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Sergey Lavrov: Russia hopes for the better

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
© Mikhail Metzel/TASS

In his interview to TASS, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about main results and major events of the outgoing year, including the Ukrainian crisis and the Normandy Quartet meeting in Paris, Russian-US relations and the future of the New START treaty, as well as turbulence in Latin America and Caribbean nations.


- What are the main results of the year as far as East Ukraine crisis settlement is concerned? What are the main objectives for 2020? Now that the Normandy Quartet met in Paris, will it be fair to say that Vladimir Zelensky has a constructive approach to this issue? Considering the bilateral meeting between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine, is it possible to say now that the two states at least have an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue?

- Regrettably, the conflict in the east of Ukraine persists. Shelling continues along the contact line. Region’s blockade is not lifted.

However, hopes remain to achieve progress in the settlement. Zelensky names an early end to warfare in the southeast of the country among the major priorities of his presidency. Within five months, he has managed to do what his predecessor was obstinately refusing to do for years. The question is about putting into practice commitments on the disengagement of forces in three ‘pilot’ areas along the contact line, as well as confirming in written form the text of ‘the Steinmeier Formula’ that specifies the procedure of putting into effect a special status for Donbass on a permanent basis.

The Normandy Four summit in Paris on December 9 became possible owing to this. We know its results. First of all, it confirmed that the Minsk Package of Measures had no alternative as the basis for the settlement, and also recommendations were given for the Contact Group. It is now important to ensure their implementation. However, it won’t be that easy to do this, as evidenced by a meeting of the Contact Group on December 18. Nevertheless, we hope for the better.

Progress in the settlement could be achieved only through a direct dialogue between the parties to the conflict – Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. We are ready to contribute to this in every possible way. The establishment of lasting peace in Ukraine meets our interests and will improve relations between the two countries.

- In the course of your conversations with the US leadership during your visit to Washington, did you feel the real, not declared, readiness to “kick off from the bottom” in relations. Is it possible that 2020, the year of presidential election in the United States – bring improvements in relations given the Russophobic sentiments? Can talks on extending the New START treaty, possibly with the participation of China and European nations, serve as a basis for restoring dialogue?

- Recent contacts with US representatives during the visit to Washington were useful. [The contacts] allowed us to have a comprehensive exchange of opinions on current bilateral and international matters. Both sides have expressed their willingness to improve relations and achieve joint results in the areas of common interest. As for the prospects of working together next year, we choose a pragmatic approach, we do not have any high expectations. We will judge the attitude of [US President] Donald Trump’s administration to constructive cooperation by its actions. We are taking into account some deterrent factors related to US domestic policy, namely the recently launched election campaign. Detractors of Russia in the Washington establishment might use Russophobia once again as a campaigning tool.

We will continue to respond to unfriendly steps if they continue from the American side. Nevertheless, we think that it would be wrong to postpone the resolution of issues important to our states and the whole world indefinitely. Russia’s offer to build cooperation with the US in various areas remains on the table. This concerns the issue of strategic stability, which Russia and the US are especially responsible for as major nuclear powers.

In particular, Russia is for prolonging the Measures for the Further Reduction and Elimination of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) without any preconditions or artificial procrastinations. Since the Americans ruined the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty it has been the last international legal instrument that mutually restricts the missile and nuclear potential of our countries and ensures predictability in the field of arms control. In the light of the White House’s evasive stance it is hard to tell for the time being whether this issue will become a point of departure for restoring the dialogue.

Let me say once again: New START is bilateral. It was concluded in 2010 between Russia and the United States. Consequently, involving any other countries in its prolongation is impossible.

At the same time the US counterparts have been calling for concluding another – new – agreement on the limitation of nuclear arms. They would like China to participate in it alongside Russia and the United States, but they have not received its consent so far. Nor have they come to terms with Britain and France, whose participation in such talks is absolutely necessary. Moreover, the United States has not even presented its concrete vision yet. They have been fiddling with this idea since last spring, but they have not explained sensibly enough what is to be restricted and how.

As soon as we have such a draft, we will be prepared to consider it most thoroughly. It is clear that the negotiations – be it bilateral or multilateral – will last a while in any case. In the meantime, Russia and the United States might prolong New START now so as to let the international community calm down and to prevent a vacuum in the field of strategic stability. It is to be hoped Washington will make a sensible and responsible approach.

- Does a series of events in 2019 make you think that Latin America has entered a period of coups once again, and the situation is becoming uncontrollable? What does Russia have to lose due to turbulent events in Latin American nations?

- The events of Latin America that took place in the outgoing year indeed bring about the almost forgotten notion of the “burning continent.”

Against the background of a difficult situation in the Latin American region, the US attempts to reformat it according to its geopolitical interests - in line with the theory of ‘controlled chaos’ – trigger deep concern. Efforts to change unwanted regimes or redirect onto the ‘correct’ track those who hesitate, to disunite the regional integration processes and impose tough neo-liberal patterns are component parts of Washington’s policy. By all appearances, the US is employing the Monroe Doctrine ‘brought out of mothballs’ as the ideological backbone.

However, things happened which the US had not expected, it appears, – plans stalled. The region turned out to be more difficult and diverse than Washington’s oversimplified calculations. Specifically, despite stifling sanctions and methods of ‘color revolutions’, attempts fail to put into practice a ‘blitzkrieg’ against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

The [US] administration is traditionally trying to blame its debacles on ‘hostile outside forces,’ including ‘Moscow’s intrigues.’ A vigorous political and media campaign is being waged against us, and the mechanism of ‘secondary sanctions’ – first of all, financial ones – is being widely employed.

At the same time, the demand for Russia’s more active role in Latin American affairs is becoming more and more tangible for us in terms of regional turbulence. This comes as no surprise.  Latin America and the Caribbean region have intrinsic value for our foreign policy. We do not look at the region through the lens of geopolitical interests and do not wish it to become an area of confrontation with anyone.

We view Latin America and the Caribbean region as an important element of the emerging multipolar world order. This is why we are interested in seeing those countries – in their entirety and unity in diversity – as strong, politically consolidated and economically resilient. Russia’s approach to cooperation with Latin American partners is as logic as possible: instead of creating discord, division lines and artificial barriers and dividing partners into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs,’ [we want to] to strengthen cooperation on the non-ideological pragmatic basis with mutual respect and accommodation of interests.

This constructive philosophy allows us to boost fruitful cooperation with Latin American nations in diverse formats and in a broad range of directions.