Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answer to a media question at a joint news conference following talks with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Paolo Gentiloni, Moscow, 25 March 2016
Question: Judging from the tone and substance of the recent visits to Moscow by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the impression is that the “climate has changed”. On Syria, there is an open discussion with Moscow concerning cooperation and many other aspects of the crisis. This leads to the conclusion that in the summer the issue of easing sanctions could be put on the EU agenda. Did you discuss what further steps Russia should take to resolve the Ukraine crisis?
Sergey Lavrov: No, we did not discuss these matters. Russia is not raising the issue of sanctions in any international contacts. They are raised by our partners. Our position is known to everyone: It is up to those who introduced these sanctions – in our opinion, illegitimately and groundlessly – to decide what to do about this process, which continues to create difficulties and cause damage to all parties to the process. As you know, we have determined to address related problems by stimulating our domestic resources. This work is continuing and even bringing positive results, which we were unable to achieve before, perhaps relying too much on the belief that the international situation will always be favourable. Therefore, we did not raise these questions with Mr Steinmeier or Mr Kerry or Mr Gentiloni today.
We are watching the discussion of these issues, including in the EU, but not to see when the sanctions are going to be lifted (to reiterate, we have our programme and we are implementing it) – we are observing it to understand how the position of our European neighbours is evolving, as we keep hearing new calls to hold Russia accountable for much of what is happening in the world. If we were told previously and are still told (today we discussed this in the Ukraine context) that Russia is a key to the resolution of the Ukraine problem, we are only urged to turn this key in the right direction to normalise our relations at one fell swoop. Now we are told that Russia holds a key to the Syrian problem and that only we are in a position to take measures to resolve the crisis. There are indications, some of them from across the ocean (not simply from some political spin doctors but from officials), that progress has emerged on Syria, but that it is necessary to put the squeeze on Russia and even introduce some sanctions against it with regard to Syria to encourage it to do a better job. I’m not even talking about such trifles as the idea to compile a “Savchenko list” that is discussed by certain EU member states.
The “sanctions reflex” has been a feature of our US colleagues for a long time. I’ve often told John Kerry that there is a certain fatigue from classic diplomacy or that Washington is losing “its taste for diplomacy” as a means of achieving compromises, when sanctions are introduced at the drop of a hat. In Yemen, for example, sanctions were introduced against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, his family and his inner circle. Now that a real prospect is emerging for a transition from hostilities to dialogue with the participation of all of the parties concerned, it is becoming understandable that this crisis can hardly be resolved without taking into account the interests of a large section of Yemen’s population that Mr Saleh relies on. So something needs to be done about sanctions. The same goes for South Sudan. At one time, some politicians refused to come to terms with the South Sudanese government; differences remained there and our Western colleagues also decided to introduce sanctions against them as a matter of urgency. This has always been characteristic of Washington.
However, the fact that this “sanctions reflex” is now clearly forcing its way to the EU is news to me. In this regard (we also discussed this today), when the EU, through Federica Mogherini, who acted not in her national capacity but as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for all 28 countries, laid out five principles guiding its relations with Russia (we saw nothing new there but the MFA made a comment), what was surprising was that Ms Mogherini urged all countries of the world to join anti-Russian sanctions. We take note of this not because we want the EU to tell us as soon as possible what else we need to do for their sanctions to be lifted – no, we will not even be involved in these discussions. However, this is telling in terms of the direction in which the EU’s collective security policy is evolving. I believe that this direction is non-constructive and, in addition, from our perspective, does not reflect the opinion of the majority of EU member states. If this Russophobic minority still prevails in Brussels, we can only express our regret about it.