Question: I would like to begin with the most contentious issue. It seems to me that diplomacy no longer has a part in the modern world. Rudeness has become a feature of not only political analysts and journalists but also your colleagues and high-ranking officials. Only recently, the President of France said at a news conference that Russia is becoming a vassal of China.
Sergey Lavrov: We have grown used to this over the past years. It began long before the current stage of the situation in Ukraine, before the special military operation. It began after the coup in Ukraine, when the West abandoned diplomacy and did its best to cover up for the Kiev regime, which openly embraced Russophobia as its fundamental policy to destroy everything Russian, including the Russian language, education and the media.
The persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, began long ago. When the Moscow Patriarchate proclaimed the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, this did not change the Kiev regime’s aggressive policy of eradicating the genuine, canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine and did not stop it from cultivating “the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.” Believers in Ukraine were forced to accept it with the direct intervention of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who acted on Washington’s instructions. There are also many other elements of that regime.
Instead of using diplomacy, which is breathing its last in the West, they are brazenly shielding the regime that came to power as a result of a bloody, illegal and anti-constitutional coup. The last attempts at diplomacy were the Minsk agreements, which were coordinated, at the very least. Many people believed that Russia made a compromise that did not meet the interests of Ukrainian citizens who associated themselves with the Russian world. One way or another, that compromise was the outcome of diplomacy. However, although the document was unanimously approved at the UN Security Council, our former partners (three signatories, excluding Vladimir Putin: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of France Francois Hollande and President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko) admitted that they had not planned to implement it. So, the “diplomacy of lies” was the only kind of diplomacy we had then. I don’t know how the current stage of diplomacy can be defined.
You have mentioned President of France Emmanuel Macron, who said that Russia was becoming a vassal of China. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock say proudly that Ukraine is fighting and shedding its blood for European values. By saying this, they have made a connection between themselves and the neo-Nazi regime and its shameless policy of whitewashing criminals, the Azov battalions’ marches with SS symbols and chevrons held under banners that have been copied from the banners of Hitler Germany and Nazi emblems. They have turned a blind eye to all of that.
The media have recently reminded their readers about the forefathers of the current German officials. Our society never believed that children must answer for the sins of their forefathers. Sons cannot be held accountable for their fathers’ crimes. It is a principle of Russian culture. Everyone must answer for their own actions. But when we look at the actions of the current German leaders, who are the children of WWII German officers and members of the SS, we have to say, even though we reaffirm the principle that children are not accountable for the deeds of their parents and grandparents, that many people in the current German administration have inherited Nazi genes. It is a fact.
As President Vladimir Putin has said, we are still open to diplomacy if it is serious diplomacy. Our Western colleagues have not put forth any serious proposals. I can tell, you, without going into detail, that some political analysts with connections in NATO capitals (Washington and Brussels) periodically signal to us through their channels that “there must be an end,” that we “must retreat to the 1991 border,” and that “Crimea is not Russia.” Do you call this diplomacy? First, it is ultimatums and blackmail. And second, it is complete misunderstanding of our positions, our people and the new reality that has appeared and is gaining momentum in the world.
Question: Do you still maintain a dialogue, or has it all turned into monologues?
Sergey Lavrov: We do not communicate at the ministerial level. Sometimes Washington (the White House) calls Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov, sending the same message: “release Paul Whelan,” and now also journalist, as they call him, Evan Gershkovich.
The second topic that is still afloat deals with the working conditions for Russian diplomats in the United States and American diplomats in the Russian Federation. It is roughly the same issues that sometimes surface in contacts between us and European countries (the EU and NATO).
Europe has completely lost its independence. Whatever French President Emmanuel Macron may say about “strategic autonomy,” or Josep Borrell may declare about the need for Europe to be more active in the Indo-Pacific Region, Europe has ceded all its positions to the North Atlantic Alliance. And it has ceded even in a legal sense, having signed a declaration to that effect, which clearly indicates the EU’s place and states the supremacy of NATO institutions. The Americans will therefore decide when and how to use Europe to their advantage. It is clear that the most aggrieved party (apart from the Ukrainian people) in terms of developments around Ukraine are the Europeans. This concerns the depletion of their budgets and the stance they are being forced to take to pump Ukraine full of arms and funds to maintain a basic budgetary balance and to pay pensions, benefits and salaries, at their own expense. The de-industrialisation of Europe is in full swing. Back in October 2022, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty of France, sounded the alarm that because of the sanctions the West imposed under US leadership on our energy supplies, the cost of energy for European businesses is four times that of US businesses. Plus, the Americans have passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is clearly protectionist and puts Europe in an inferior position. Businesses from Europe are starting to actively move overseas. So Europe is footing the bill.
Question: Reading the Western press is one of my professional responsibilities. It is baffling sometimes. You learn many new things about your own country. One of the recent articles says that the West no longer respects Russia and is not intimidated by it, believing that Russia is isolated. The isolation will persist. They are threatening to include sanctions against third countries trying to bypass the earlier sanctions, into the 11th package. What stands behind such statements but propaganda?
Sergey Lavrov: The statement about the West having isolated Russia means only one thing: the West considers itself the centre of the universe. It is the only explanation for its current policy.
Attempts of the Western countries to force the global South and the global majority, as we call them now, to join the anti-Russia sanctions have been challenged by the intention of the overwhelming majority of developing countries to build their own policy based on national interests, the needs of their own economies and social objectives. The Western policy is failing. Yes, they refer to the results of UN votes on the provocative resolutions that have been drawn up in a devious fashion. In addition to the biggest possible number of generally recognised statements, they include clearly anti-Russia wording between the lines.
It is like this joke: “It is cheaper to agree than to explain why I won’t do it.” They voted but did not join the sanctions, just to be left alone. If you are right, you will not use sanctions to blackmail, threaten or punish others into agreeing with you. Never has it occurred to those who are certain that they are right. But the West is not certain.
If they are big on democracy, they should let others make their own decisions. Russia announced a special military operation. President Vladimir Putin has explained the background of the operation and where it comes from, at length: it is a result of the state coup and refusal to comply with the Minsk agreements, the continuing hostilities against Donbass, against the civilian sector and civilians, for eight years. He explained everything. He demonstrated that we had no other choice. Some may disagree. The West did not agree. The others can decide for themselves who is right and who is wrong and who they want to support, the white, the red – or be neutral. But they are being prevented from choosing, with daily pestering and dictate. They are being forced to join something that is against Russia. Those who know they are right would not behave this way.
Question: Moreover, they are making direct threats.
Sergey Lavrov: Direct threats and punishment. I asked some of my friends from Africa and Latin America who are complaining that they’ve had enough of the West (speaking plainly), ordering them to join the sanctions and telling them what they’ll get in return economically, financially. If you join the sanctions, then you lose.
Lowering their eyes, they say that in exchange they promise not to punish them. That is the whole diplomacy with which we started today’s conversation.
Question: If we consider this from the point of view of further relations, the countries closest to Russia are the former Soviet republics. Russia’s priority and special interests lie in the post-Soviet space. It is no secret to anyone, and your colleague US Secretary of State Antony Blinken makes no secret of this, that they will escalate the situation. Escalate the anti-Russia forces. To what extent, in your opinion, can these countries, which are very close to us in mentality and historically, follow in the wake of not only anti-Russia rhetoric, but also anti-Russia actions?
Sergey Lavrov: There are a lot of facts based on actions, statements from our closest allies, our strategic partners who say that they have been put (to put it mildly) in a very uncomfortable position. They are trying not to do anything that would cause economic damage. They find themselves caught in the crossfire. The Russian Federation, the EAEU, the CIS account for the lion’s share of economic ties. But the West’s share in the economy of Central Asia and the South Caucasus is growing. The West methodically and cynically demands that they refrain from taking steps contrary to its interests, promising them everything under the sun. Although in reality it only means interference in internal affairs.
At the same time, the network of budget-funded NGOs, primarily of the United States, Britain and the European Union, is expanding. In a number of post-Soviet countries, they feel more at ease and even try to call the shots. I will not list them; they are well known. But despite all this, I believe that these countries stand together with the Russian Federation. They are truly our allies. Victory Day, May 9, 2023, reaffirmed this.
Allies in the CSTO are not what NATO has. The alliance uses the rod of discipline. Sometimes they say that in the CSTO, Armenia has one position whereas Kazakhstan has a different one...
Question: It is alleged that the CSTO is falling apart…
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, this is what they say. But this impression is created only because the CSTO members proceed from consensus and respect nuances that sometimes become substantial, that always arise in the life of this or that country. Serious nuances also come up in the positions of some NATO members – look at Turkey and Hungary. However, in NATO, they are forced to follow “the party line” because they have real “rod discipline.” Their consensus is an oxymoron because the United States is the decision-maker there. Fulfilling Washington’s will, the NATO Secretary General makes arrogant statements, reflecting NATO’s claims to the Asia-Pacific Region, which they call Indo-Pacific. In other words, NATO no longer defends itself but ensures security all over the world.
The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is producing concrete results – its trade is growing for the benefit of all participants. Many of our partners benefit considerably from labour migration agreements in the EAEU and, on a broader plane, in the CIS. In the EAEU, the national borders do not exist for the flow of capital, services, workforce or goods. These integration processes are making rapid headway. All of the participants in these associations are benefiting from them. Other countries are considering EAEU membership. I am referring to Tajikistan that had observer status and Uzbekistan that is closely studying the EAEU experience.
The CSTO also proved its viability when Kazakhstan asked for help in January 2022. We did a good job. As soon as the Kazakhstan leadership told us that it had taken the situation under control, the CSTO promptly wrapped up its operation.
We were ready to help another CSTO member, Armenia, in the same way. A document on the deployment of a CSTO mission of observers on Armenian territory in accordance with the request of our Armenian allies was drafted for the CSTO summit in Yerevan in the autumn of 2022.
It had been fully approved at the foreign minister level. However, our Armenian friends asked us to postpone adoption at the last moment at the summit. This document is still on paper and cannot be implemented. I am convinced that if Yerevan confirmed what had already been endorsed and if this document were ready for signing and entry in force, Armenia would have secured and had a more stable situation.
We are also facilitating the settlement of the dispute between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. We are helping Tajikistan build up its defence capacity and reinforce the border with Afghanistan, considering what risks and threats are permanently emanating from its territory. I don’t see any deep crisis in the post-Soviet integration processes.
The CIS retains its important economic cooperation contacts because the CIS has a free trade zone. It is also contributing to the efforts to counter current challenges and threats (terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking) and efforts in the humanitarian area as well. The CIS has announced 2023 the Year of the Russian Language as the Language of Interethnic Communication. President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev suggested establishing an international organisation on the Russian language. The work on implementing this is nearing completion. To sum up, “tensions” emerging between individual members of our associations are only natural.
Question: Do you mean to say that the United States and its allies can destabilise the situation?
Sergey Lavrov: This is what they want and what they are doing. I know, since we have information in this regard, that they have been telling the Armenians to go ahead and get rid of the Russians, remove them from their territory, including the border control forces, as well as the military base, while the US will help the country on security matters. This is an outright provocation, not diplomacy.
You started the interview by asking me where the West was with its diplomacy? This is not a question of diplomacy anymore, but corrupt practices at their finest. We see how the West deals with those on whom it used to place its bets. They gave up on President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak who had the dignity to resign when the Arab Spring broke out, did not flee the country and went to the part of Egypt we call Sharm El-Sheikh. And he retired there. But the Americans allowed the ruling Muslim Brotherhood to bring this elderly man to the courtroom in a cage and humiliate him. At the time, we contacted Barack Obama’s administration. Then-President Dmitry Medvedev told them that Hosni Mubarak was a respected man and used to be a US ally, as well as our friend, always seeking the middle ground in the interests of his country. Mr Medvedev proposed sending a signal to the Muslim Brotherhood to free Mubarak. They would have listened to Barack Obama since he was the one who supported them on their way to power. But the Americans took to the woods, as the saying goes.
The United States left the Afghan leadership to its devices after relying on it for the 20 years of occupation. It resulted only in destruction, surging terrorism and drug trafficking, nothing more. I hope that today’s political leaders will take into account how relations with a hegemon can unfold when this hegemon wants everyone to accept him in this role.
Question: Is this how the Ukraine crisis might end, too?
Sergey Lavrov: This is quite possible, and many political observers have been writing about that. They predict that all this will continue as long as the Americans want it to continue this way. These people will stay in power as long as the United States needs them.
Question: I would like to return to what President Macron has said, not about Russia becoming a vassal of China, but about the development of Russia-China relations and Russia’s declared turn to the Asia-Pacific region. Have we really turned to the east? If so, what risks and problems could this lead to and where?
Sergey Lavrov: We don’t need to turn anywhere. Russia is a Eurasian and Euro-Pacific power, and this is what it has always been since Tsarist times. The two heads of our eagle face both the East and the West.
When the West seemed to be ready for equal cooperation with us, we wholeheartedly believed in the possibility of creating a common economic, humanitarian and security space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, not to the east of the Urals. Our country as a whole was open to equal cooperation with everyone who was ready for it on the conditions of mutual respect and mutual advantage.
However, we continued to actively develop our relations with the East even in the best period of our cooperation with the EU. In 2001, Russia and China signed the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, where we pledged to invariably support each other on issues of priority importance for our states.
These commitments were reaffirmed 20 years later, in 2021, and reinforced with additional analysis and additional statements which said that we don’t intend to create a military union and that our relations of multifaceted and multidisciplinary strategic cooperation and partnership surpass any classical military union.
Since 2001, we have been working to strengthen relations, primarily with China, India and ASEAN nations. It is said now that Russia has turned away from the West. We haven’t, or rather the West has turned away from us, betraying its own interests. When the volume of our ties with Western countries slumped, the weight of our eastern policy objectively increased. Moreover, leaving proportions aside, the absolute volume of our relations with China has risen to a historic high. Personally, I believe that we should continue with our declared policy. We are open to cooperation with everyone.
President of France Emmanuel Macron probably feels his impotence when the EU’s strategic autonomy that he has been crowing about for years has not materialised. He feels like a vassal of the United States, which makes him miserable. It’s good that he is aware of this, but he can’t do anything about it.
In our case, China is ten times larger, and it is our main trading partner who has surged way ahead of all others. But China is also the biggest trading partner for 140 of the nearly 200 countries around the world. It is a major and rapidly growing power with its own strategic objectives, which it has been working consistently to achieve. China has defined its development horizon, unlike those who hold elections every other year. America sacrifices global issues to internal political squabble every other year.
It is unwise to apply your own yardstick to others. We see no threats coming from China. We maintain very close, trust-based relations at all levels, relations that are based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. It is not our problem that such relations are extremely rare, if they are even present, among Western countries.
Question: Can you refute the statement that a new iron curtain is descending (a popular analogy), but not on our side? It is descending on their side.
Sergey Lavrov: I do not even want to play with terms. The West has made its choice. They insist that Russia must suffer “a strategic defeat,” must give up Crimea, betray the Russian people in other parts of former Ukraine. They are referring to Russians as “non-humans,” whose physical elimination is stated as a goal of the current Kiev regime. Mikhail Podolyak recently said they would seize Crimea and Donbass and eradicate everything Russian there.
As to their intention to kill Russians – more than one figure from Kiev has publicly stated this. By the way, former Ukrainian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Pavel Vrublevsky spoke about this. Openly, in front of cameras, looking straight into the lens, he said that they should kill Russians wherever they are. It was “their duty” to their fathers who did not complete this task. Such straightforward “diplomatic” language. This is more about “diplomacy,” American- and Ukrainian-style.
This regime is killing Russians, Russian culture and the Russian world in any of its manifestations, physically exterminating the Russian people who were its citizens. If this is what the West sees as the values that the Zelensky regime is now defending, call it a curtain if you like – iron or not. This curtain may have already descended; maybe even fallen on someone’s head. That will be their problem. We will no longer rely on the West, as a partner that can be negotiated with to any extent. We will work with the rest of the world that is ready for this.
Question: Is it possible to inflict a geopolitical defeat on a nuclear power? That’s almost a philosophical question.
Sergey Lavrov: The West spouts its incantations daily, foaming at the mouth: “we are giving Ukraine more weapons,” “we are giving them long-range missiles, cruise or wingless missiles,” “tanks,” “soon we will give them aircraft, but not now, a little later.” “We need to finish Russia off.”
As French President Emmanuel Macron said, the new security architecture must ensure that Ukraine is reliably protected, but a place should also be found in this “concert” for the Russian Federation, “already exhausted and disarmed.” This reflects only one thing: they want to continue this conflict, constantly raising the stakes and heightening what is now called escalation. The British have supplied Ukraine with long-range weapons; certain countries are contributing former Soviet aircraft and promising to supply newer American ones. They are not naïve. At the very least, their military would have to explain to politicians that at some stage, every action meets with an opposite reaction. If you raise the bar and enhance the quality of the confrontation, you should probably expect an appropriate reaction, at least in line with the laws of physics and wartime.
Question: In other words, do you expect a further escalation?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not expecting anything. I am commenting on the facts. This goal has been proclaimed and is being consistently embodied in “metal” and in other forms of matter, namely, modern weapons.
Question: As our conversation comes to a close, I would like to understand our Foreign Minister, who has pursued this policy for a long time. What is the source of your strength? Let me ask you this lay question. I heard you even sing songs to the public at the Bard Club from time to time.
Sergey Lavrov: Not at the Bard Club. I wrote some texts for birthdays and other anniversaries in the private lives of my friends. Occasionally I do this in a friendly circle.
Question: Do you have favourite composers?
Sergey Lavrov: Do you mean singers and songwriters? There are many favourites, I wouldn’t like to leave anyone out: Vladimir Vysotsky, Bulat Okudzhava, Yuri Vizbor, Alexander Gorodnitsky, and others. I will not list them.
Question: Is it difficult to be a minister in this situation?
Sergey Lavrov: I have never thought about this. I have a good team. I rely on them. All are professionals. It’s interesting to work with them. The most important thing is that we often see good results.
Question: Do you hope that Good will defeat Evil? I want to understand what supports this conviction. Are you confident of this?
Sergey Lavrov: I haven’t thought about it. “Our cause is right” has long become a winged phrase.
What is yet another source of my strength? You asked about music, poetry, and songs.
There was a huge number of broadcasts in connection with Victory Day, where our great music of the Great Patriotic War was played, music dedicated to the history of our people and state. There are no such songs in the West. This is also one of the factors that provides confidence.