After President Vladimir Putin’s opening statement at this expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministry Collegium, which you attended and in which he assessed our work and set new tasks for us, we had an instructive restricted attendance meeting. Working in a confidential and creative atmosphere, we exchanged views on how to better promote Russia’s interests set out in the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. We talked about the tasks regarding this document, which was adopted in 2016, when the situation on the international stage was different. We are working to reflect the deep changes that have taken place over the past five years in the new version of the Foreign Policy Concept, which should be submitted to the President early next year.
We discussed our relations with Western countries, where the conflict potential is increasing. The West has absolutely refused to interact with us on an equal and mutually beneficial basis or look for a balance of interests and is instead set on promoting exclusively its own vision of problems. This began back in the 1990s, when they stubbornly disregarded and ignored their own promises not to expand NATO eastward and later not to deploy substantial armed forces in the territory of the new bloc members as well as other promises. We have learned this historical lesson. I will not describe it as bitter, but it was a useful experience. Any experience is informative.
Russia is making conclusions from any experience and learning lessons without looking for confrontation. We will not heed the calls to choose a path that does not suit us, a path we believe does not suit our fundamental interests. The door to negotiations is always open, provided they are based on mutual respect, equality and the search for a balance of interests. Moreover, Russia has many associates in the world, in particular our closest neighbours: the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS and the Russia-India-China (RIC) format as its forerunner, as well as our partners in Asia, Latin America and Africa and individual countries and organisations, such as ASEAN, the African Union, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and many subregional organisations, which are growing, developing and gaining ground in the developing world.
Russia would like international law to take priority. After the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, our Western partners never stopped saying that they have been urging and even demanding that our country respect international law. None of our Western colleagues is saying this now. They are now speaking about respect for á “rules-based international order.” International law has become the antithesis of the Western policy. The essence of this is very simple. The UN is an organisation where all countries and views, including those that do not coincide with the Western views, are represented and where you need to make arrangements and look for consensus and a balance of interests. What is the West doing? The Western countries meet in a narrow circle to discuss an issue from the UN agenda and then formulate these “rules” without any dispute or discussion. But truth is born of argument, and so any attempt to churn out new “rules” in a closed club, present them as the benchmark and force them on all other countries have no future. This may go well for some time, while the countries that depend on them and yield to the Western influence are forced to sign various appeals and declarations. But this will not last, because only the agreements that have been coordinated with the involvement of all countries will remain effective for a long time.
This is the biggest difference between international law enshrined in the UN Charter, which all of us created after our common victory in the bloody Second World War, and the attempts to rewrite history and the results of WWII and to pose as the only victors, based on their own perception of the outcome of the Cold War. This is not a promising illusion. I am sure than an increasing number of responsible politicians in the West are becoming aware of this. Many of them have started speaking about this. Some are doing this during private contacts. But this truth can only win through concerted efforts. When different people get together to share their views, coordinating things is more difficult than in a narrow group of “pals” who don’t dare to say a word or raise their voice against any proposals. When you coordinate agreements by making serious and complex compromises that are truly based on a balance of interests, such agreements can be implemented and will remain effective for a long time, helping to deal with global problems.
Question: Your correspondence with your colleagues from France and Germany has been published. Why did you do it? Did they get to you? What was the reaction to these publications?
Sergey Lavrov: We are all human. You could say they got to me. But I’m not getting discouraged. It's just that my colleagues should know better than to behave in this way, making statements that are arrogant, and not exactly appropriate or ethical during the past two weeks while their initiative to meet at the level of foreign ministers was being discussed. Basically, they claimed everyone is ready, Vladimir Putin has issued instructions, but Sergey Lavrov does not want to meet. This was the gist of it. I did not add the recording of a telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to the publicised correspondence, although my foreign policy colleagues referred to it when they insisted on a Normandy ministerial meeting. In that conversation, in response to the calls made by the President of France and the German Chancellor, President Vladimir Putin suggested considering the Normandy Four ministerial meeting format, saying he would instruct Sergey Lavrov to see how we can act there. But the point of the whole conversation before that was that the Kiev regime had not implemented a single decision of the previous Normandy summits. This is what the conversation was about. When Vladimir Putin said he would instruct me to explore the possibility of a ministerial meeting, it was after he had repeatedly explained to the others that we did not want to meet just to look at each other and take a nice photo.
As for the correspondence which has been published, I think it reflects the essence of the problem eloquently enough. It is not about who invited whom, who could not attend, and for what reason; it reflects the essence of the Ukrainian regime’s consistent attempts to sabotage the Minsk agreements. They do not want to fulfil them; they want to rewrite them. To do that, they are trying to convene ministerial and highest-level meetings in the hope that once we are all sitting down at a table having tea, they might have a chance to persuade either Sergey Lavrov or Vladimir Putin “to adjust this part here a bit” because Kiev cannot fulfil it the way it is.
There was a very ugly incident that recently hit the internet. I leafed through a multi-page letter written by Alexey Reznikov, who was in charge of the “occupied territories.” In his capacity as Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, he wrote a letter to the Venice Commission (fascinating reading, 15 pages in small print, try it). The entire text reiterates the same point: the Minsk agreements allegedly have no legal force. What is there to talk about, then? If we convene a meeting in this situation, representatives of the Kiev regime will immediately say that, since the Russians have sat down at the negotiating table in the Normandy format, it means they recognise the way the Ukrainians interpret the Minsk agreements. This will not happen.
We will not meet until we hear a report on Kiev having fulfilled everything stipulated in the previous decisions. This includes a special status for Donbass, agreed with the republics, that the special status is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine, with federalisation and decentralisation included in it as a key element, as is stated in the Minsk agreements. This also includes an unconditional amnesty and the holding of elections according to the rules agreed upon between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk on the basis of the OSCE principles. That is all they need to do. After that, the Ukrainian state regains full control of the part of its border with Russia it does not control now. No one can deny this. This is written in black and white in the Minsk agreements.
Question: Escalation continues in the Black Sea. The West continues to finance it and has moved from promising to delivering weapons. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has paid considerable attention to this today. Do you think that it is time to start using new instruments to show that this is destabilising the situation in the region and the world as a whole? Has President Putin set a new task for you today?
Sergey Lavrov: President Vladimir Putin has put forth our assessment of the developments in the Black Sea region clearly and in considerable detail. We can see deliberate provocations and a situation that has been described many times by artists, writers and filmmakers, for example, in the movie Wag the Dog. All the current developments reflect the Kiev regime’s desire to present itself as a victim of the alleged “Russian aggression,” which they sometimes see and sometimes do not.
Do you remember the recent fuss raised in the West over the alleged concentration of large Russian forces? The leadership of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry and General Staff said then that nothing was taking place on the border, that all was quiet. But some people, including President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, would like to fuel tensions and stage a provocation that would make Russia lose its cool, hoping that the West would help Ukraine. Absolutely irresponsible statements have been made. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said while in Kiev that Ukraine would be able to join NATO. Britain’s Defence Secretary has mentioned plans to build naval bases on the Sea of Azov and to send 600 Royal Marines there to protect Ukraine from the “Russian aggression.” On the one hand, these are serious people, on the other hand, this is ridiculous, and lastly, this is very dangerous. Maybe they are doing this just to distract public attention from other problems.
Britain needs to take a stand on the international stage now. Unable to get used to its new position after its withdrawal from the EU, London has launched the Global Britain project to convey its capabilities throughout the world. They need to assert themselves, as I see it. This is both ridiculous and provocative. They are grown-up people who are bound to see that many senior officials in Ukraine are just waiting for the West to stage a provocation that will inevitably entail a Russian response. All Western capitals, especially Washington, must be aware of this. Nobody in the West as much as lifts a finger without Washington’s approval.