Interview by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to “Bloomberg TV”, Moscow, 14th of May 2014
CHILCOTE: Mr.Lavrov, thank you very much for joining us. I want to start by asking you about the talks that are taking place today in Kiev. Do you see any chance of those talks being successful?
LAVROV: Frankly, I haven't seen the information about the details of those talks. I understand that this is a result of the pressure which has been exerted on the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev by OSCE, in accordance with the Geneva statement of 17th of April, which called for all-inclusive national dialogue with the participation of all political groups and the regions of Ukraine. And, frankly, I don't know what exactly is the composition of the roundtable which has been not very loudly announced, as I understand, in Kiev. We believe that for this national dialogue to succeed, it is absolutely necessary to ensure equal participation of all the regions of Ukraine, not only east and south, obviously, but also the regions of the west, where we also have some issues related to self-determination of minorities. They want their rights to be asserted. They want cultural autonomy, as was manifested by the statement of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. So the inclusiveness is the key to success of this exercise. But any step in the direction of national dialogue is welcome.
CHILCOTE: Well, my understanding is the – that the Ukrainian central government is happy to have anyone at the talks that doesn't have blood on their hands. And is that not an acceptable way to hold the talks? I mean should the separatists that have been fighting have a seat at the table?
LAVROV: Who is going to pass a value judgment on the blood on the hands? It's a very rhetorical statement. It's like we saw in relation to the Syrian crisis, when the West said anyone could participate on the part of the government in the negotiations, but those who have blood on their hands. And how you qualify the people with the blood on their hands? Will the current coalition members qualify for this? They have been directly involved in the events in the Maidan in February. The current secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine, Mr.Paruby, was seen carrying a sniper gun, taking it from his car and so on and so forth.
It's either national reconciliation or it is the winner takes it all. And the winner determines to whom to talk.
CHILCOTE: So, clearly, you're not satisfied with the situation now, in terms of the way that the diplomatic process is going. What would it take for Russia? Give me what needs to be in a deal that Russia would find acceptable.
LAVROV: Well, basically, it's…
CHILCOTE: Devolution of power.
LAVROV: Basically, it's the Geneva statement of the 17th of April, which starts with no use of force, no violence. And no violence means that all the sides, not just the east and the south, as Victoria Nuland tried to present after we met in Geneva, that this is our statement, is about the east and the south, which is a distortion. No violence means, first of all, the end of this anti-terrorist operation. You cannot invite people to sit down and talk as you continue to shell them from artillery, from mortars, from fighter planes, helicopters. We certainly want to understand how it happened that the U.N. logo, U.N. painted helicopters, were used against the protesters in the east and the south. The United Nations already expressed its very deep concern.
But my point is that if you want to promote national dialogue, you don't do it while you are fighting demonstrators who do not agree with your government.
CHILCOTE: OK, so no violence. Some kind of devolution, elected governors…
LAVROV: That should be right. And this should be the result of this national dialogue process.
CHILCOTE: You're not laying out those conditions now?
LAVROV: Well, it must be the goal, the subject of the national dialogue.
CHILCOTE: Can Ukraine be part of the European Union? Would that be acceptable to Russia?
LAVROV: It's up to Ukrainians to decide. But if they opt for this route, they must understand what will be the consequences for their obligations under the economic arrangements inside the CIS.
It was Ukraine who insisted on signing treaty on free trade area in CIS. President Yuschenko, for that matter, was the initiator. And eventually, all the CIS members and Russia reluctantly, because we were to lose a bit economically, agreed. And there is now a free trade area in CIS. So they have to harmonize their obligations under these economic arrangements with the economic arrangements which they want to join, if they want to join.
CHILCOTE: Can Ukraine be part of NATO? Is that acceptable for Russia?
LAVROV: This would already be not only the issue of Ukrainian people and of NATO, this would be an issue of Russia because we entered into agreements with NATO members that originally NATO would not be expanded, then, when NATO was expanded contrary to the commitments that there would be no substantial combat forces on the territory of new members, no military infrastructure would be moved to the Russian borders, all this was violated one way or another. The attempts to draw Ukraine into NATO would be very negative for the entire system of European security and we would be categorically against it. I have nothing to hide.
Actually, it's good you raised this issue. In my view, it all started much earlier, in the '90s, when NATO decided that in spite of all the pronouncements that the cold war is over and there should be no winners, NATO did look upon itself as a winner. But in practical terms, the seeds for the current crisis were sown in April 2008, during the NATO summit in Bucharest, where NATO leaders stated, in a declaration, that Georgia and Ukraine will be in NATO. A few months later, Mr.Saakashvili, who took it very emotionally, given his character, he decided that he got the license to invade his own people and to resolve the conflict in South Ossetia by force. He was certainly motivated by this NATO promise.
By the way, like now in Ukraine, Saakashvili, soon after he did it, started to destroy monuments to the heroes of World War II. The neo-fascist trend is very much visible in the context of invitation to NATO and in the context of the policies of those who believe that Ukraine must join NATO.
CHILCOTE: Effectively, you have a problem with what you see as the West, the United States, the Europeans, meddling in what you see as your backyard.
LAVROV: Not at all. It is not our backyard. Kiev is the mother of the Russian cities. Russian language, Russian religion, Orthodox Christianity, was born on the territory of Ukraine as it stands now. We do not consider ourselves foreigners.
Latin America, which is the place where backyard expression was coined is different from the North America territory, from traditions and culture. And we have been one nation for more than 300 years, even before that. The Slavs brought their religion there more than 1,000 years ago. It's absolutely impossible to miss the psychological, historical, family feeling, if you wish.
CHILCOTE: You raised a very good point. President Putin, not too long ago, mentioned the term "New Russia" which is an empirical term that refers to a part of what is today Ukraine. So is what was part of the Russian Empire, does that give Russia a right to lay claim to it?
LAVROV: He said “Novorossiya”, the term of Medieval ages. Like Mala Rossiya and Novorossiya. It's like when you ask people in Europe, “Where are where are you from?” And they say, “South Tirol”, do you feel some nee imperialistic intention in this answer? It's a historical term.
CHILCOTE: But President Putin also said that God only knows why the Soviet authorities transferred parts of Eastern Ukraine that were Russia to Ukraine.
LAVROV: This is a statement of fact.
CHILCOTE: Yes, but a lot of people when they heard that thought, “That sounds exactly what he said about Khrushchev giving Crimea to Ukraine in 1964”. Is this another justification, historical rationalization, for a land grab in the east of the country?
LAVROV: No, not at all. It's a statement of fact.
CHILCOTE: It wasn't that, right?
LAVROV: It's a statement of fact. Indeed, God knows why the Soviet authorities were covering up the administrative boundaries inside the Soviet Union the way they did. Sometimes, the secretary general of the party was from Ukraine, like Khrushchev or Brezhnev. And they were shuffling these territories because no one in the worst of nightmares could imagine that the Soviet Union would cease to exist.
CHILCOTE: Fair enough.
LAVROV: But eventually, when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no intention to try to get back what was given to Ukraine or to any other republic under the Soviet leadership. More than that, a few years ago we finalized the border treaty with Ukraine and we started demarcation of the land border with Ukraine without even thinking of challenging that outcome.
It's only the events of the last few months, it's only the fact that the current regime, with the support of the United States and the European Union came to power, relying on neo-Nazis, extremists who tried to use force to impose their rules, anti-Russian policies, canceling the rights of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the rights of the Russian speakers, that brought the people of Crimea to revolt against this.
CHILCOTE: All right, fair enough.
LAVROV: My point is that our foreign policy doctrine says we must demarcate borders with all former Soviet republics. And we were in the middle of this work with Ukraine when this illegal armed coup happened.
CHILCOTE: All right. Can Russia guarantee the world that the easternmost parts of Ukraine and the south of Ukraine will not become Russia, that there will be no annexation of that territory?
LAVROV: You have to really take what I say.
CHILCOTE: Yes or no?
LAVROV: It's a very simplistic approach. Can the West guarantee that the rights of Russian speaking people, the rights of ethnic Russians, the rights of Hungarian, Romanians, Poles and other minorities who live in Ukraine would be guaranteed? Can somebody guarantee to us that the current coalition would not embrace neo-Nazis, like they do now?
This Svoboda Party was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in December, 2012. At that time, the European Union protested and just like in the case of Mr.Haider election in Austria, they said, that no one in Ukrainian politics should cooperate with this Svoboda Party. Now this gentleman and his party is a member of the coalition supported by the West, promoting anti-Russian, anti-Semitic statements publicly, in the parliament. And the lady from that party, I.Farion, who is in charge of educational reform, applauded what happened in Odessa.
So I believe we have to start not from artificial, hypothetical questions, whether somebody would be invading something. But by the substance of how people are going to feel in any country on Earth.
CHILCOTE: So I guess you can't give a guarantee right now that those areas outside of Russia but inside the former Soviet Union will remain outside Russia? As Transnistria, for example.
LAVROV: I can only tell you one thing. On Transnistria, we clearly stated that we are in favor of a settlement which would respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of Moldova, provided Moldova keeps its neutrality enshrined in its constitution and provided Kishinev agrees with Tiraspol on the special status of Transnistria.
On Ukraine, one very blunt, very specific example. I didn't want to make it known, but I don't think it's a secret. After the situation in Crimea resolved the way it was resolved, after the referendum took place and after we didn't have any other option but to fully respond to that request of the Crimean people by overwhelming majority asking to be reunited with Russia, there was an initiative on the part of Moscow to promote some kind of a support group for Ukraine: Russia, U.S., EU to help Ukrainians to start a national dialogue. We listed our perception of how this dialogue could be conducted: decentralization, federalization, whatever you call it, devolution, call it whatever you want. But the main thing is the substance, whether this reform satisfies all the regions and there must be some solution with satisfies all the regions. The Russian language and neutral status of Ukraine from a military political point of view to be respected. We listed all these things.
And then we said in the proposal which we gave to the Americans and to the Europeans, that a reformed Ukrainian state would be guaranteed by Russia, by the European Union, by the United States, by the Security Council, to be sovereign territorial integral and whatever you would like to add to emphasize, that this would be respected by everyone.
Unfortunately, we didn't get any response to this proposal. And unlike our idea that the constitutional process must be inclusive and must be respectful to all the regions, the steps undertaken by our partners in the West, especially by the United States and the European Union, indicate that their main goal is not to reach some national reconciliation in Ukraine, but to legitimize the regime which they brought to power on the terms which would be comfortable to this regime and imposed on the rest of the country.
CHILCOTE: We had that tragic fire at the beginning of the month in Odessa. Just within the last 24 hours, seven Ukrainian troops killed in the east of the country. How close is Ukraine to a civil war?
LAVROV: You should also add quite a number of self-defense people who were killed by artillery fire, by mortar fire, by the attack helicopters like in Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Krasnoarmeysk. When Ukrainians kill Ukrainians, I believe this is as close to a civil war as you can get.
CHILCOTE: So what's going on now in Ukraine?
LAVROV: There are some people without any identification on their uniform, black uniforms. Some say this is the Right sector (and certainly many from the right sector). There were reports about a couple of hundreds or more of mercenaries, including the rumors which were spread in the German media about the Greystone or Academy from Blackwater, American private military organization.
CHILCOTE: Well, since you mentioned it, do you believe that there are American mercenaries operating right now in Ukraine?
LAVROV: I sent a message to our Ambassador to Washington asking to respond to these assertions from the German media, because the rumors to this affect were spread even before and John Kerry rejected them. Now they have popped up again and we would like o see whether this is true or not. And we also asked about the attitude of the United States to the phone conversation between the minister of interior Arsen Avakov and some of his interlocutors, which basically indicate that he might have been involved in the attempt on the life of the governor of Kharkov and might have been involved in inviting some foreign fighters to Ukraine and asking for interpreters and so on and so forth.
We are waiting for answers, because we have very strong suspicions that this might be true. And every time we meet with our Western friends, with Americans, Europeans, they say, “Well, you should not pretend that you are not there. There were reports that Ukrainians apprehended 10 or 12 Russian agents” and our immediate reaction was, “Please present them to the world. Show the documents, show the pictures, show the interviews with them. And this happens for more than one month now. No single allegations have been proven.
On the other hand, these questions which we ask our Western friends remain unanswered without any challenge, that we shall call them bluff.
CHILCOTE: Is Ukraine in a civil war?
LAVROV: I said you're as close to the civil war as you can get. But my point is, which is an interesting point, during the all last rounds on Ukraine in Paris, Geneva, elsewhere, I always proposed to my interlocutors to go to talk to the media together. They always refuse to do this. I don't know why.
CHILCOTE: Yes. Is there any way Ukraine, in your eyes, can hold a legitimate election on May the 25th?
LAVROV: I don't know. We'll have to see. It's not us who would be voting. It would be regions of Ukraine. They changed the electoral law a few weeks ago, maybe a couple of months ago. The way which makes it necessary to have a vote only in one region. And that would be enough.
Take a look at it. It's a very funny law. There is no limits, no minimum for those who must vote. Everything will depend on whether they will elect their president under the counterterrorist preparation, so to say, being continued.
CHILCOTE: So if there's fighting, then it's not a legitimate election?
LAVROV: I don't think the people would go to vote in the east and in the south unless they…
CHILCOTE: The vast majority of the country, the vast majority of the population would take part in the vote. It would still be observed by the OSCE. But maybe that wouldn't be good enough for Russia?
LAVROV: It has to be good enough for Ukrainians. And it has to be legitimate in the eyes of Ukrainians. OSCE know how experienced these people are, how creative they might be. We did not send our people to this mission which would monitor the elections, because we have quite a number of questions.
But as President Putin said, any election is a movement in the right direction. And we will have to judge these elections by their outcome.
CHILCOTE: It sure sounds like you're discounting it before it even takes place.
LAVROV: No, I said it's a movement in the right direction. And I said, also, that basically, when people said that the referendum in Crimea was not legitimate because it was held under the guns – there was no single shot fired.
In east and south of Ukraine there is a real war, with heavy weaponry used. And if this is something conducive to free and fair elections, then I don't understand something in the freedom and fairness.
CHILCOTE: You don't recognize the legitimacy of the current government.
CHILCOTE: You've made that very clear. And that's one of the reasons why you say you won't and can't deal with them, because they haven't been legitimately elected.
LAVROV: No, we actually deal with them.
CHILCOTE: That is true. Will you be able to deal in a more meaningful way, be more engaged with a newly elected Ukrainian president, in a way that you are not able to now, because, as far as you're concerned, these people weren't elected, so they have no legitimacy.
LAVROV: We'll have to see what these elections would actually result in, whether this election will be held as the war continues, as that protest continues in gross violation of the Geneva statement, in gross violation of the 21st of February agreement, by the way.
By the way, one of the first commitments of the current coalition under the 21st of February agreement was to create a national unity government. The day after it was signed, they said that this has been superseded by events because Yanukovych was not in Kiev. Yanukovych was in Ukraine. It's an important point. Yanukovych was in Ukraine. But still, if they said that just because Yanukovych was not in Kiev, they are not bound by this commitment to create a national unity government, my question is, is national unity commitment was made only for President Yanukovych or for their country or for their people? Instead, they created what they call the coalition of the winners. Yatsenyuk went to Maidan to brag that they are now the government of the winners, and please, Maidan people, endorse us as such, which they did.
CHILCOTE: What I guess I'm asking is will elections in Ukraine and the election of a president, and eventually a government there, make it easier to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis, as far as Russia is concerned?
LAVROV: If there is somebody who emerges as a figure with the support of a majority of Ukrainians, of course it is easier to have such interlocutor than self-appointed people.
CHILCOTE: The frontrunner in the Ukrainian election at the moment is a gentleman named Petro Poroshenko. Is he someone you're prepared to work with?
LAVROV: I know him well. He was, at some point in his career, minister of foreign affairs, then he was also minister of economy, if I am not mistaken, and some other positions in Ukrainian structures.
It's an interesting thing. Poroshenko said, that immediately after the presidential elections, he would move with the real reform and that by the end of the year, there would be, I think, parliamentary elections. Maybe it was not announced, but there is something being discussed to this effect.
The agreement of the 21st of February was quite logical, a national unity government to prepare constitutional reform, a constitution to be adopted and then, on the basis of a new constitution, the elections will take place.
Now, they would elect a president before the constitutional reform is over, so the people who are going to vote, they wouldn't know what kind of authority they are giving to the gentleman or to the lady.
it's slightly ambiguous and it's not very logical, but still, our Western friends believe that this is the a priori free and fair election. I don’t like to prefer to pass a judgment after I've seen what happened.
CHILCOTE: Right. Sure. But what I'm trying to understand is, weather Petro Poroshenko somebody you could work with, because as you know, Russia has called the government in Kiev, many times, fascist. It has said that it has fascists in it. I guess we have to ask you, is Petro Poroshenko a fascist?
LAVROV: No, not the entire government.
CHILCOTE: Is Petro Poroshenko a fascist?
LAVROV: The Svoboda Party, whose leader repeatedly said that Ukraine must be freed from Moscals and the Jews and who, in the platform of his party, they reiterate allegiance to the declaration of 30th of June, 1941 in Ukraine. The declaration which pledged support for Hitler's new order in Europe. And they are part of the coalition, openly and vigorously supported by the West. Poroshenko is not a member of this party and he is not a fascist, no.
CHILCOTE: And Petro Poroshenko is someone you could do business with if he becomes the president of Ukraine?
LAVROV: I met him couple of months ago in Munich in the Munich Security Conference. We can do business with anyone. The Russian parliament, the speaker of which is the president of the CIS parliamentary assembly, was circulating invitations to the heads of CIS parliaments and Ukraine is one of the CIS members. So Turchinov was invited in his capacity as the speaker to St. Petersburg to this parliamentary assembly. He opted not to come. It was his decision. Yatsenyuk, a couple of times, talked to Prime Minister Medvedev. I met with Yury Deschitsa several times, who is appointed as acting Minster by Verkhovnaya Rada. The ministers of energy, as you know, discussed the situation of the theft of Russian gas. So we are in contact.
CHILCOTE: I want to move on to sanctions. President Putin has said that the use of sanctions against Russia would not be effective. One of the threats out there is to impose Iran-style sanctions against Russia. And most people agree that Iran-style sanctions (or the sanctions against Iran) would be effective in achieving some political aims in Iran. Why wouldn't Iran-style sanctions be effective against Russia?
LAVROV: I understand you speak of unilateral sanctions, which are illegal from an international law point of view, because the Security Council sanctions.
CHILCOTE: I'm talking about economic sanctions, sectorial sanctions, category three sanctions.
LAVROV: Security Council sanctions did not touch upon sectors of the Iranian economy except those involved in the nuclear program. Dual use products and that stuff. Financial sanctions from the point of your using the swift system, sanctions against non-dual use sectors of the Iranian economy like oil and gas industry, are not legal. They're unilateral. We do not recognize them.
CHILCOTE: Well, let me ask you a different question. Would economic sanctions be effective?
LAVROV: I don't think that economic sanctions are being considered seriously from the point of your responsibility of the West in the international economic system. The discussions, as I can perceive them, are based on the desire to get revenge, which is obviously very bad for politicians, which is not professional for anyone who wants to be engaged in serious politics and which would probably have some effect, no doubt. I believe if they stop the dollar transactions for the Russian banks and for the Russian companies, of course it would cause difficulties. That would replacement. And Visa and Mastercard are already concerned that they would lose the market. They're already making passes. I don't want to get into these details.
People invent these systems. It's all virtual money, virtual transactions and anything which is virtual can be replicated, especially now that in Russia and in other countries there are many experts who know how this is working. My point is that if the West, just for the sake of revenge, is ready to sacrifice its reputation as a reliable partner for the entire world economy, and for the entire world financial system, if the USA is prepared to sacrifice its reputation as the holder of the key reserve currency, then it's up to them to decide. Then the entire world would think differently. if next morning somebody in Washington would wake up in bad mood and decides to start a coup elsewhere – not in Ukraine but in Latin America, in their own backyard, as they perceive it, than these people must be prepared for this situation.
CHILCOTE: So if I understand you correctly, economic sanctions against Russia would be successful in some way in damaging the Russian economy. Would sanctions against Russia be effective in changing Russian policy in Ukraine?
LAVROV: The other way around. It will be even more persistent in demanding a free and fair reform in Ukraine. We would be even more persistent in demanding from the West not to support fascists and neo-Nazis and not to support the government which has as part of it neo-Nazi party.
The other thing to which I wanted to get response from Washington was these reports about the secret visit of the Right sector coordinator Artyomenko to Washington for alleged meetings with Victoria Nuland. And we want answers to these questions because it's too serious to manipulate events in Europe across the Atlantic. It's not a remote-control game. It's very serious for us.
CHILCOTE: We haven't seen a lot of retaliatory sanctions yet from Russia or really any, I guess.
LAVROV: We are polite people, as you know.
CHILCOTE: Is there the plan to remain polite and not have retaliatory sanctions?
LAVROV: You know Russia very well. You lived in Russia for long. You have me, because I'm not sure I know an English idiom for the for the proverb “Русский мужик долго запрягает, но потом едет быстро”.
CHILCOTE: I guess the idea would be that it takes a while to wind up but when you're ready to go, then you'll act. Is that the idea? Something along these lines?
LAVROV: Maybe. We are not looking for confrontation. And we don't want to mimic the hectic gestures being made by Washington, Brussels, some other capitals, reluctantly most of them, by the way.
But if the West continues these absolutely non-professional, hysterical policies we would have to think what we can do in return. The problem is they tell us, well, if you do not change your policy, we will hurt you even more. They believe they hurt us already. My question is, what is the change you need? There is no answer. They started by saying a couple of months ago, “You must not invade Ukraine”. We were not going to invade Ukraine. We are not going to invade Ukraine.
Then they said, “OK, well, you have to stop sending your operatives and your special forces into Eastern and Southern Ukraine”. We said, “there are none”. Putin said this publicly. They said, as I just mentioned to you, that the Ukrainians arrested some of them. Please present them. Then they said, “You have to call for the cancellation of these referendums on 11th of May”. So Putin said that, it's up to the people to decide. But we believe that, given the intention of OSCE to start a dialogue, it would be useful to postpone them. Now they say, “If the elections on the 25th of May do not take place for any reason, Russia would be to blame”. Isn't that ridiculous?
CHILCOTE: A lot of Russian politicians have said they believe that the United States' real aim is not to change Russia's position in Ukraine but to overthrow President Putin. Is that your view?
LAVROV: I think the real aim of the United States is not let Europeans to go on their own and to decide on their own. Not let NATO to lose the purpose of its existence and to keep Europe on a short leash.
CHILCOTE: Returning to sanctions and one event that took place in the last week, the French government has decided to go ahead with the sale of those mistral warships in a deal that's worth a bit more than a billion euros. What does that say to you, that France is going to go ahead with that sale?
LAVROV: It says to me that France is a bit more serious about its contractual obligations than the Ukrainian government at the moment.
CHILCOTE: Because the Ukrainians aren't paying for your gas? Does it say to you that Europe is divided on the idea of sanctions against Russia and maybe doesn't have the appetite for ratcheting them up?
LAVROV: I know that many, if not most, European countries, do not have any appetite for confrontation with Russia, especially for economic confrontation. We are not going to violate a single contractual obligation to Europe or to anyone else. I believe that this is the way any serious businessman, any serious politician should behave.
CHILCOTE: Do you think that the West has the appetite and attention span to see through this crisis in Ukraine?
LAVROV: We are already getting some signals that people already start experiencing fatigue from this serious crisis into something which does not have anything to do with the future of Ukraine, but has to do with how people are perceived by their own electorate, how they are perceived by those who try to dictate the politics from Washington. This fatigue is felt very much.
When the Western ambassadors all over the world are receiving instructions to go to the foreign ministry of the host country and to say, "Look, I heard you were planning to visit Moscow. Don't do this. Postpone the visit. It is not timely now." It is not serious.
When the same message (I mean, through the same channels) is sent, “Don't attend the Russian Victory Day commemorations”, I don't even need to explain what it means for a Russian.
I respect the decision of practically all ambassadors of the European Union to attend the ceremonies of the 9th of May in Moscow. Unfortunately, the ambassador of the European Union was not present and this was a political gesture. And I'm sorry for this.
CHILCOTE: The Ukrainians say Russia is waging war against it. Is that true?
LAVROV: As I just mentioned to you a couple of times already during this interview we challenge them to present a single proof. They keep saying we arrested a few people. Please present those people. Please show the IDs. Please show their faces. If you arrested Russian spies, Russian operatives, Russian special forces, show them. That's the problem. I just mentioned that when they in the West say, that Russia must change its policies, my question is, what exactly you would like us to change?
CHILCOTE: One thing you could do that they've asked you to do is to condemn the use of violence in accordance with the Geneva agreements, as you were saying and by the separatists.
LAVROV: We condemn it every day.
CHILCOTE: When was the last time the Kremlin said that the separatists should not use violence in Eastern Ukraine?
LAVROV: Putin said this at the press conference with President of Switzerland Burkhalter five days ago, 7th of May in Kremlin. The problem is that they say, “You must condemn violence” and the government has monopoly to use force. And we, the European Union, adopted their conclusions (or whatever they call those documents) at the foreign ministers' level. The European Union just few days ago said that they support and call upon the Ukrainian authorities to continue to use force responsibly and proportionately.
If this is the way they describe what is going on in the East and the South, then this is just total disrespect to the people of Ukraine. And total disrespect to the politicians in Europe. They have to watch what is going on. Of course they don't watch Russian TV; they don't want the very optimistic picture of what is going on in Kiev and what are the policies of Kiev to be challenged. But this is not professional.
This is an attempt maybe to gain some scores before the elections to the European parliament on the 25th of May, some Russophobes of course in the European Union try to call the shots and to call the tunes. But it's a pity. Europe is acting on the basis of something which it should never have accepted and the basis of acquiescing with neo-Nazism being revived in a very important European country.
CHILCOTE: Just ask you one more question, because you've been very kind with your time and I know you need to go. During the events in Crimea, we asked the Russian president if Russia had any troops in Crimea. And he said no, categorically.
LAVROV: Except the personnel of the Russian naval base.
CHILCOTE: That's correct. And then in a teleconference he said that, in fact, Russian troops were in Crimea, as he put it, right behind the pro-Russian activists of Crimea. Effectively saying that Russian troops were in Crimea.
LAVROV: From the Russian naval base. I told you just now.
CHILCOTE: That was not the way this statement was interpreted, even in Russia.
LAVROV: No, he never denied that there was Russian naval base.
CHILCOTE: Interpretation of that statement was that there were, in fact, Russian troops involved in the events in Crimea aside from the normal troops you have on the bases.
LAVROV: I'm trying to answer your question. The Russian-Ukrainian agreement, which was valid at that time, provided for up to 25,000 naval personnel to be deployed on the base in Crimea. At the time of the crisis, when the crisis started, there were about 16,000 or 17,000. And yes, we added more personnel because of the crisis. But we were still below the 25,000 maximum.
We never denied this. And yes, these people were moving between the several sites belonging to the base. And yes, at the critical point when the referendum was being prepared, they were behind the self-defense people, the self- defense detachments.
CHILCOTE: Who were carrying out as far as the central government is concerned an illegal referendum.
LAVROV: From what kind of central government?
CHILCOTE: The central government of Kiev.
LAVROV: The reason for that referendum was the fact that the people revolted against an armed illegal coup which happened in Kiev. They revolted against the people who arranged this coup with the support of the United States and the European Union, calling themselves the government of the winners. The very first act of this government was to pass a law canceling the right for regional languages. They never signed it into law but they voted. They opted to vote publicly and loudly against the Russian language as it was immediately received in Crimea. And they revolted against an attempt of the armed thugs from the right sector entering Crimea and trying to take over the buildings. It's all in the Internet. You can watch the sequence.
CHILCOTE: History aside, the question is this: after May the 25th, if you decide that the election was not legitimate, could we see Russian troops appear in Donetsk and Lugansk, in these regions where we had referendums, again, to support the pro-Russian activists? Or at any point? Tomorrow? Will we see Russian troops in the east of Ukraine?
LAVROV: This phrase, "pro-Russian activists"...
CHILCOTE: It's a tricky one.
LAVROV: In Donetsk, in Lugansk, they don't want to be called pro-Russian, pro-American; they want to be Ukrainians. If you wait to be treated like equals and you are being treated like dirt at best, or being totally ignored, like Kiev authorities did for two or three months after they arranged the coup, then I understand the people who want to draw attention to their own problems and this attention is manifested in an army being ordered to go and fight them, then these people want to take their destiny in their own hands.
That's why we respect the outcome of this referendum. And we don't have any intention to send any troops anywhere.
CHILCOTE: Foreign Minister Lavrov, thank you very much for your time.
LAVROV: Thank you, Ryan.