Interview Part 2
Question: Not so long ago we interviewed some European officials. They said NATO really did not want to expand eastward. Russia was not supposed to have any problems with this. Now such statements are no longer made. Why have these changes appeared and why were such Russian media as Sputnik and RT blocked in the EU? We are seeing disinformation from social and traditional media. What is your response to all this?
Sergey Lavrov: What is my response to all this? This fact is well known and cannot be concealed. The Soviet leadership and then the Russian leadership was reassured that NATO would not move to the east, that not a single piece of NATO’s military infrastructure would appear to the east of the Oder River. You know what happened afterwards. President Vladimir Putin has spoken about this many times. There were five consecutive waves of NATO expansion. Moreover, each time the rhetoric, military planning and exercises of this alliance became increasingly directed against the Russian Federation.
We have talked about this and explained it many times. But we did not see a response that would indicate NATO’s readiness to speak on equal grounds, based on respect for each other’s interests and concerns. I deliberately cited statements that were made at the highest level in the OSCE in Istanbul in 1999, in Astana in 2010 and the statements of the Russian and NATO leaders at the summit in Pratica di Mare in 2002. It was clearly said that nobody would enhance their security at the expense of the security of others and that not a single organisation in the Euro-Atlantic region had the right to claim domination in the OSCE space. NATO members are categorically refusing to honour both.
You have asked me a very good question: Why is this happening and why do they need to maintain this position? I see no other explanation but the stubborn, relentless desire to maintain their superiority in all areas and show everyone that it is NATO that is dictating orders in Europe. Now Yens Stoltenberg has said that NATO bears global responsibility for global security. So, all this talk about the defensive character of the Alliance is cheap talk, “in favour of the poor” as we say here. If the Alliance was defensive it would have had to defend itself by now. But nobody has ever attacked it. And yet the Alliance decided itself: Now we are defending ourselves along the conventional Berlin Wall. Then the Berlin Wall was gone – why don’t we defend ourselves somewhere else? Then they started moving eastward. Each time, they drew a defensive line independently and unilaterally. It has already approached the Russian Federation. This was explained many times. President Vladimir Putin explained this explicitly in his public statements and long conversations with Western leaders. When they speak with us at the bilateral level, they seem to show understanding, but something happens with them as soon as they get together. Apparently, what happens is that they are already ruled by the United States that is issuing orders and instructions to them. It’s sad. We remain open to a conversation. It is bound to start eventually anyway.
Everyone knows that a coup d’etat took place in Ukraine. It was not provoked by anything. It took place a day after the President and the opposition signed an agreement on early elections which the opposition was bound to win.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin asks his colleagues: Why did they stage this coup? If there had been no coup the afore-mentioned agreement would have been fulfilled. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to start an uprising in Crimea against the putschists. Crimea would have remained Ukrainian. We have said and explained all this.
But in the current situation we cannot tolerate this threat because Ukraine has been turned into “anti-Russia”, into a bridgehead for undermining everything Russian. This continued for a long time. This was part of a big geopolitical game. Do your remember Zbigniew Brzezinski said that Russia and Ukraine together were a superpower? I believe he also said that it necessary to make every use of Ukraine to undermine Russia’s interests, influence and culture. I’d like to emphasise that he urged his colleagues to use Ukraine to cause the collapse of the Russian Orthodox faith, which is now being actively done. President Petr Poroshenko started this line and President Vladimir Zelensky is doing much to support it. So, there is no lack of goodwill on our part but we cannot allow and will not tolerate continuous crude encroachments on our interests that create a physical threat to Russia’s security.
Question: What is your assessment of the current situation after the talks with Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot say now what the situation will be like after the talks. The talks have not started yet. I believe the head of the delegation, who is holding talks with Ukraine, will make a statement as soon as they are completed. Then we will learn all about it.
Question (retranslated from English): Russia is isolated in the diplomatic arena, with only four countries having voted against the resolution calling on Russia to stop its military operation immediately. For perhaps the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO is united as never before. In diplomatic terms, it has been a fiasco, or a defeat for Russia, has it not?
Sergey Lavrov: That is for you to judge. I cannot judge my actions or my country’s actions. We are confident that we are doing the right thing.
I want to say again that it is bad, very bad that people are dying.
I am not thinking of a diplomatic fiasco but rather of the West’s “talent” for diplomacy. Thousands of people died – about 14,000 people died over the eight years of war in Donbass. Not a single person from any media outlet in the West has ever thought of travelling to Donbass to see how people whom the Ukrainian regime declared terrorists, although they had never attacked anyone, live there. They were attacked and called terrorists. These people come under fire every day, civilians are killed there, schools and kindergartens are destroyed and acts of terrorism are committed.
If you choose what the West says as the criterion for your professional actions, then so be it. If you call those eight years of silence on the part of Western media and Western politicians and eight years of torpedoing the Minsk agreements, with the Ukrainian regime not only failing to implement the agreements but continuing to use force against civilians – if you call those eight years of choosing to ignore and remain silent a diplomatic triumph, that is your right. Russia has stood up for its interests and NATO, as you said, is finally united as never before. Has NATO sought to bring back the reason for justifying its existence? The reason vanished following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation. Later, it was Afghanistan. Recently, NATO has triumphantly pulled out of Afghanistan. However, this event failed yet again to provide motivation for uniting and keeping a tight rein on all allies. What strategic autonomy is President of France Emmanuel Macron talking about? Nobody will ever allow anyone to have strategic autonomy. The United States has already shown it clearly. This is, perhaps, the diplomatic triumph of the United States. But then I will not say who in Europe is suffering a diplomatic fiasco.
As for the arithmetic you mentioned, we know well what methods our Western colleagues use to achieve results like these: pure blackmail and arm-twisting. They tell all counties without exception and without mincing words: there will be voting and you must vote the way we tell you. They say this to officials in foreign countries who have accounts in the West and whose children study in universities in Western countries. Exactly like this, without ceremony. I know this because many of my friends tell me that such pressure is being put on them: “I’m sorry, we can’t vote differently, it is my life, and the life and well-being of my family.” Yes, these methods are used to achieve a diplomatic triumph. My congratulations to you. However, the truth will out ultimately.
Again, I want to invite you to visit the Foreign Ministry website for irrefutable documentary evidence of what Ukrainian military and neo-Nazis were doing in Donbass and other parts of Ukraine. That is why we are not feeling political loneliness.
Question: Is the plan to bring back Viktor Yanukovych to power in Kiev? Is this the endgame for Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: Again, your question shows that you came to this interview without even reading through what President Vladimir Putin and I have said on multiple occasions. It is up to the Ukrainian people, or rather all the peoples living in multi-ethnic Ukraine, to decide on the future of Ukraine and on who should be their leader.
Question: I have a question about Polina Zakhodinskaya. She was in her final year of primary school. She was shot dead by the Russians as she was in her family car in Kiev. Mr Lavrov, I know you have a daughter yourself. I want you to look me in the eye and just tell me how do you sleep at night knowing that Russian bombs and bullets are killing children?
Sergey Lavrov: I can’t add anything to what I have already said. Every human life is precious. Unfortunately, hostilities involve casualties, not only among the military, but also the civilians. Our servicemen participating in the special operation have a strict order to use only high-precision weapons to suppress the military infrastructure. Even the barracks with the Ukrainian military are not targeted.
I can only convey my condolences to the bereaved families.
Question: You say high precision is used, but hundreds of civilians have reportedly already died. This is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court. I wonder if you personally are preparing your defence in a war crimes tribunal?
Sergey Lavrov: You are keen on asking pointed questions, I’m sure you’ll have a big audience. You will charge this audience emotionally. As I understand, this is your job. This is not so much a media outlet as a tool for inculcating what Western leaders need into the people’s heads. I’m here to say it again: I do not justify any actions that result in civilian deaths.
We did not come up with the term “collateral damage.” Our Western colleagues came up with it during their reckless undertakings in Iraq, and before that in other countries such as Libya, and Latin America. Have you ever covered the developments in Iraq or Libya with the same emotional zeal? With hundreds of thousands of dead civilians? I can’t remember that. So, I regard your question as rhetorical.
Question: Yes, of course, this is my job, but you started this war, and Polina’s blood is on your hands, isn’t it, Mr Lavrov?
Sergey Lavrov: I prefer not to play these games. You’re acting as if it’s some kind of a talk show. If you want to know my position, I have outlined it in the most detailed way, including the humanitarian aspects of the ongoing operation.
I understand that you will cover all this the way you need to, but I want you to remember (probably, any journalist on a put-up mission still has a conscience), what you did during these eight years, when little girls, women, and older people were killed by the thousands in Donbass. The Ukrainian regime killed them. Go ahead and visit our Ministry website. I’d rather not take up your time with long stories. And if you are so worried (and rightly so) about the humanitarian consequences of any hostilities, it would be only fair if you looked at the chapters that you have so far preferred not to touch upon in your work.