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Sergey Lavrov: Throwing Russia off balance is ultimate aim

In an interview for the ITAR-TASS project Top Officials Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Washington and some European countries had made a decision to isolate Russia long ago
Andrey Vandenko 
by
Andrey Vandenko

Andrey Vandenko was born on November 8, 1959 in Lugansk, Ukrainian SSR. In 1982, he graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev with a degree in journalism. Since 1989, he has been living and working in Moscow. For over 20 years, he has built his career as a journalist specializing in interviews. His work is published predominantly in Russia’s leading mass media outlets, and he is the recipient of numerous professional awards.

Part 1
On the feeling of despair and the boiling point

 

Over the more than ten years in office as Russia’s foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov has appeared at thousands of news conferences and granted hundreds of interviews. Minutes before the interview that follows (which lasted for more than two hours) he first loosened and took off his necktie. Then he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, but only the top one.

 

- Sergey Viktorovich, you’ve had a really hot time for the past six months.

- And it’s not all over yet. Generally speaking, there has been no calm in foreign politics for a long time. But in summer I did have some time for recreation. In Russia, mind you.

- Don’t you get despaired due to the lack of calmness in foreign affairs?

- No, never ever. That’s not the type of feeling I may have deep down in my heart. We cannot afford to get desperate. We must keep doing our job right.

- But sometimes one cannot but reach the boiling point.

- That’s no good, either. The two things go hand in hand. Only a novice, who suddenly thinks he has reached the dead end, can be forgiven for losing self-control and for not knowing what to do next. Yours truly has had a chance to see a lot over the decades in the diplomatic service, thank God. Any person needs patience, and in our profession this quality has a double value. Making me jump out of my skin is a hopeless task. But it’s not worth trying, though.

- Can you mention some really tough guys you’ve chanced to have in front of you across the negotiating table?

- Come on, how do you think I must go about this business? I may name some, but all the others will get insulted… All were real professionals!

- Not all, I reckon…

- Why not all? Of course, all. But each of them has certain professional strengths. Some are quite professional when it comes to grandstand play, to blocking everything, to shirking the search for a compromise and to avoiding direct answers. People of this sort address some very different tasks. And nearly all of them lack an independent foreign policy. There are only strict instructions from this or that high office that have to be followed. And they scrupulously toe the line.

Naturally, you always expect your partners to be consistent in their actions, to observe common standards. After all, the United States and the European Union have been demanding all the way that all countries should stick to the principles of democracy and the rule of law in their home affairs. But as soon as we get to the international level, none of them ever mentions these basic values any more. That’s natural, of course. A democratic world order does not fit in with the policies the Western world is pursuing these days in its bid to retain its centuries-old foothold. But this is an ever trickier task. Both the Americans and the Europeans prefer to keep quiet about the supremacy of law in international affairs, or at best they pay lip service to it. Mind you, any attempts to apply this rule in practice, for instance, in Libya, where the UN Security Council’s resolution was turned inside out, or in Iraq, which fell victim to an act of outright aggression without any UN SC resolution being taken, are harshly suppressed. For our western partners “the law is an axle – it turns the way you please if you give it plenty of grease,” as a Russian saying goes. I would like to drive the message home: international law requires both development and interpretation. Someone said with a good reason there are as many opinions as there are lawyers. But certain things are indisputable. Either you refrain from supplying weapons to Libya and thereby honor the UN Security Council resolution, or you sell them… It was both NATO countries and some countries of the region that have abused the embargo. The United States is positioning itself as the citadel of freedom, but quite often it is very far from truth, to put it mildly... In other words, the international system is in commotion, its basics are being shaken loose and rather strongly…

- With our help?

- The other way round. Russia has been consistently pressing for the consolidation of international law. We have never deviated from this policy just an inch. We have urged compliance with the achieved agreements and creation of new instruments facilitating proper response to the modern challenges. Take, for instance, our proposal for codifying the principle of indivisibility of security in Europe and making this principle legally binding for all. This political declaration of ours was aimed at preventing crises like the one in Ukraine. The draft of such a treaty, which Russia proposed a while ago, implied that as soon as any of the signatories (and we had hoped that practically all Euro-Atlantic countries would put their signatures to it) has any fears about their security, consultations should instantly follow, with evidence and arguments put on the negotiating table, a collective discussion held and eventual measures taken to de-escalate the crisis. Our proposals fell on deaf ears. We were told that an extra treaty was utterly unnecessary. In other words, everybody was saying that security in Europe was inseparable, of course, and that in terms of international law NATO would provide proper protection for all of its members. But it does not guarantee the security of all those unaffiliated with it! Possibly, the original plan was to use this pretext for pulling all post-Soviet countries into the alliance and thus bringing the division lines closer to our borders. But the idea proved an abortive one.

- Really?

- Experience has shown that this a vicious logic and it leads to a dead end. Ukraine has demonstrated this to the full extent. To make NATO and CSTO countries and all neutral countries not affiliated with any political and military alliance (let me remind you that Ukraine had proclaimed its non-aligned status, just like Moldova) feel comfortable and secure, a dialogue should have been started precisely the way we had proposed long ago. Then there would have been nothing like today's tug-of-war situation, in which Brussels told Ukraine to choose between the West and Russia. Everybody knows the root causes of the crisis: we were not being listened to, Kiev was forced into signing arrangements with the European Union, which had been drafted behind the scene and, as it eventually turned out, were undermining Ukraine's obligations on the CIS free trade area. When Viktor Yanukovich took a pause for a closer look at the situation, the Maidan protests were staged. Then there followed the burning tires, the first casualties and an escalation of the conflict…

- One of our satiric writers, Mikhail Zadornov, at a certain point dropped this remark: America is prepared to fight a war with Russia to the last Ukrainian.

- What can be said in a situation like this? Cynicism has been part and parcel of politics all along. Possibly, it is inherent in all those who write and speak about politics. We would hate to see Ukraine being used as a pawn. Alas, it has been otherwise so far – not through our fault and contrary to Russia's wish. Some partners in the West – not all of them – have been trying to use the deep crisis of Ukrainian statehood for the purpose of "containing" Russia, for isolating us, and thereby tightening their looser grip on the international system. The world is changing, the share of the United States and Europe in the global GDP is shrinking, there have emerged new centers of economic growth and financial power, whose political influence has been soaring accordingly. As concerns economy, there seems to be growing awareness of that. The G20 group has been created. In 2010 the G20 made a decision to reform the International Monetary Fund to redistribute quotas from the Western countries so that new, growing economies can receive a little bit more quotas. Then the crisis began to ease somewhat and the United States and the European Union these days are in no mood to stand by those arrangements. Now they are determined to retain positions within the IMF that are by no means proportionate to their real economic potential in the world. A really tough struggle is underway for keeping unchanged the state of affairs in which the Western civilization determines the shape of the world order. This is a faulty policy with no chances to succeed, objective processes are developing in opposite direction. The world is getting really polycentric. China, India, Brazil, the ASEAN countries, Latin America and, lastly, Africa – a continent with the richest natural resources – all begin to realize their real significance for world politics. There will be no stopping this trend. True, it can be resisted, and such attempts are being made, but it is really hard to go against the stream. This is the cause of many crises.

On Ukraine being used as a pawn

On West’s double standards

On sanctions and alliances

On the right to call and Vladimir Putin

On rafting, Elk and love for FC Spartak

 

Part 2
On Ukraine being used as a pawn

 

 

- History will put everything in its proper place, but for now the West tends to blame current tensions on Russia. It argues that we started it all. In Crimea.

- Our country prevented bloodshed there. It prevented a rerun of the Maidan type of protests and war, which later erupted in the South-East. As you may remember, when the confrontation in Kiev reached the boiling point, the conflicting parties concluded the February 21 agreement. On the list of its priorities was the prompt creation of a government of national unity, to be followed by a constitutional reform and general elections by the end of 2014. The document carried the signatures of Yanukovich, and also Yatsenyuk, Klitschko, and Tyagnibok, who then represented the then opposition and now making up the ruling coalition. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland acted as witnesses of that agreement.

- Not Russia, I must remark.

- We addressed the issue at a Security Council meeting only to make a decision that our signature would be unnecessary, because the moment the then Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, agreed to that document, he in fact made colossal concessions tantamount to the authorities' capitulation. But the opposition thought the gained advantage was not enough and after the attacks on the presidential residence and other government offices in Kiev it was declared on February 22 that there would be no government of national unity and the "government of winners" would be created instead, allegedly saying Yanukovich had fled and claiming the power. We were asking our Western colleagues how is that? Haven't you signed the document that was expected to restore calm? In reply we heard that Yanukovich is out of Kiev, thus the agreement is no longer valid. What a remarkable piece of logic! Firstly, at that moment he was in the east of Ukraine, in his country. Secondly, it has turned out that the task of national reconciliation was linked entirely with the personality of Yanukovich and his ousting, hasn't it? Is this what the European values are all about? There has been no answer to this day. Today the West is acting in concert – with the United States and Britain demonstrating particular zeal – to unilaterally support the current regime in Kiev. They are claiming that peace in Ukraine will be possible only when those whom they call separatists and terrorists in the southeast have been suppressed.

Crimea would have flared up, too. I am convinced about that. There were registered attempts at riot damage, just the way it happened during Maidan unrest. Right Sector militants tried to get into the peninsula. There were some instigators inside the Republic.

 - At that point the “polite people” appeared in the limelight.

 - They have always been there. The Russian Navy has its facilities not in Sevastopol alone. Our troops had the right to move among them. It all happened in strict compliance with the effective agreement with Ukraine. True, at some point Russia increased its military presence in Crimea, but let me say once again ‑ we did not exceed the quota the Russian-Ukrainian treaty on the naval base allowed for.

 - Incidentally, T-shirts with a "polite people" print are much in vogue these days. Do you have one?

 - I have received a few as a gift. I particularly like the khaki-colored one with a picture of three guys wearing masks and glasses. A really nice piece of art it is. I think it is a good sign that some people can address fundamental political problems with a pinch of humor…  Although opinions may differ.

We are told we have committed an act of annexation. We reply: Crimea saw a referendum and it could not be staged. A lot of journalists, including foreign ones, who were doing their job in the peninsula at that moment acknowledged this. True, a group of people, in particular, some members of the Crimean Tatars’ Mejlis are unhappy about Crimea’s reunification with Russia. But now the Crimean Tatars enjoy something they could’ve never dreamed of as part of Ukraine – status of their language and land amnesty. Everything that has fuelled tensions in relations between the Crimean Tatars and the rest of the peninsula’s population is being eliminated. In response to reproaches from our western partners we tell them that in Kosovo their policy was quite different. There was no referendum, as well as there had been no crisis before part of Serbia was declared independent. There were no threats to Kosovo’s people. On the contrary, Belgrade and Pristina were engaged in negotiations and were slowly but surely moving on. Then the Western countries arbitrarily picked the date and set artificial deadline for achieving an agreement while Kosovo’s Albanians played to that very skillfully. After that Europe and the United States hypocritically made a helpless gesture: once you have failed to come to an agreement by the established deadline, we are recognizing Kosovo unilaterally. Period. When we started asking "How come?" we were told that too much blood had been shed in Kosovo. By the same logic we should have waited, first, for a blood bath to happen in Crimea in order that the United States and Brussels condescendingly allowed the surviving Crimeans to determine their own future.

 - But Donetsk and Lugansk held their referendums, too. I think those who were casting their ballots believed that the very same "polite people" wearing khaki-colored uniforms would appear in Donbass soon. Instead, local civilians saw bombs raining down on them…

 - I believe that Crimea was a very special case, a unique case from all points of view. Historically, geopolitically, and patriotically, if you wish. The situation in the southeast of Ukraine is different. There is nothing like the unity we saw in Crimea. Some would like their land to re-emerge as a new territorial entity called Novorossia, while others wish to stay in Ukraine but enjoy greater rights. As a matter of fact, we recognized the results of the referendums and called for their implementation through a dialogue among Donetsk, Lugansk and the central authorities in Kiev. In doing so, Russia did not take a unilateral approach, but relied on the Geneva accords concluded on April 17 by the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the high representative of the European Union. Number one item in their joint statement required an end to the use of force and immediate beginning of a constitutional reform and national dialogue involving all Ukraine’s regions and political forces. Sadly, that arrangement has never been implemented. The use of snipers in Kiev’s Independence Square, the investigation into the violence in Odessa and Mariupol and the circumstances of the Malaysian airliner disaster are being hushed up. This silence makes one suspect that Kiev and its sponsors have a great deal to hide. These are the links of one and the same chain. Continued lies and total inability to negotiate are really dismaying. I feel that some of our Western partners are not quite comfortable, but they have nevertheless opted for a policy of catering to the ambitions of the "party of war" in Kiev. The Europeans are increasingly aware of the fact that they are involved in a geo-strategic project of the United States. To the detriment of the fundamental interests of the Old World. I do hope that the singing of the Minsk proto