mail, Mar 24, 2022 (paywalled).]
Vladimir Zelensky said during his election campaign that he could not be a neo-Nazi, would not impinge upon Russians, because it was in his blood and he is a Jew and his native language is Russian, so it would never happen. First, it was under his rule that all avenues for the Russian language were trampled upon. We demand that these restrictions be lifted. Second, the ideology and practices of neo-Nazism blossomed on his watch. Speaking of his attitude towards Russians, in September 2021, he called people who lived in Donbass “a species” and said that not all its people were people. With this, he joined the Arseny Yatsenyuk club who, being the Ukrainian Prime Minister in 2014, called Donetsk residents non-humans. ‘Non-humans’, ‘species’–this looks like a Freudian slip. But it was still considered possible to shake hands with these people, one of them was a prime minister and the other is a president now. So that is what they are thinking. This is what their soberness does not conceal, if you remember the Russian saying. Then President Zelensky said that if you consider yourself Russian and want to be Russian but are living in Ukraine, you should move to Russia. How does this differ from what Yarosh said when he wanted all Russians to get out of Crimea? It is no different at all. But no one notices this anymore.
So the masks have slipped. At the moment, it is not Ukraine that is being used to limit, humiliate and destroy everything that is Russian. The entire world has been commanded ‘go get ’em’, even the “educated” West. One is under attack just for having a Russian passport, walking into a shop where the owner thinks you are a Russian. Never mind what is going on in sports, with our Paralympic athletes – it is a cruel joke, the doom of Western civilisation. I do not know how they are going to clean themselves up in the face of history. Of course, they will blame “aggression” and an “invasion” by Russia. The above-mentioned facts are a small part of what preceded the decisions that we were forced to make. They were aimed at saving the lives of people, who have been bombed for the past 8 years, and at preventing the deployment of threatening military infrastructure in Ukraine. This is related to the non-admission of Ukraine to NATO. Denazification. These are absolutely essential demands.
Ukrainian political figures are trying to say that they do not have such anti-Russian laws, that they are following European ones. This is not true. The laws are there and may be found on the internet. Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko are not being allowed to go on tours. Schools and universities are erasing Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn from their programmes. Such partners we have. I think that this unprecedented mayhem reflects their spite because they failed to implement the ‘anti-Russia’ project. Now anything goes, it is a case of using whatever means necessary. If you are a Russophobe, you are allowed to do anything. This principle is evident in the daily activities of the Ukrainian authorities for the past eight years. Currently, the Russophobic lawlessness has spread to the entire Western world.
There have always been sanctions against Russia. President Vladimir Putin has pointed this out. But the current level of the sanctions is shocking. I never thought the West would go that far. Joking aside, all this is being done to remove (they hope to succeed) the “obstacle” of Russia, which is hindering the creation of a unipolar world. They used to say that their sanctions did not target ordinary people but regimes and their leaders, who must be made to see how much they would suffer personally if they refused to “cooperate.” They claimed to be protecting ordinary people. This is nothing like how it is. This pretence has long since been cast aside. They are openly hitting [ordinary people] and have said so. French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire has stated publicly that they must wage “total economic war on Russia”. Does that ring any bells? Germany spoke about ‘Totaler Krieg‘ [‘total war’] when it started WWII. Today they are speaking about leaving the Russian economy “in tatters” and so on.
This is not about Ukraine. This is about a world order where the United States wants to be the only sovereign and overlord. To put it bluntly. The Monroe Doctrine, whatever it is called now, is being spread throughout the world. Its projection in Asia is called the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and its declared goal is the containment of China. It has different names for different regions. I have already mentioned Europe, which can forget about its “strategic autonomy”. We take a positive view of French President Emmanuel Macron’s desire to uphold national interests, but all the other countries in Europe have resigned themselves to the loss of their “strategic autonomy”. They will continue to adopt finely worded documents, such as the Strategic Compass, but truth be told, Europe is not an independent player. The open, unconditional support which Germany is giving to the Kiev regime, including to its neo-Nazi components, is indicative. The reconciliation between the Germans and the Russians took place only a short time ago, in historical terms. Many clever people in Germany are aware of this.
We never avoided dialogue during the challenging periods, offering talks to NATO, the United States and the EU.
When the Ukrainian authorities called for negotiations during the special military operation, we accepted the proposal. President Vladimir Putin gave the command and the negotiations began. They are proceeding with difficulty. The Ukrainian party, although it showed understanding of the matters to be coordinated during the talks, has been changing its position all the time, rejecting its own proposals. It is difficult to get rid of the impression that their American colleagues are holding them by the hand. According to Russian and Western political analysts, the Americans do not want this process to end soon. They want to continue sending weapons to Ukraine. Provocative statements are being made about sending Soviet MiGs from Eastern Europe and more Stinger MANPADS. This entails a huge threat because these weapons will eventually spread across Europe. The Americans obviously want to keep us in a state of hostilities for as long as possible. We have the health, the experience, the spirit and will to protect what we are protecting now. We will reliably ensure the security of the Russian Federation and a decent life for those who want to live in Ukraine and who regard themselves as representatives of Russian culture in all its manifestations, just as it has always been in neighbouring Slavic states.
The attempts to present Russia as isolated or being isolated is a futile attempt. We have many friends. Just take a look at how many countries have adopted sanctions and how many have refused to do so despite the immense U.S. pressure, which I would describe as unbecoming of a great power. The United States is openly speaking about the demands it has made to China, India and Turkey. Does the U.S. not realise that this attitude towards great civilisations, which have thousands of years of history, is humiliating? These are their manners. The gold fever has not abated.
Questions to the Sergei Lavrov and answers:
Question: Do you think that the negotiations with Vladimir Zelensky’s government have reached a dead end? Is there a chance that a peace treaty with the current Ukrainian government could be a new Khasavyurt Accord [1996-97 peace agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Chechnya, Wikipedia], inevitably leading to a new conflict?
Sergey Lavrov: Have you been watching Vladimir Solovyov’s talk show? Many would like this to be a dead end and would like to present the situation as Russia getting bogged down there. The purpose of dragging things out (the Americans are clearly playing a decisive role here) is to dramatise the situation and allow Vladimir Zelensky to continue making his passionate and emotional presentations at world parliaments, wearing his khaki T-shirt, again and again demanding that NATO intervene.
Our Polish colleagues have already announced that there will be a NATO summit soon and that peacekeepers should be sent to Ukraine. I hope they know what they are talking about. This will be a direct confrontation between the Russian and NATO armed forces, which is something everyone has been desperately trying to avoid, because this should never ever happen. The Polish representatives are known for their unconventional moves aimed at provoking a big disaster. I do not rule out that when they talk about peacekeepers, they mean their border, the west of Ukraine. Maybe they want to bring in peacekeepers, set up a headquarters in Lvov, and stay there. Why not? They have had such ideas. And not just ideas. This has already happened in the past. And they are talking not only about the peacekeeping contingent now; there have been mentions of the Baltics possibly sending some small battalions to “defend” Ukraine.
We need to stay patient. Our position is simple. We have clearly outlined our negotiating approaches. They are on paper. European representatives are interested in them: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz regularly speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin; Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet has called as well. We are in contact with the leaders of China and India. But Western countries are also trying to play a mediating role. We do not mind, but we have very clear red lines, those we have been talking about for many years. Talking no longer seems to be enough, especially remembering the experience with the Minsk agreements, when everything was agreed and even approved by the UN Security Council. However, this did not prevent the Kiev regime, with a broad go-ahead from the guarantors of the Normandy format, France and Germany, from ignoring and sabotaging all of their obligations. This is also cancellation culture. They say they are ready to fulfil the Minsk agreements, but first we have to give up control of the border, and then they will hold elections, grant amnesty and establish economic ties.
But the documents say the opposite: first, grant the special status, hold elections, organise amnesty, and only then, when all this is recorded and confirmed by the OSCE, will you have control of the border. The Ukrainians wanted to gain control of the border under the guise of fulfilling the Minsk agreements. Then they would bring in 20,000 UN peacekeepers. The same way, Poland now wants to take over the western part of Ukraine. And a “civil administration” will be established there, instead of holding elections. They say they support the Minsk agreements. But the Minsk agreements spell out these things very clearly. There is no ambiguous interpretation of the Minsk agreements, but they still created one. Therefore, in the current situation, the things that Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about should be iron-clad and guaranteed in a way that no one even tries to violate their obligations.
Question: Today, one can note that organisations overseeing the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are acting somewhat ineffectively and are not responding adequately in any of the three main spheres of the non-proliferation regime. Regarding chemical weapons, Russia has already eliminated them, also outside the framework of the 1993 Convention. The United States has so far failed to accomplish this task. Regarding biological weapons, we have documented certain facts regarding Ukraine’s development of such weapons, not to mention dubious research projects at Fort Detrick. Speaking of the nuclear weapons, which is the most important area of focus, the Ukrainian party is saying openly that it is striving to develop nuclear weapons, and, as we have learned, it is backing up its words with action. What steps need to be taken to ensure the effective functioning of non-proliferation regimes for weapons of mass destruction?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a good question. This problem becomes more acute with every passing day. Take the nuclear non-proliferation sphere where there are no insurmountable disagreements between any of the parties. We are unable to hold a Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; this conference takes place every five years. We were unable to hold the conference in 2020 because of the pandemic, we postponed it until 2021, but things did not work out properly last year, either. It appears that all restrictions are now being lifted. These conferences should take place offline because too much depends on the talks and compromises that are not reached via videoconference.
Another problem arises. It was decided that the session should take place within specific deadlines. We have to reach a consensus before supporting this decision. We asked the Americans for an official confirmation that they will issue visas to all members of the Russian delegation who are due to attend this international event, without exception. They provided us with a rather sly document, but we accepted it. We are now checking to what extent they are ready to fulfil their obligations. I have no doubt that they will act deceitfully and will try to invent pretexts for refusing to provide our delegates with visas. We have very professional negotiators. Unlike many U.S. representatives who largely engage in demagogy at such talks, we always provide the facts. They will try to deprive us of the best experts.
The same concerns now surface in the sphere of biological weapons. Official documents, signed by official U.S. representatives from the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, have been provided. This is the main tool that they use to conduct military-biological research all over the world. Instead of simply explaining what exactly U.S. service personnel were doing in at least 30 laboratories in Ukraine, they are telling us that this is not how it was. U.S. biological labs are scattered all over the world. But what worries us most is the existence of these laboratories and the creation of new ones in the former Soviet republics, including in Central Asia.
We are now completing a draft memorandum on cooperation in the sphere of biological security with our Kazakhstani friends. This will ensure transparency in Russia, bilateral transparency, as well as mutual transparency within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. We’ll make sure to complete this work. We have already done this with our Tajik and Uzbek colleagues, and we are finalising this work with our Armenian colleagues. This is a serious problem. The fact that the Pentagon has shown an interest in former Soviet laboratories and invested in their modernisation (so as to create new facilities there) is interesting and requires clarification. I hope that Russia and Kazakhstan will certainly resolve these matters, and that we will launch this process within the CSTO. A principled decision has already been made.
While talking about biological threats, Kazakhstan has suggested that a biological safety agency be established under the auspices of the UN Security Council. The agency was expected to help implement the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons. Since 2001, Russia has been advocating the creation of a verification mechanism under this Convention. The United States is the only country that emphatically opposes this idea because it does not want to show anyone else what it is doing. The United States can covertly draft programmes and projects via bilateral agreements to its own advantage and without telling anyone else much about them.
They are now openly discussing risks on the basis of what has been disclosed. Chemical weapons are the third weapon of mass destruction that you mentioned. Unlike the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention stipulated a control and verification body from the very beginning. Here is how it functioned.
Any country suspecting the use of chemical substances should contact the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW and ask them to send experts. The experts are supposed to collect materials and take them to a certified laboratory, without relinquishing them. They should analyse them and openly inform everyone about their findings, confirming that the substances are listed among those banned by the Convention or not listed as banned. These functions are stipulated in the Convention. In an effort to promote a rules-based order instead of international law, the West flagrantly blackmailed senior officials at the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat, headed by representatives of Spain and France, and endowed it with the functions of establishing guilt. The Convention does not mention this. To amend the Convention, it is necessary to introduce an amendment by consensus. None of this was done, and no amendments were made. They simply voted on the matter. Of the 190 countries, 85, a minority, voted in favour, and all others either voted against or abstained. By directly manipulating the Technical Secretariat’s senior officials, they created an investigation mechanism. This is a glaring violation of all rules of international conventions. It is impossible to change any convention by voting, all the more so as the UN Security Council has an exclusive right to establish guilt.
Each of the three non-proliferation spheres has its problems, and we are worried about this. We are urging all countries to overcome these differences and disagreements and to get rid of “novelties” that violate international law and convention documents. However, considering the West’s obsession with promoting its own rules, interests and objectives, it will be hard to get everyone else to comply with this, to defend the universal and equitable nature of these documents, including the equitable operation of mechanisms.
Question: In light of the ongoing changes and the worsening situation in Ukraine and several other former Soviet countries, what changes can be made to the Russian strategy towards the post-Soviet space?
Sergey Lavrov: It is a good question. It does not have a simple answer. Such changes should be made all the time. The CIS and the CSTO, not to mention the Eurasian Economic Union, are living organisms. Their development is only gathering momentum. There is also the Union State of Russia and Belarus, within the framework of which we have drafted and approved 28 union programmes. They are being transformed into practical, directly applicable laws.
The Americans and their European lapdogs are using the language of ultimatums with absolutely all countries. They say that these countries will live to regret it if they support Russia or even maintain economic ties with it, which can undermine the effect of the sanctions. The ill-mannered Americans unceremoniously use the same language with our closest allies, neighbours and friends. They can certainly affect the practical logistics chains, which is already happening as the result of anti-Russia sanctions. Now they want to close their ports and waters to Russian vessels. At the least, this is what the Poles are talking about.
The Eurasian Economic Union has a mechanism that operates at the level of prime ministers and their deputies. They routinely deal with such matters to maximally protect our countries from the frenzied attacks being made on our interests contrary to the values the liberals have been so proud of. The freedom of choice, market competition, the free economy, the presumption of innocence and the inviolability of private property: what has happened to these values? All of them have been trampled underfoot and destroyed in relations with Russia (I don’t know if any have survived). And then they said that it was not forever, that they would consider reviving them when Russia mends its ways. I believe that we should choose a different path. We must act so that we never find ourselves without components, for example, when our Western partner with a reserve currency wakes up in a bad mood. As of today, 70 percent of component parts for our combine harvesters are produced in Russia, but 100 percent would be much better. They have banned the supply of aircraft parts. They are depriving us of aircraft. This is directly concerned with the health and lives of our people. But they don’t care. Or take the Central Bank’s reserves. None of our analysts ever imagined that the West would impose sanctions on them. This is theft. I have already mentioned the gold fever and the Wild West saloon, which can only have one owner.
I can assure you that the Government and the President are attending to this matter. Work is ongoing at the Eurasian Economic Union. The CIS has a free trade zone. These issues are being given consideration as well. We will do everything in our power to prevent any damage to the progressive development of our integration.
Question: A couple of weeks ago, U.S. President Joseph Biden signed a bill that includes a ban on maps depicting Taiwan and adjoining islands as part of the People’s Republic of China. This contradicts the One China policy. Is an escalation of the Taiwan crisis possible in the context of the global situation and such U.S. actions?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not comment on the colours used on Washington’s maps or the documents signed by President Biden. I can only rely on the official comment published after President Xi Jinping’s recent video call with President Biden. According to the Chinese party, Beijing pointed out that any deviation from the stated U.S. position regarding the One China policy was unacceptable. The American readout of the call said that the U.S. president reiterated that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed. I would like to stop here. There are too many speculations as it is. You probably know about them.
As for whether China might take advantage of the situation to attack Taiwan, it is a controversial issue. Some forces in the South Caucasus could allegedly take advantage of the fact that attention is currently focused on Ukraine and Russia. A lot can be said on this score. Political analysts are doing this. I prefer to say that we are doing a job that has long been overdue. It will add clarity to our relations with the rest of the world, meaning that we will preclude any dependence on the West in the future. If they opt for cooperation, we will not reject it. But there must be a balance of interests. We have no right to give them access to the sectors on which the operation of the main spheres of our economy depends, which are crucial for the health and safety of our people. Our country has a vast territory with rich resources and good brains. We have more than enough of everything to become self-sufficient, without shutting the door on mutually beneficial projects with the external world.
Question: Many analysts talk about Russia’s pivot, specifically in economic relations, to the East, because the West, by introducing anti-Russia sanctions because of the special military operation in Ukraine, has decided to create a new Iron Curtain in its relations with Russia. Which non-European countries will Russia develop political and economic relations with, in the first place? Are there any plans for Russian-Chinese strategic cooperation to be transformed into a military or political alliance?
Sergey Lavrov: Our country is located on the Eurasian continent. Two parts of the world, the two heads of the [Russian] eagle. Today, there is a lot of interest in how the West treated us in the past. I looked at cartoons in their newspapers dating back to the last quarter of the 19th century. One shows a Brit – by all evidence – with the Russian two-headed eagle in front of him. The Brit is cutting off one of its heads with his knight’s sword. Just a cartoon! It seems to be a joke, but it also has implications.
As for our pivot to the “left” or “right”, we have always said, after Russia acquired its present form of statehood, that we were ready to cooperate with anyone willing to collaborate with us on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, mutual respect, a search for a balance of interests, compromise, consensus, etc. (This is part of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept.)
For a long time, we had record high trade with Europe, up to $430 billion. It was like this from 2010 through 2012. Then, humiliated by the Ukrainian far-right radicals after Maidan, when its guarantees were ignored and pushed aside from the plans that the neo-Nazis were going to implement, Europe tried to compensate for its impotence by accusing us of everything they could think up. The Europeans began measuring this tragic itinerary from the referendum in Crimea, which they described as an “annexation,” and not from their own mistakes that have led to what is happening in Ukraine now.
They have closed all channels of communication and withdrawn from the biannual summits and the annual meetings between the Government of Russia and the European Commission. They have closed 20 sectoral dialogues and suspended the work on creating the four common spaces (we had four roadmaps), and efforts to further liberalise the visa regime, and much more. In a situation where you are balancing and someone removes a prop on the “left,” it is logical that you will focus on working with the East. Our trade with China in 2021 was approximately $141 billion. This is a record! Trade grew by 35 percent. We also have relations within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. An agreement has been signed and an effort is on to harmonise the EAEU’s integration processes with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
In addition to security, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is focusing on major trade, economic and infrastructure projects. There is BRICS that has established the New Development Bank, which has worked pro-actively, including during this difficult period. Finally, there is RIC (Russia, India, China). We should not forget about this. It was before BRICS, but RIC is still in existence. Meetings are held not only by the foreign ministers, but also the transport ministers. The three countries are linked by geography. Many promising pipeline, infrastructure and transport projects can be implemented here. These projects are being studied. If Europe comes to its senses, we will not shut the door, but with the understanding that we will not be dependent on anyone.
Europe has shown its unreliability as a partner. We will grow stronger with the EAEU, the SCO and BRICS to name a few, as well as other associations. We will consider any joint implementation projects offered to us from a qualitatively different standpoint.
Question: Can we still say that now, with the ongoing international crisis, international relations crisis, the UN continues to be an effective platform for resolving conflicts and addressing emerging threats, especially against the backdrop of thoughtless suggestions to exclude Russia from the Security Council?
Sergey Lavrov: This is an important question. When we say that we stand for the democratisation of international relations and a fair polycentric world order, we are not proposing (as many believed at some point) to replace the UN with something else, but to return to the roots. The UN Charter stipulates sovereign equality of states. The Americans have grossly violated this principle. It is clear that countries are different. There are very small ones and they find it difficult to be independent. But the principle of sovereign equality of states must be respected by all, at least to the extent of giving each member of the UN the opportunity to access facts and decide on their approach. The Americans are now putting pressure on large countries (I am not even talking about small countries) and threatening to cut off trade and impose more sanctions to make them support America at the UN.
The UN General Assembly recently voted on Ukraine, with 145 countries supporting a resolution condemning Russia. However, more than 100 of them have not and will not impose any sanctions against us. But it was propagandistically important for them to show that Russia was being isolated. This is what the Americans are doing. I consider such behaviour unworthy of a great power, as much as using below-the-belt methods. I will tell you what I mean. I know many people at the UN – I worked there for a long time. I spoke with some of my colleagues during a recent visit. A country’s permanent representative at the UN is often coerced to vote the way the U.S. wants by being reminded that this person has an account with an American bank and that their children study at a U.S. university. They will not stop short of anything.
Do not try to destroy the UN. This is what they are doing when they say one should be guided by some “rules” on which the world order is based, and not by international law. Such “rules” are being created within the framework of various kinds of partnerships, or certain “calls.” There is international humanitarian law, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which is a universal body. But the European Union has created a partnership on international humanitarian law, where they come up with their own rules. There is the UN Human Rights Council, the European Court of Human Rights (Russia is leaving it now, but that is not going to harm our citizens in any way). Over the decades that the EU has existed, we, and everyone else, have insisted that they sign the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU has been refusing to do so because its member countries have already signed it, and the human rights standards within the European Union are much higher than in the Council of Europe. So, they say, the EU members are beyond that court’s jurisdiction, and will address their own problems themselves. That kind of sentiment.
We must go back to the UN Charter, which, among other things, stipulates respect for sovereign equality of states. This is the main principle. It also includes a nation’s right to self-determination, along with respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The debate on which of the three is more important has been going on from the day the UN was created – is it territorial integrity, sovereignty or the right of peoples to self-determination? There have been special consultations and negotiations. These have been going on for decades. In 1970, they ended with an agreement on the very important Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States, in accordance with the UN Charter. This is an extensive document. It has a section specifically covering the relationship between sovereignty, territorial integrity and the right to self-determination. I think this is very relevant, especially in the context of the Ukrainian crisis and what our delegations are now negotiating. It is also important in the context of the future of Crimea and Donbass. They often suggest holding a referendum. This is intended to drag out the process. The consensus of the international community laid out in the 1970 Declaration, states that every state shall respect “territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory.”
Ukraine considers Crimea and Donbass its territory, a territory it bombed for eight years, driving people into basements, destroying civilian facilities, and killing civilians. Does Kiev represent today’s Crimea or today’s Donbass? We must uphold the values of the UN. Many good things have been accomplished. We need to return to that invaluable experience.
Question: Do you think it would be possible to move the UN Headquarters from the United States to a neutral country in international relations or even to a developing country in order to involve the international community in the problems of developing states and reduce the political pressure on the UN?
Sergey Lavrov: We need to work on this.
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