Question: An agreement was reached on Iran. The Europeans seem to be happy and even grateful to Russia for its constructive involvement. However, some in Russia are now saying that “it’s bad, Iran will now start selling its gas, we shot ourselves in the foot, and we are not sure what’s going on,” almost going as far as predicting Russia’s decline as a result of the Iranian agreements. How true is that?
Sergey Lavrov: That’s a strange line of thinking that for Russia’s economy to grow, we either need our competitors to be under sanctions or have someone bomb them, like America wanted to bomb Iran. Probably, this is what people who don’t believe Russia can get off of the oil and gas “needle” are thinking. That’s the goal set by the Russian President, though. The Government has been given the instructions. That goal remains our priority.
With regard to the oil and gas market, first, Iranian oil and gas have always been present on the market. As you may be aware, there are no international sanctions by the UN Security Council with regard to Iran's oil and gas. Oil and gas in that country are the subject of illegal unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and some of their allies like Australia. However, there are exceptions to these sanctions. China, India, and several other countries, including Japan, if my memory serves me right, have reached “amicable” agreements with the United States to the effect that they will continue to buy the amounts of oil from Iran that they used to buy from it, but will refrain from buying more.
As a matter of fact, Iranian oil has always been on the market. According to experts, Iranian worldwide oil exports may grow insignificantly in the near future. Iranian gas has never come under any harsh sanctions. For many years, Iranian gas has been sent to Turkey, among other countries. Every winter, and our experts have noted this, there are disruptions in distribution, and the Turks ask us to compensate for the missing Iranian gas. I believe that those who view the current agreements on Iran in terms of money alone underestimate the actual state of the hydrocarbon markets and most importantly, are unable to get over a utilitarian approach: “How is that possible at all? Russia’s interests will be hurt if the sanctions on Iran are lifted.” On the contrary, when it comes to purely economic interests, we have established a very solid cooperation base with Iran over the years.
Last year, we signed a large package of documents, which make our cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the construction of several nuclear power plants in Iran in Bushehr and another new site, a long-term and a highly lucrative endeavour. Will this benefit both sides? Absolutely. Iran will get guaranteed amounts of electricity, regardless of what happens to its oil and gas reserves. They are looking far ahead, and don’t want to squander their natural wealth, and we are there to help them do so. Rosatom signed lucrative contracts with Iran. Of course, lifting the economic and financial sanctions on Iran will allow them to pay Rosatom in full and, accordingly, billions will go to the Russian budget.
People should look at the big picture and not worry so much. We have much in common with Iran. It’s our long-standing neighbour that we have many common interests with in bilateral relations in the Caspian Sea, fighting terrorism, and preventing the Sunni-Shiite rift in the Islamic world. No one has to worry that our neighbour, a friendly nation is getting free from the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the illegal unilateral restrictions imposed by the United States and the European Union.
Question: You have agreed that Iran can develop nuclear power under IAEA supervision. But some things are easily verifiable, while others, such as the nuclear component, can be interpreted very broadly. Is this the final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, or do you fear delays with the signing of the agreement by June 30?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s very important to see the difference between what we – Russia – agreed to with Iran concerning civilian nuclear programmes and everything else. Neither the first unit of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, nor the other units to be built there or a nuclear power plant that will be built elsewhere in Iran, on which agreements and contracts have been signed, are subject to the UN Security Council restrictions. And neither are our plans and ongoing construction projects subject to the unilateral US and EU limitations. In the process of negotiations, Russian-Iranian bilateral cooperation on civilian nuclear projects has been reliably moved beyond the framework of any restrictions, both legitimate international and illegitimate unilateral ones. Anyway, nuclear power plants are to be built under IAEA supervision. This goes for Iran, for the projects that are underway in Turkey and in Europe and also for our future projects in Vietnam. There are certain IAEA standards for the construction of nuclear power facilities. But these facilities are not subject to any sanctions.
As for the proposed restrictions on Iran’s activity without our involvement, which our Western partners would like to make more transparent, we believe that this had to be done. There were serious suspicions and we needed to dispel them and to see the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. Again, this concerns the projects that Iran was implementing independently. It had several facilities where it was enriching uranium and was building a heavy water reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. This certainly was a cause for our concern.
The agreement we have reached limits the number of centrifuges Iran can have and stipulates a single uranium enrichment site, while the Fordow facility, where a certain number of centrifuges will be retained, must be used exclusively for research purposes such as the production of medical isotopes, and so it will not be enrichment on an industrial scale. The third facility – a heavy water reactor – will be converted to preclude the production of weapons-grade plutonium and hence any threat of nuclear technology proliferation. At the same time, Iran has agreed, in principle, to the entire range of IAEA verification procedures including the Additional Protocol and the so-called modified codes, stipulating access to all these facilities, full-scale cooperation and complete transparency. In return, the UN Security Council sanctions and the unilateral restrictions imposed on Iran by some Western countries will be lifted.
The key parameters of this deal were coordinated rather quickly, in the final week of the negotiations in Lausanne. The issues that were coordinated later, when I returned to Lausanne, were included in the document that is currently considered the only official result of this round of talks, which EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif presented in their joint statement. This could have been done at the beginning of that final week, but we encountered a problem.
Since many people have asked about this, I’d like to use this opportunity to disclose some reasons for the delay. As we agreed in November 2013, when we discussed the procedure for these talks, the final package of comprehensive agreements should be ready by June 30, 2015. An additional goal set for the end of March was to reach an agreement on the component parts of this package: restricting the number of centrifuges, limiting enrichment to one facility and leaving the other facility exclusively for research, and converting the third facility, a heavy water reactor, to preclude the production of weapons-grade plutonium. In addition, there should be very strict IAEA verification measures for the entire range of facilities, in return for lifting the sanctions. All sides agreed on that.
I don’t think I am disclosing a secret if I say that our American and European partners wanted to specify, in addition to these fundamental components of the package, the parameters on which they personally needed Iran to agree before the June deadline. We were ready to do this too, because, after all, the further we advanced in terms of concrete figures and volumes, the better it would have been. But the Iranians responded that this concrete approach should be also applied to the sanctions: When will they be lifted and in what amount, and what is the guarantee against possible deception? Our Western partners were not ready for this, but they nevertheless spent several more days trying to unilaterally specify the required provisions and doing their best to avoid the specification of issues requested by Iran, and taxing the patience of the other negotiators and journalists in the process. This explains the delay.
Decisions on the issues of importance to us, including the removal of Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation from the agenda of the P5+1 talks with Iran, were reached at an early stage of the final week.
Question: Riyadh is saying that this agreement will trigger an “arms race” in the region, as other countries could request the same terms for themselves and gain the right to develop their nuclear energy industry, using this as a cover for something else
Sergey Lavrov: There are no grounds for an arms race. The agreement, which has yet to be formalised, is not a simple matter, not a done deal. You know how this intermediary political framework agreement is viewed in different circles, including in the US Congress, in Israel and Saudi Arabia. So, we have yet to see to it that these principles are translated into the language of very concrete agreements, down to the last detail. However, in any event, what has been decided and should be put into practice – and I very much hope that it will be enshrined in a legally binding document approved by the UN Security Council – gives no cause to talk about triggering an arms race. Quite the contrary, the agreement closes loopholes that could allow for a military dimension in Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranians have assumed political obligations to ensure that there will be none of that. They have also assumed obligations through their supreme leader, who has even issued a special fatwa. Now a document is being developed in the secular “trust but verify” terms, which will guarantee all this.
I hear that Saudi Arabia has said that this will set off a “chain reaction” in the sense that other countries in the region will want the same conditions for the development of their nuclear energy sector. From my perspective, nothing is impossible here. If there is interest in the legitimate, legal development of the nuclear power industry, I’m sure that Russia will support it. Under the nuclear power agreements that we sign with our partners, as a general rule, Russia builds nuclear power plants, trains personnel, supplies fuel and then removes spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing. Iran has been given the right to enrich uranium. However, it cannot be regarded as something extraordinary because uranium enrichment for purposes of NPP fuel production is not prohibited anywhere. The Nonproliferation Treaty does not prohibit this. Yes, enrichment technology makes it possible to gain experience and potential and achieve higher levels [of enrichment], including weapons-grade uranium. But then this is what the IAEA and negotiating processes are for – to address these issues. If a country needs nuclear energy development guarantees and is prepared do this by acquiring fuel abroad, this is even easier. If a country wants to enrich uranium on its own, Iran’s experience shows that this is also possible. And then some guarantees will need to be negotiated.
Question: We’ve been saying that other countries may request the same terms for themselves. On the other hand, can the international community ask for the same conditions, transparency and verification procedures with regard to other countries, for example, Israel? And can this agreement become the first step towards creating a nuclear-free zone in the region?
Sergey Lavrov: We have always said and will continue to insist at the final stage of the talks that the super-intrusive measures provided for Iran’s nuclear programme will not be a precedent because Iran is, after all, a special case. For many years, Iranian governments – of the recent, distant and very distant past – have been hiding a nuclear programme from the IAEA. Even though, when they started getting down to the bottom of it, at first glance it seemed to be simply an enrichment programme, designed to produce fuel. First, why was it concealed when [the Iranians] were supposed to have informed the IAEA immediately? Second, there were suspicions that the programme still had a military dimension, and so on and so forth. This distrust kept building and now, to dispel it, a process is underway between the P5+1 and Iran and between the IAEA and Iran, based on concrete documentary facts that arouse suspicion.
So, the extreme intrusiveness with regard to Iran – however, to reiterate, it has yet to be spelled out and, unfortunately, is not 100 per cent complete (but [we] should work to this end) – is attributable to past “sins.” If a country begins a conversation from a clean slate, without any suspicions, then I don’t see any need for following the same exact procedure [as with Iran]. Iran should not set any precedents for the nonproliferation regime as a matter of principle, not for the verification regime or for IAEA activity to inspect peaceful nuclear power programmes, since, to reiterate, Iran is a special case.
Question: Aren’t there suspicions regarding other countries, Israel, for instance?
Sergey Lavrov: If we speak about peaceful nuclear energy, then it must be understood that Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Israel keeps silent when asked if it possesses nuclear arms – that’s the official position. But many countries of the region have reason to suspect that it does, and that’s why they favour the creation in the Middle East of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and means of their delivery. This is a zone that would be free both of nuclear arms and other types of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. Here, too, not all countries of the region are signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The history of the matter is rooted deep in the past, when many years ago the UN Security Council, as it looked into ways of resolving conflicts between Middle Eastern countries in the Person Gulf, outlined that task, aware that it could become a systemically important factor in encouraging positive trends. Later, the issue of creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East was included by the 2010 NPT Review Conference into a package designed to ensure the unlimited extension of that crucial document. Unfortunately, 2012, set as the date for such a conference, passed, as did the following two years. In a few weeks, a regular NPT review conference will begin its work, during which it will be stated that the above-mentioned decision, approved by consensus, has not been fulfilled. We think that it’s a big mistake and urge all countries of the region without exception (and you can’t hope to achieve any results unless you have universal involvement) to overcome the remaining procedural differences between them and convene this conference.
We are working with the League of Arab States (LAS), Israel and, of course, Iran, because only the full range of participants can ensure a reasonable dialogue, certainly, with the support of other countries, which, though not belonging to the region, will provide assistance during this important event.
Question: Still the suspicions that you’ve just spoken of exist, and they refer both to Iran and Israel. Doesn’t that mean double standards? Iran, as Barack Obama put it, is the most heavily controlled and inspected country in the world, while Israel keeps a low profile.
Sergey Lavrov: I will say again that Iran will be the most heavily controlled and inspected country if the principles coordinated in Lausanne (and that was a big job) are translated into the language of practical agreements. That can only be a mutual language, and it remains to be heard how our American colleagues view the process of lifting the sanctions.
Iran has constantly emphasised its readiness to honour its NPT commitments. Israel has not joined the NPT. As the question of whether Israel possesses nuclear arms continues to arouse suspicions, to which Israel doesn’t respond – that being its official policy − an attempt has been made to arrange a more open dialogue through convening a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel agreed to participate in this process, which will take more than a day, or even a year, but may prove to be a much longer process, comparable, perhaps, to the establishment of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
At present, the Israelis are at loggerheads with the Arabs over the conference’s agenda. The only issue the Arabs want to discuss is creating the zone and agreeing its parameters. They believe those who possess nuclear weapons must admit it and give them up.
Israel says it’s ready to participate in the dialogue, but finds it important to understand how security in the region is going to be maintained. I think it has reason to put the question that way. That’s precisely why the zone is necessary – to enable us to maintain security. We all – Russia, as one of the co-founders of that conference, together with the United States and Britain, and Finland, which has offered to host this conference and was appointed its facilitator, of sorts, under the auspices of the UN, a mediator – we all believe that a solution can be found, that the agenda can be developed in such a way as to discuss the zone with a view to enhancing the level of regional security in general. I hope that the procedural squabbles and those that are fuelled by prestige will gradually subside.
Question: What prospects will Iran have with regard to SCO membership after the sanctions are lifted?
Sergey Lavrov: Good prospects. We are advocating for it. Together with India and Pakistan, which, we are confident, will receive not just invitations at the SCO summit in Ufa, but also documents that will launch the process of joining the SCO in accordance with their applications. The organisation has long been developing a package of documents. There are three or four of them: criteria, obligations, a list of agreements that are part of the SCO, which the candidate countries have to sign and ratify. That’s the process.
Depending on how the talks with Iran end, if there’s no disruption, and if we see that the principles are turned into practical arrangements, then I personally think (I haven’t consulted with my SCO colleagues yet) that we, the foreign ministers, can fully recommend that the presidents and prime ministers of the SCO member countries consider such a document for Iran.
Question: How legal is the current operation in Yemen?
Sergey Lavrov: Currently it doesn’t have any international legal basis. We were, of course, slightly disappointed, to put it lightly, that the operation was launched without any consultations with the UN Security Council or any bilateral talks, and that our partners (we really value our relations with Saudi Arabia and other participants of the coalition) post factum came to the Security Council and asked for the approval of their actions, again post factum. We can’t do this, because it is a request to approve just one side of the conflict and to outlaw the other side.
Our position is different. Right now we are actively working with our Saudi and Egyptian colleagues, with other countries that are taking part in this operation, and are calling for a peaceful settlement. To do this, both belligerents have to take certain steps: the Houthis should stop the combat operation in southern Yemen where there are attempts to capture new territories; the ceasefire must be unconditional; the coalition must stop air strikes; the forces, which confront the Houthis on the ground, also must join the ceasefire. After all that, all parties must come to the negotiating table. This is not beyond our capabilities.
The capitals of the region’s countries, possible hosts for the talks, are currently being discussed. They should be acceptable for all of Yemen’s parties and allow for the return to dialogue and peaceful initiatives. The capitals had been suggested once before (prior to the Council beginning airstrikes) by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. The country is in need of national unity and new elections. We have seen all that in Ukraine.
Question: President Barack Obama said the creation of the Islamic State is “an example of unintended consequences” of the invasion of Iraq. Will we see an unintended consequence to these bombing raids, with the Houthis weakened and Al-Qaeda taking over Yemen? He also said “we should generally aim before we shoot.”
Sergey Lavrov: There are more than enough of these “unintentional consequences” from various political activities. After Libya, over a dozen countries have been affected by the inflow of illegal weapons and militants. And these terrorist groups are merging into an alliance, including Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. Take the recent tragedy in Kenya, where victims were ordered to recite from the Koran to get pardon, and those who couldn’t were condemned and killed on the spot.
We are seriously concerned about the growing divide between Sunnis and Shias in Yemen. This confrontation is the focal point of the geopolitical line-up in the Gulf region. When we warned in our public comments of the danger of setting Sunnis in opposition to Shias at the beginning of the Arab Spring, some regional countries accused us of pointing out this danger to provoke a conflict. But now all countries agree that this is a very real danger, a much bigger danger even than the actions or theories that confront Islam and Christianity. If the blow happens inside Islam, if we allow the accumulated hatred to erupt without ameliorating the situation or creating a framework for the resumption of internal dialogue in the Islamic world, the consequences will be terrible. Shias and Sunnis have been confronting each other with increasing aggression in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East in general. But there are positive examples of peaceful coexistence in the countries that have been described as dictatorial and authoritarian, such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. You have to choose.
As for what they describe as “collateral damage,” the price is too high. Look at what happened in Iraq, which has been weakened to the point of collapse, or Libya, which can no longer be described as a country. They want to do the same to Syria, although US Secretary of State John Kerry keeps telling me that they wouldn’t allow a repetition of the Libyan scenario in Syria, and that they would preserve its institutions and so keep the state standing and working in the absence of Bashar Assad. No one knows how to do this. Again they are obsessed with one man, who has suddenly become unsympathetic in their eyes. This happened before to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic: they didn’t like the man, and his country is no more. They didn’t like Hussein, and his country is teetering on the edge of a split into three parts. Muammar Gaddafi was acceptable in Libya for a long time, but then he started thinking too much of himself, and his country is in ruins. The next in this line is Yemen, where the actions of those who dislike recent developments are highly personified. This situation should be considered very responsibly.
As you said, irreparable damage has taken the form of Al-Qaeda, which struck on September 11, 2001. This is a consequence of the US-created movement of the mujahedin that ultimately developed into Al-Qaeda. The monsters created by modern Frankensteins are reaching out to new territories, merging and setting themselves more ambitious goals. The point at issue is not Yemen, Libya, Mali, Chad, Algeria or Egypt specifically, but the Islamic world and Islam’s holiest sites – Mecca and Medina. Everyone understands this, because they have started talking about it openly. There is a reason that the leaders of the so-called Islamic State have removed two words from its former name, Iraq and the Levant. They are no longer satisfied with this goal; they want to rule the Islamic world.
We need this issue to be seriously considered and discussed by historians and responsible politicians who look beyond the next election campaign when you have to present even a victory, even if with unpredictable consequences, to the electorate. There are serious and clever people who are trying to explain the militant renaissance of Islam by the young age of this global religion, which is approximately 600 years younger than Christianity. They argue that Christians had their crusades when they wanted to become more firmly established in the world, and that Islam is possibly entering a similar period in its history. This is an interesting approach, but we need more than a theory explaining the current developments; we need a very practical and goal-oriented political discussion between the leaders of the West and the Islamic countries (both Shia- and Sunni-dominated countries), as well as countries like Russia and China, which have their own Islamic communities. Islam in Russia is not an imported product. Muslims have lived side by side with Christians for centuries in Russia. There are also Muslims in China. It’s time such a discussion was held between the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the leading Islamic countries.
Question: Who stands behind the robbery of our consulate in Yemen? Certainly, it was not included in our plans and Russian diplomats were the last to go. How did this happen? Was this a bolt from the blue for us?
Sergey Lavrov: It happened after our consulate was mothballed and all of the diplomats and other employees left the territory and even Yemen for a Russian Navy ship. This is why it is hard for me to answer this question. When such events happen (air attacks, one group proclaimed another outlawed and called on them to surrender under the threat of bombings until “the victorious end”) marauders and simply hangers-on are bound to arrive. Now it is probably impossible to determine who it was.
Question: Ukraine, Petr Poroshenko...
Sergey Lavrov: We evacuated the Ukrainians from Yemen as well.
Question: Yes, we reported on this yesterday. Regrettably, unlike the Poles, they didn’t even thank us. Ukrainian President Poroshenko has repeatedly stated in public that a new foreign ministerial meeting in the Normandy format is about to take place. Is this true?
Sergey Lavrov: In principle, the Normandy format was very useful, primarily for preparing a set of measures on compliance with the Minsk agreements. The leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine coordinated the relevant text and recommended it for signing by the members of the Contact Group represented by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk with the participation of the OSCE and Russia. This set of measures was endorsed by a separate declaration adopted by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and France, and the Federal Chancellor of Germany. It provides for a sequence of steps, a monitoring mechanism and general oversight on behalf of the Normandy format members. It reads that the foreign ministers will create a review mechanism to ensure the implementation of everything upon which Moscow, Berlin, Paris and Kiev agreed.
Participants in the two meetings of deputy foreign ministers and policy directors have reviewed the implementation of the February 12 Minsk agreements.
The last meeting took place in late March. The participants discussed the opportunity to involve the ministers. We said that, at some stage, when the circumstances require this, we do not rule this out. Nobody coordinated any agenda or date. Therefore, I was somewhat surprised to read yesterday a statement by Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko to the effect that the foreign ministers will discuss a UN peacekeeping mission that would rely on the EU police mission.
We are prepared to discuss all proposals and will respond to all ideas, be they Ukrainian, German, French or some other. However, the peacemaking mission that Kiev would like to see concerns the dividing line between the Ukrainian armed forces and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics and the entire length of the Russian-Ukrainian border. Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind is that the idea of the suggested peacekeeping mission should be discussed with Lugansk and Donetsk under any circumstances.
When we first heard about this two days after the February 12 summit in Minsk that was applauded unanimously, our first reaction was as follows: How come? Nobody mentioned any peacekeepers at the meeting in the least. The emphasis was laid on the need to substantially strengthen the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). It was suggested that it should be better equipped, have more personnel and receive drones and other equipment to ensure the efficient monitoring of the ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal. And, all of a sudden, the need for a peacekeeping mission was mentioned two days later. When asked why it was necessary to promote this idea so suddenly, without even implementing the agreed-upon proposal to consolidate the SMM, Mr Poroshenko replied that nothing would come out of it without security. It is hard to argue against this thought. This is exactly what we are attempting to ensure. Sometimes during the talks, one side needs to procrastinate the negotiating process or gain time. In this case, it comes up with a new idea that nobody has coordinated with anyone and starts sidetracking attention from the work regarding the already achieved agreements.
I’d hate to see a repetition of such a tactical trick. Not so long ago, President Vladimir Putin said over the phone to his Ukrainian counterpart and I said the same to my colleague Pavel Klimkin (we spoke at length over the phone over four days) that we are prepared to discuss this, but the Ukrainian leaders should realise that we will have questions and now they have already been asked.
To begin with, how would the role of a peacekeeping mission differ from that of the OSCE? If you want to introduce peacemaking troops, they will arrive with armoured personnel carriers and stay in equipped camps. They will provide more isolation on the contact line. Moreover, sometimes we hear in news reports from Ukraine that the larger part of the population would simply like to forget all about this self-proclaimed region, which would be very sad. This would become a serious confrontation-prone trend. I don’t want even to think about it.
Question: This is “amputation” of a part of the country…
Sergey Lavrov: Yes. I’m simply trying to understand what this idea might lead to and what might stand behind it. One objective explanation is lying on the surface – if they want to cut off this region, it is probably necessary to introduce UN troops and hold the border. But why is this necessary? Why not focus on enhancing OSCE’s role? This should be discussed with Lugansk and Donetsk by all means. And finally the last point. Ukrainian leaders insist that the proposed hypothetical peacemaking mission should control not only the dividing line, but also the Russian-Ukrainian border. Meanwhile, the Minsk agreements clearly require that the process of restoring control over the border with Russia be completed not only after the territories are covered by the law on their special status and conduct elections to the local government bodies (primarily, municipal) but also after this special status is sealed in the constitution, in the amendments that should be discussed with the participation of Lugansk and Donetsk and so on and so forth.
This is why the priority given to the UN mission and the promise of a special status when it shuts down the border are driving us into an impasse.
Credit for ongoing constructive consultations on the number of working sub-groups, their mandates and personnel goes to the self-defence fighters, who are displaying a tremendous amount of goodwill. After all, they said that the laws adopted by the Verkhovna Rada have turned upside down the entire sequence of the Minsk agreements and are undermining the efforts of the heads of state and the governments of the Normandy Four. But we are still hopeful and working with Berlin and Paris and are trying to work with Washington in the hope they would straighten up Kiev and make it carry out the agreements this time.
As we know, the failure of the current authorities (who were in the opposition at the time) to implement the agreement of February 21, 2014 was simply ignored. None of the Western leaders who guaranteed these agreements even reprimanded Kiev. The same attitude is displayed today. Meanwhile, we cannot allow the failure of the Minsk agreements that have now been confirmed at the level of the heads of state rather than European ministers.
Question: Is it your impression that Petr Poroshenko is simply deceiving [everyone], and that Moscow, Paris and Berlin are being led by the nose? After all, he organises reviews of military hardware, walks around in camouflage fatigues, conducts mobilisation and openly prepares for war. This looks like a double game, to put it mildly. Are leading European powers acting as they should? I mean France, Germany and Russia.
Sergey Lavrov: We are not particularly deceived and we’ve said this in so many words. Germany and France – I can say this with confidence after my recent talks in Lausanne with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – also understand very well that the decisions that were made, which, in the final analysis, Mr Poroshenko did not even try to challenge (he initiated them himself even though they were at odds with what he signed in Minsk), seriously impede the settlement.
Kiev says: We will engage in the political process only when all violations of the ceasefire end and the OSCE says that it is completely satisfied with the withdrawal of all types of weapons. Good. This is right, and this should be done no matter what to minimise the risks of the resumption of hostilities. Then Kiev says: We will engage in the political process after we restore our complete authority and control over these territories.
But in that case there would be no need for any political process in the first place. They will push everyone around, as they pushed around all of Ukraine, and they will attempt to rule it with an authoritarian, iron hand. It is difficult not to recognise this. In this situation, Berlin and Paris of course understand that such laws and such a position are completely at odds with the Minsk agreements. I ask my partners why they cannot say this publicly. After all, they kept silent on February 22, 2014, and look what happened. If “Operation Barbarossa” is once again being prepared there, then you will be to blame because we are urging [you] to prevent this, to move away from a policy that exacerbates confrontation, but you are silent. However, they assure us that they are working with Kiev via their own channels. Yet, by all appearances, the Americans are working more actively and more effectively. And it is also quite obvious to me that Washington absolutely does not want to see the Minsk agreements succeed or the end of the current crisis in relations between Russia and Europe. Even though US Secretary of State John Kerry constantly assures me to the contrary. Nevertheless, the shots in Ukraine are being called by a handful of lower level officials, who are in charge of practical actions, and all sorts of NGOs and foundations.
Here is something else that is interesting. The decision not to introduce new sanctions against Russia but to state that the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements is a criterion for the removal of sanctions and pressure is being cast as the greatest achievement of responsible European politicians. However, Ukraine today is not only failing to comply with the Minsk agreements but is actually blocking them. It turns out that Ukraine now holds a key to the normalisation of Russia’s relations with the EU.
Question: And Ukraine is under US control.
Sergey Lavrov: You see what kind of brainteasers we have here, even though they are quite simple. These are not “multi-step” moves.
Question: An open confrontation with the US is being increasingly felt all over the world. (I understand that you are on good terms with Secretary of State John Kerry, but this is a separate issue.) Moreover, the Americans have gone as far as stating displeasure with major Chinese projects and other countries’ involvement in them. The PRC Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, is arriving in Moscow tomorrow to hold full-format talks. To what extent is the US influencing our relations? Are they containing China? If relations develop, they develop through certain stages. What could be the next level of relations with China? What do you think?
Sergey Lavrov: Basically, the US has been trying to contain the relations of all countries without exception with the Russian Federation. The repeated insistent appeals not to be too “active” in dealing with Russia, which they have addressed to different countries, including China, make me seriously doubt the sanity of the State Department’s decisions – I don’t even know from which echelon they come. Before having contacts with us, all partners, with whom we meet – in countries that I visit or my colleagues who visit Russia – are certain to be pressured either by the US ambassador, or someone at a lower level, or a Washington emissary traveling around a region.
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, cautioning. The US Ambassador in Prague, Andrew Schapiro, stated with regret that it would be “unfortunate” for the Czech President, Miloš Zeman, to attend the WW II commemoration ceremony in Moscow. This is a nightmare! I can’t even comment on this. I think, you have done that in sufficient detail. Miloš Zeman is a man who has dignity and pride. Few politicians are like him – unfortunately. I don’t understand how they can make the same, if less arrogant, proposal to Beijing. I am at a loss – is there anyone [in that department] who is doing research on Chinese politics, the Chinese position in the modern world, or Russian-Chinese relations?
Our relations with China have reached an unprecedented level that is really multidimensional, comprehensive and strategic. If I understand you correctly, the infrastructure projects that you have mentioned are handled by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This is part of China’s modern philosophy with regard to promoting the Silk Road economic belt concept.
It should be said that President Vladimir Putin and PRC President Xi Jinping regularly review the course of regional and multilateral interaction – the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS and everything that is in some way or other related to the development of the Eurasian space and its integration with the Asia-Pacific Region on the one hand, and with Europe on the other. It’s a huge bridge. Previously it was called the Silk Road. Today these efforts are much more numerous. There are projects to modernise the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways. On the instructions of the Russian and Chinese leaders, experts have been holding detailed discussions on how to integrate all these projects. I think that the effort will include ideas that are being put at the base of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Russia has joined along with the first group of countries. We will actively use a constructive cooperative mechanism to promote projects that among other things are beneficial for the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East.
Question: In addition to your Chinese counterpart, the Belgian foreign minister and the new Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, will visit Moscow this week against the background of cries about isolating Russia. How does all this hang together?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s embarrassing to comment on this. Long ago, I was ashamed to read certain exemplars of Soviet propaganda, although on the whole it was sufficiently convincing, if occasionally reaching beyond what a clever man would accept. Today I have the same attitude to the 18-month-long effort to inculcate the idea that Russia is in isolation in the minds of the ordinary people. Clearly, it’s the other way around. We know the capabilities of the leading TV networks that don’t want to share their monopoly with the world media market.
Question: To what extent can China feel its new status after its leader’s visit to Moscow to attend celebrations in honour of the 70th anniversary of Victory on May 9?
Sergey Lavrov: I think that China has been aware of its new status for a long while. This is the status of a power that cherishes its eventful history, its culture and traditions. China is a country that is conscious of its revival after World War II and its victory over Japanese militarism. This is a very big part of modern Chinese identity. For China, the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War is a very important landmark that implies the need to preclude any revision of its results. Our interests are identical in this regard. President Vladimir Putin has invited President Xi Jinping to attend the May 9 celebrations. The programme of the visit will include a full-format round of talks. President Xi Jinping has invited President Vladimir Putin to visit China in early September when events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific will be held.
I am certain that this is a very important bond between our two countries, which makes it possible to defend the immutability of the war’s results and demonstrate that it is unacceptable to forget history and its heroes and to rewrite history in such a way as to equate heroes with Nazi and military criminals.
Question: How do you estimate the uproar in connection with May 9? I am absolutely sure that it is being instigated by the US, which is holding people literally “by their pants” to prevent them from traveling to Moscow. They are cajoling, warning, and threatening as they are wont to do. They are breaking people over the knee, as it were. What is this, from your point of view?
Sergey Lavrov: To quote the old Roman saying, “Jupiter, you are angry, therefore you are wrong.” I would leave it at that. I expected nothing else from our American colleagues, knowing their manners at the current stage of world development. I am more concerned with Russian analysts from certain media, who as it were, are rubbing their hands and saying: “Either Lavrov or Sergey Ivanov has counted 25 participants. Let’s inspect the quality of these invitations.” This ugly logic only means that the quality partners in their perception are only the decision-makers in the West, who can influence the fates of the rest of the world. I feel somewhat ashamed of those who produce this sort of “analytical stuff."