Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's interview with Bloomberg TV, 27 September 2014

Submitted on Fri, 09/26/2014 - 22:00

Q: Foreign Minister, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to Bloomberg TV. You've obviously lived in the U.S. for many years. You've been coming to these U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York for many years. With the relationship between Russia and the U.S. deteriorating this year, have you found there to be more hostility toward Russia than ever before?

A: Well, if you listen to the language which was used by President Obama, some other Western leaders, yes, I would say that this is a strange language. Russia was put as a threat number two after Ebola virus but before terrorist threat of ISIL in the Middle East.And I don't think this reflects the attitude towards Russia in the international community. Our American colleagues, they always have the habit of speaking for everyone and drawing conclusions which hardly many people share.So, I think that philosophically, the problem is as I see it, it's really unfortunate that instead of concentrating on the substance of the progress and on building collective efforts based on international law, on the Security Council cooperation serious and very serious issues become subject to accusations. Facts are not produced. And be it Ukrainian crisis, be it this current situation in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya if you listen to some of the Western colleagues it will be assumed that Russia is responsible for all of this.And I don't think that people who at least read newspapers and watch TV don't know how the Libyan crisis started or what is the reason for the current state of the Iraqi state. And we can discuss, you know, various options. But the problem is that nobody can pretend that he or she has monopoly for truth. The analysis which is collective is much more promising and much more effective than just somebody's unilateral decision taken without consulting of us.

Q: The U.S. papers are describing the deterioration of relations between Russia and the U.S. as a return of the Cold War. Is that how it's viewed in Russia?

A: One of my colleagues, one of the ministers of foreign affairs during this session of General Assembly, when we met he said, "Well, having listened to some of the statements I tend to believe that the Cold War never ended." You know, this assessment maybe can be taken, not for granted, but for some thinking.The speed with which NATO went into highly confrontational posture stopped all practical cooperation with Russia showed to me, at least, that the mentality of Cold War dies hard and that this if you wish, genetic code of NATO as it was created to counter some enemy it's still very much alive.

Q: Well, is it dying hard on both sides? Do you feel that Russia is in any way in contest with the U.S.?

A: No, we don't want any competition except maybe sports, Olympics, football...

Q: But do you feel you're in competition in contest for influence in Eastern Europe?

A: Probably this is the logic of our Western partners. They believe that Russia is a threat to the Western society. And they forget that Russia has always been part of Europe. Russia contributed to Europe culturally. And if you remember, Russia a couple of times in history... Russia saved Europe from itself. Particularly in World War II. And in Napoleon wars. So, every time and on the contrary, every time Russia was isolated, Europe experienced problems which were not easily resolved. So, what we believe is necessary to look at this situation from the point of view of deals which we reached together.And after the announcement that the Cold War is over there was a deal in OSCE, in NATO-Russia council which was created soon thereafter. And the deal was that all countries in Euro-Atlantic region deserve equal and indivisible security and that no country shall strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others. And that's the principle which was absolutely ignored and violated by continued unnecessarily expansion of NATO, in spite of promises even after the demise of the Soviet Union and moving military infrastructure close at the Russian borders.Of course we were told that, "This is not against you," like we were told that “the missile defense is not against us”. But as one famous politician said in the past, "In military matters, it's not intentions, it's potentials which matter." Especially if you speak of missile defense. We were told that those are Iran and North Korea. But when NATO summit in Wales was prepared the Baltic States and Poland were insisting that NATO should say publicly that the missile defense system is to protect NATO from Russia. So, now all this inconsistencies they are used to justify the policy, which as I said, violates the deal reached after the end of the Cold War.

Q: Understood. Let's move on to Ukraine. You're preparing new agreements for the peace process in Ukraine. Can you tell us any more about what they'll include?

A: We are not preparing any agreements. We concentrated from the very beginning on pushing the government and the opposition to the negotiating table. And had this been done earlier, I think thousands of lives could have been saved.

Q: Do you have any kind of timeline?

A: Twenty-first February. Yanukovych is still president. The opposition, which is the ruling coalition now, they sign with him a deal which is written by ministers of foreign affairs from Germany, France and Poland. And the first item of of this deal says, "Creation of government of national unity, which will prepare a new constitution. Constitution would be endorsed by fall. And by the end of the year there would be presidential elections."Next day armed groups attacked the government buildings, residence of Yanukovych. He fled from Kiev to Kharkov because there were attempts at his life. And the opposition declared that they have created the government of the winners, not the government of national unity, and that there would be no constitutional reform for the time being. They would you know, have their own schedule.I talked to my colleagues who witnessed that agreement. And they were quite uncomfortable. But they said, "Look it was overtaken by events." But if the national unity can be overtaken of by events, then I don't understand the logic. The second attempt was made together with John Kerry, Cathy Ashton and the then Ukrainian foreign minister in Geneva on the 17th of April.We adopted this statement, which among other things included commitment of Ukraine to launch immediately national dialogue, which must be inclusive, transparent, accountable with the participation of all regions and all political forces of Ukraine immediately launched.Nothing was done. And only now we managed to persuade both the Kiev authorities and the self-defense groups and rebels, whatever they are called, to sit down and to start talking about saving lives. Ceasefire is being implemented and short of some incidents, is being observed. There is a process going on to withdraw heavy artillery from the line of contact. OSCE is introducing its monitors and these meetings in the format of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, with participation of Russia and OSCE would continue. We are helping them to deal. But we cannot write any deals for them.

Q: Russia has said repeatedly that you want to see Ukraine as a whole country but there are some among the separatists that are holdouts that say they want to be independent. Does Russia have enough influence on the separatists to keep them in Ukraine?

A: They are not refusing to talk. They say that they're ready to continue to talk to Kiev authorities to implement fully the protocol which they signed on the 5th of September which contains I think about a dozen points including political dialogue.And they signed this protocol and they confirmed that they're committed to implement it. And they started, obviously, by adopting a memorandum to spell out details of the ceasefire and withdrawal of forces and inviting the observers. And the next steps should also be based on that protocol. And each of the items should be described in details in order to be implemented.

Q: I know Russia says that they are not party to the conflict but you do have influence over the separatists. Can you give us a sense of what the communication channels are like between the Kremlin and the separatists?A: Well, we know these people. They come from time to time to Russia. They speak on Russian TV. They make their position and the attitude towards the situation known, because they don't have access to Ukrainian TV, obviously. And we know them and they certainly listen to us, but not always.When they decided to hold the referendum on independence sometime in early May, I think. Yes, early May. President Putin publicly called for upon them to postpone this and to give it a chance, you know, to political dialogue with a president who was to be elected a bit later and so and so forth. They said that they respect Russia. They respect Putin. They respect the views and advice. But they already decided that this must be done. And they held that referendum. But we said that we respect the vote and we call upon them to implement the outcome of this elections in negotiations with Kiev authorities.

Q: What about the troops who go back and forth? There have clearly been bodies of Russian soldiers, expatriated going back to Russia. When you see that happening how can you deny that Russia is party to the conflict?

A: There are many volunteers there, many of them Russians. There was one American shown yesterday on TV. He was interviewed, but he was wearing a balaclava. There are some Russians fighting on the side of not the Ukrainian Army but those battalions which oligarchs created and keep financing.There are many Poles, Lithuanians many Europeans are fighting there on the side of those battalions. But some are fighting on the side of the rebels. At least there were interviews with some Spanish guys, a German lady, by the way is fighting and an American was shown yesterday. So, we never deny that there are Russian volunteers fighting there. And there was one episode when a Russian army unit on the armored personnel carrier got into Ukrainian territory. But there was so many cases when it was the other way around, when Ukrainian armored personal carriers got deep into the Russian territory. And in all these cases, they said that they got there by mistake and they were all released. So, the question is, you know, if you just start concentrating on the manifestations of the problem who is fighting, what country's sending assistance to whom we can discuss forever.The main thing is to start this national dialogue. The main thing is to recognize that this people revolted because they did not accept the military coup, unconstitutional toppling of the president, strongly welcomed by the United States and European Union in spite of this deal which European Union witnessed to create a national unity government which was broken.And this people want one simple thing. They want to use their language. They want to commemorate their heroes, which was already you know, a topic for some radicals in Kiev parliament saying that they should prohibit a commemoration of the heroes of World War II who are fighting against fascists.

Q: It’s, understood. It's very sensitive.

A: And, you know, it's a matter of psychology. Those are their homes. They started by very simple request. They wanted to elect their governance, to speak their language and their culture and history to be respected.

Q: Let's talk about the sanctions. Is there a sense of urgency to getting the sanctions lifted or is this just simply Muscovites not being able to get mozzarella?

A: You know, from time to time my American interlocutors say, "Why don't we sit down and develop some criteria?" I ask, "What criteria?" "Well, criteria which would be used, you know, to see when we can lift sanctions" meaning that Russia would have to do something to satisfy those criteria.We are not going to do this. And I just laughed in their faces and said, "Guys, you did this and you decide what to do further." We are not going to change our position. We believe it's an honest position. We think about first of all, Ukrainian people. We would be doing whatever we can to promote this meaningful process to negotiate full settlement. But we will do this because we are very close to Ukrainians. They're our brothers and sisters. And we would never do this just to please somebody on the other side of the ocean.

Q: The Russian economy is heading toward recession. Some of the biggest companies in the country have been sanctioned. You've just struck oil in the Arctic with Exxon. But now that whole project is going to be put, literally, on ice because of the sanctions. What are Russian business leaders saying to you?

A: First, I'm not sure that this would be put on ice. The exploration would continue. There are substitutions. There might be some delays. But we are not going to wait until the big brother changes his mind. And I well, yes, economy is not in very good shape. But these things happen. Recession happens not only in Russia but in other countries as well.So, I'm not nervous about this. And we will certainly survive. And we would not cry uncle, I can assure you. Well, we'll find the ways to substitute for the loss, which would be a loss for those who introduced sanctions, first of all.

Q: Rosneft has already had a big refinancing deal. Do you anticipate that you'll have to compensate other companies for the loss they're feeling?

A: Well, this is not my cup of tea. But I can assure you that the state has money. And the state will maybe this money would be reoriented on some things, but this money would be spent now even more vigorously to make sure that we don't depend on those people who try to put their politics on top of economic interest of the countries and of the companies and of the people.

Q: You've just met with your Syrian counterpart this morning at the United Nations. What's your understanding of the level of contacts between Washington and Damascus?

A: Well, that's what I discussed with John Kerry, also, when we met a few days ago. And I strongly believe that we have to engage Syria and we have to engage Syrian government, including the fight against terrorists. But also, we have to stop putting preconditions to the beginning of national dialogue in Syria. And precondition put forward by our Western friends is that "Assad must go before anything happens."Ideologists should not keep hostage the political process. If it was possible to have Syria as a partner to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons, why can not Syrian government the same people be a partner in political process or in fighting terrorism? It's just not logical at all.By the way, when the chemical weapon elimination program was discussed and then agreed and implemented, there were almost daily meetings in The Hague, in the headquarters of this Organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons. Experts from Russia, U.S., Syria and the secretariat of this organization, they were meeting and working as a team. So, I see no reason why the same approach couldn't be used to fighting terrorism on Syrian territory and eventually to resolving the political situation in Syria.

Q: For three years now you have been backing Assad against Western efforts to oust him. Now the West is bombing Assad's opponents. Do you feel vindicated on any level?

A: No, we're not in the business of being vindicated or, you know blood thirsty, looking for revenge. Unfortunately those feelings sometimes I see in the steps of our partners in the West taken vis-à-vis Russia. We were supporting Assad not against the United States and the West in general who were asking for his removal. We were supporting Syria in its fight for its secular state, the state where all minorities were comfortable and safe and in its fight against those who wanted to turn this state into terrorist caliphate. And I am not vindicated. Maybe I'm glad that eventually the understanding that terrorism is much bigger threat than the continued presidency of Assad. This understanding is now accepted basically. Many of my colleagues in the West were whispering this understanding into my ears a year ago, a year and a half ago. Now the policymakers, publicly recognize that this is the case.

Q: Can Russia and the U.S. put aside their differences to fight Islamic State together?

A: We never did anything which would prevent us from cooperating with the United States. It was the United States who frozen the work of the presidential commission out of some 20 plus working groups. There was a working group on counterterrorism. The counterterrorism problem of action which was endorsed and implemented in NATO-Russia council was also frozen by our Western friends. So, we never it's up to the United States to understand where its interest is.

Q: It's widely agreed that Islamic State can not be defeated with airstrikes alone, that it's going to take boots on the ground, as we say here in the U.S.

A: Well, I heard what Dempsey said, yeah.

Q: Yeah. Whose troops should those be? Who should the ground troops be

A: It has to be done through the Security Council in consultations with the Syrian government. Everything else would be an aggression.

Q: What should the role be of Russia in fighting Islamic State?

A: Not should be. What is the role of Russia, you should ask. The role of Russia in fighting the Islamic State has been in providing efficiently and expeditiously, necessary weapons to Iraq, to Syria and to other countries in the region who face terrorist threat: Egypt, Lebanon and others. And we will continue to support them because they must be equipped to come to this threat.

Q: How close are we to a nuclear deal with Iran?

A: I think we are moving. We are moving in the right direction. Some 95% maybe of the deal, if you take the paper, which is being negotiated is agreed. But the remaining 5% is where the devil is two or three very difficult issues. Difficult I mean they're resolvable, but difficult from the point of view of making a political decision to compromise on both sides. We together with China, proposed couple of formulations which can be useful. They are not rejected. The consultations, negotiations would continue. We still have couple of months before the date which was targeted, 24th of November. So, I am cautiously optimistic.

Q: Is the fight against ISIL making it more difficult or perhaps easier to get a deal done with Iran?

A: Well, I think it's a different matter. But Iran, of course, should be part of the efforts to fight ISIL because Iran is the strong opponent of these people. And to ignore Iran in this fight and not to invite it for cooperation is a mistake. Just like it is a mistake not to consult with the Syrian government and not to cooperate with it.And in general, I believe that Iran should be more recognized as a regional player. You can not resolve this Syrian crisis without Iran. You can not resolve many other things in the region without taking into account Iranian interest. When or now initiative with John Kerry, we convened this conference on Syria. Iran was explicitly left out which is not helpful. And I think Americans recognize that some point, better sooner than later this would have to be recognized that Iran should be involved as an equal partner in negotiating the security issues in the region.

Q: Foreign Minister, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

A: Thank you. My pleasure.