Interview with Sergey Lavrov on Channel One’s “The Great Game” Program, Moscow, 25 April 2022
Q: Thank you for agreeing to talk, despite your incredibly busy schedule.
Sergey Lavrov: Thank you for the invitation. If the game is great, we must play.
Q.: The game is great, the stakes are high. I’m sure a lot of what they say in Washington will not fit your idea of beauty and reality. But I think you’ll agree with one statement made by President Biden – it’s important to avoid a third world war. You have to keep in mind the existing danger.
Well known to you, the leading American Harvard political scientist (former Assistant Secretary of Defense) G. Ellison says that the current situation is as dangerous as the Cuban crisis of 1962. It may be even more dangerous, since the “rules of the game” are less clear, and there is more mutual distrust. What do you think about the level of crisis we face today? How realistic is it? What can and will Russia do?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is already doing quite a lot. For many years, back under the Trump administration, we advocated that at the highest level Moscow and Washington reiterate the statement by Gorbachev and Reagan in 1987 that there can be no winners in a nuclear war. It must never be unleashed.
We persuaded Trump’s team to reproduce this important statement for our peoples and for the world. Unfortunately, we failed to prove to our colleagues the necessity of such a step. An agreement was reached quickly with the Biden administration. In June 2021, during the summit in Geneva, our presidents made a statement.
In January of this year another of our initiatives in this direction was realized. In conjunction with the planned commencement of the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council adopted a statement along the same lines. All five leaders signed a statement declaring the inadmissibility of nuclear war. This is our principled position. It is our principled position. The risks right now are very substantial. I would not like them to be artificially inflated. There are many who would like to. The danger is serious and real. It should not be underestimated.
There weren’t many “written” rules during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the rules of conduct were quite clear. Moscow understood how Washington behaved. Washington understood how Moscow behaved.
There are few rules now, either. There is the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3). It is good and wise that this was Biden’s first foreign policy decision – to support Russia’s proposal to extend this treaty for another five years without any conditions. This formula was rejected by the Trump Administration.
At the same time, the other instruments of arms control and nonproliferation have been virtually destroyed. There is no treaty on limiting missile defense systems or on the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles. Our proposal for a mutual moratorium is being rejected. Although we accompanied it with the need to agree on verification mechanisms. The main objection of the West is that they “do not trust” that the Iskander in Kaliningrad does not violate the parameters laid down in the INF Treaty. On the basis of reciprocity we offered them to come to Kaliningrad and to visit the U.S. missile defense bases in Poland and Romania. A fair offer. It is still being turned down. The Open Skies Treaty has also “sunk into oblivion”. It no longer exists.
START-3 is the only remaining arms control instrument. We were ready and began to talk to the Americans about what will happen in five years (now four years), when this treaty expires, because everyone assumes that this is an extreme extension. The two rounds of talks in July and September 2021 were useful. They made it clear that we have serious differences which are clear to us and to the Americans. We agreed to set up two working groups. They should determine the subject of the treaty and the specific threats that need to be addressed in further negotiations.
The U.S. has abandoned virtually all contact due to the fact that we were forced to stand up for the Russians in Ukraine. They were bombed for eight years without any reaction from the West, which only encouraged the Russophobic and neo-Nazi actions of the Kiev regime. They legislated against the Russian language everywhere (in education, media, everyday life) and encouraged neo-Nazi theories and practices.
Back to the talk of rules. Rules is a fancy term that the U.S. and its allies use when they demand that everyone behave “well”. They no longer insist on compliance with international law, but on respect for “a world order based on rules”. These “rules” are not deciphered in any way.
They say there are few rules now. For us there are none at all. There is international law. We respect it, as well as the UN Charter. The key provision, the main principle, is the sovereign equality of states. The U.S. is blatantly violating its obligations under the UN Charter when it promotes its “rules.” They demand that the whole world blindly, foot in foot, follow them and their already “built” allies (primarily from Europe and some Asian countries). They do not fulfill the obligation to respect the sovereign equality of states. In fact, this equality is flagrantly flouted, forcing everyone to follow their “rules.
These “rules” were well formulated by U.S. Treasury Secretary J. Yellen. She spoke on a different subject, but the meaning does not change. She talked about the idea of reforming the Bretton Woods institutions. Being unbound by foreign policy conventions, she clearly stressed that this reform must by no means lead to the formation of a bipolar world. The U.S. should actively work with the PRC to make sure Beijing learns this. It couldn’t be clearer. They need a unipolar world, as they see it now. All reforms must be solely within the philosophy of a unipolar world.
Even under the Trump administration, the U.S. was in favor of reforming the WTO. As it turned out, on the platforms created by the Americans within the framework of globalization and the rules laid down by them in the WTO, China beat them and continues to beat them. Not for nothing Washington blocked the WTO dispute settlement body, where China has filed dozens of complaints. Using procedural tricks, the Americans are blocking the filling of vacancies in this body. It does not have a quorum, so it does not work.
When it came to WTO reform, Washington made a statement that it should be implemented by the U.S. and Europe, “keeping China out”. So unprofessionally giving away their plans is one of the modern features of the behavior of our Western colleagues, who are not ashamed of anything. They openly declare that they will be in charge, that NATO has every right to do what it wants. They can say: NATO is a defensive alliance, so “there is no need to be afraid”, “no one’s security is threatened by this organization”. Secretary General Stoltenberg can also say that NATO is globally responsible for security in the entire world, including the Indo-Pacific.
Just from the Berlin Wall after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, they moved the “line of defense” (since they are a defensive alliance) to our borders five times and declared that we “are not afraid” because it means nothing to our security. Rather impolitely made it clear that we would not be the ones to decide what was needed for our security.
Now they will move the “line of defense” of their “defensive” alliance to the South China Sea. Everything is coupled with the creation of AUKUS, QUAD, dragging Japan, Korea, half the ASEAN countries into AUKUS. They are trying to split the whole architecture, which was formed over many decades and was based on consensus, the participation of all the major, major players, including the United States, Russia, India, Japan, China, Australia. This, too, is now subject to changes along the lines of unipolarity, which, by hook or by crook, they are trying to save.
All of them have been saying that in no way can a third world war be allowed to happen. It is in this context we should consider the constant provocations of Ukrainian President Zelensky and his team. They demand almost to introduce NATO troops to protect the Ukrainian government. But everyone always says that they will give Kiev weapons. This also “pours oil on the fire”. They want to force the Ukrainians to fight Russia to the last soldier, so that the conflict lasts longer, so that Russia, as they hope, suffers increasingly from it.
While supplying arms and promoting their efforts in this direction, all the leaders (except Poland) say that the question of sending NATO troops is ruled out. Warsaw, through its Prime Minister M.J. Morawiecki, has proposed a kind of “peacekeeping operation” in Ukraine, clearly interested in sending its troops there under peacekeeping flags. Then we can imagine how the historical reminiscence of Poles in their former territory, in western Ukraine, will manifest itself.
After all, how should we behave? Can this be compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis? In those years, there was a channel of communication that both leaders trusted. Now there is no such channel. No one is trying to create one. Some timid attempts at an early stage did not yield much result. We were desperate to get through to NATO all these years. Contrary to our promises, it was expanding despite our warnings, pumping weapons into Ukraine and encouraging its Russophobic nature in every way (the regime established under Poroshenko and strengthening under Zelensky). We warned against dragging Ukraine into NATO. As a last attempt or goodwill gesture, we offered the Americans and NATO members to conclude relevant security treaties that would ensure the security of all states in the Euro-Atlantic, including Ukraine. Everyone understood that Ukraine was an “apple of discord” that revealed a much more global problem and became a trigger in these processes. We proposed a treaty with the U.S. and with NATO on how we would provide safeguards for all countries together, collectively, without expanding any politico-military blocs.
We were politely listened to. We were further told that they could not limit NATO’s expansion. They say it would be contrary to the principle of “open doors. We reviewed the North Atlantic Alliance Charter. Article 10 there says not about “open doors”, but that NATO may invite new members by consensus, if they meet the criteria (apparently, democratic control) and, most importantly, if the new members will contribute to the security of NATO member states. We are not talking about an “open door” here. They received Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Albania. How can they strengthen the security of the North Atlantic Alliance if it is “defensive”? This shows that NATO’s expansion has nothing to do with fulfilling its statutory objectives. It is the development of territory under American command in line with strengthening and attempting to perpetuate that very unipolar world. Talks have taken place between delegations from Russia and the United States. I met with E. Blinken. Our team went to the North Atlantic Alliance, where they presented the treaty in the context of Russia-NATO. The talks showed that none of them was willing to take our legitimate security interests into account.
We told them, “Dear friends, this is right on our borders”. President Putin of Russia repeatedly and publicly said that they had now approached the “threshold” directly, contrary to all our requests, statements, warnings. They approached it and are not going to change anything. They say it is not against us, that our security is not threatened. How can we evaluate this? They are now actively grooming India. They want to involve India in their formats. British Prime Minister Johnson went, and there were U.S. delegates there before that. First Deputy Secretary of State Sherman said publicly (all this is done without any hesitation): The U.S. must surely “help” India understand what is necessary to ensure its security. This was said not to some tiny island country, but to a great civilization. This is roughly what they say to China, saying that they will “explain” what punishment will follow if Beijing supports Russia.
Meanwhile, when the U.S. suddenly decides that its interests are threatened more than ten thousand kilometers away, whether in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, or elsewhere in the Middle East, it does not hesitate to send troops and bomb civilian targets without any legal concerns or attempts to look into international law and the UN Charter. As they did in Belgrade: bridges, passenger trains, the television center. Former British Prime Minister Blair said that “this is not a TV center, but an organ of aggressive Serbian propaganda. Approximately the same way now the French President E. Macron does not give accreditation to RT TV channel and Sputnik at the Elysee Palace, calling them not media, but “instruments of propaganda”.
These manners, habits, and swagger run deep. They razed Iraq’s Mosul and Syria’s Raqqa to the ground. There were uncollected corpses lying there for weeks. All this across the ocean is a threat to the security of the United States of America. Kosovo has the largest military base in the Balkans (maybe not only in the Balkans). Nobody is going to take it out of there. The “reason” was the “instability” that S. Milosevic was allegedly instigating in the region by oppressing the Kosovo Albanians. Let me stress once again: they think they have the right to ensure their security wherever they want, while we are denied the right to defend our own borders and territories where Russians live, who have been oppressed for years, bombed, abused, and their rights to language, culture and traditions have been infringed.
This is the problem: an irreparable confidence in one’s own rightness and exceptionalism. There is such a term, “exceptional nation”, which both Democrats and Republicans use in the same way. The feeling of their own superiority revives some memories, especially now, when Russophobia and real racism towards everything Russian is cultivated at the highest level. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau recently said, “We must punish Putin and all those who support him”. He added that “not only Russia, but all Russians will pay for what is happening”.
Q: I think what you said would not even be denied in the Washington administration. They would have phrased it a little differently. They would have asked: Mr Secretary of State, you wouldn’t seriously insist that authoritarian countries must have the same rights as democratic countries, would you?
Sergey Lavrov: I would.
Q.: Since you will (and this seems unacceptable to them), this is one of the main conceptual differences between Moscow and Washington. They tell you that NATO is a strictly defensive alliance and that Russia has nothing to fear. But what they mean (you are not stupid and naive, after all) is that this applies to a situation where you behave “correctly”.
Sergey Lavrov: I understand this very well.
Q.: If a country starts behaving incorrectly in terms of the ‘alliance of democracies’ called NATO, then depending on what that country does, it may run into unpleasant consequences. I don’t think there’s any hiding it in NATO.
In view of the dangers you mentioned, and the serious mismatch of approaches to international relations (in general, to what modern civilization is all about), what to do about the crisis around Ukraine? Are there any prospects today for negotiations on a peaceful settlement in Ukraine in conditions of an acute conflict there, a great disparity in positions and mutual mistrust between Russia and NATO, led by the United States?
Sergey Lavrov: The U.S., like all the other countries that boast that they are democracies without any flaw, has signed and ratified the UN Charter, where the key principle is the sovereign equality of states. It does not say that democracies should have more rights, and autocracies, dictatorships, monarchies – less. It doesn’t say that there is any distinction in terms of the rights that UN members have.
Yes, there is the Security Council, which is a somewhat special article. We all know why F. Roosevelt insisted on a Security Council with five permanent members with veto power: he did not want the UN to repeat the fate of the League of Nations. If the institution that Roosevelt initiated had not existed, perhaps the UN would have long ago “fallen into oblivion,” as would the League of Nations. When the great powers are unable to use their prerogatives and negotiate among themselves, no good can come of it. The veto power forces agreement, at least it did for many years.
Now the Americans and other Western countries are trying to devalue the veto. They want to transfer the prerogative of the Security Council to the UN General Assembly. There they can, by “twisting arms,” by blackmail, even to the point of threatening delegations’ bank accounts, their children’s places of education, get a forced, forcible majority. This is a dangerous trend. That is why the Security Council, with its “Five” and veto power, is the last “island” of international law. Everything else is being tried to replace it.
It was not for nothing that U.S. President Biden held a “summit of democracies” at the end of 2021. They plan to hold a second one this year and create an organization that will unambiguously function as the “anti-UN” (or a replacement of the UN).
The trend is not new. For several years now, the West has been “proliferating” (primarily in Europe, the French and Germans are active in this direction) various platforms, appeals, partnerships on the topics that are already being considered by the UN. For example: the partnership on international humanitarian law. It has a limited membership, not everyone is accepted there. When asked why they do not want to consider these issues in a universal format (there is the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), the answer is that there are many “retrogrades”. At the UN, they say there are autocracies, insufficiently democratized countries, and they need to develop ideas that will be progressive. The Germans and the French have created in the same vein the Alliance of Democracies, the Alliance of Multilateralists.
To the question of why they have forgotten the UN, which is the ultimate embodiment of multilateralism, where all t “on paper” with signatures of the heads of their delegation. We were ready to take them as a reference. Naturally, they required some fine-tuning to become consensual, but we were positive about them. So far the only written proposals were submitted in Istanbul. They were not in the form of a treaty, but in the form of an outline. We promptly transferred these theses to the “contractual genre” and passed the draft to our Ukrainian colleagues. Then they presented us with their counter-ideas, which were radically different from what was done in Istanbul. A huge step backwards. In the Leninist way. This step (or even two) backward was taken on the advice of our American or British colleagues. Maybe the Poles and the Baltics played some role here.
Q.: So Ukraine has toughened up its position?
Sergey Lavrov: They backed away from the positions that the Russian side was ready to take as a basis. We prepared a document. It “unfolded” their proposals into treaty language. The Kiev representatives said, “That’s not it.” “We won’t write that down.” “That’s for later.” Nevertheless, after that, we continued to participate in discussions by video link, arguing our position. A week ago, after another video conference, we gave them an updated version of the agreement that already took into account their subsequent comments. As is usually the case. We have been waiting a week.he states of the world are represented (with the exception of some unrecognized ones), the answer is again the same: these are organizations where it is necessary to “process” those who oppose multilateralism, and they need a “vanguard of multilateralists”. They will be modeled on the EU approach to “multilateral cooperation” to build like-minded people around them. Again the feeling of their own superiority and, at the same time, even their unwillingness to discuss important things in formats where they would be opposed and opposed. They don’t want to. Because it takes a long time, and they need to implement their neoliberal reforms as soon as possible. Plus, I think they feel that they won’t have enough arguments in a fair polemic battle if arguments are presented on both sides.
Look at the list of invitees to the “summit of democracies”. There are countries there that the U.S. has never thought of as democracies. They have been presented with quite a few claims in terms of what Washington means by democracy, but were only included in the “union of democracies” because the U.S. wants to use their strategic position to its advantage. They want to fit them under this “democratic umbrella,” thereby flattering and further exploiting them for themselves.
We use the terms “democracy,” “autocracy,” “authoritarian state”. More recently, American political scientists have begun to talk about India not as the largest democracy in the world, but as what they call an “electoral autocracy”. I told my Indian friends about this. They smiled, aware of it. There are quite a few methods of trying to keep this or that country in suspense.
About the negotiations on Ukraine. We know for a fact that neither the U.S. nor Britain (which is trying by all means to compensate its current lonely status after leaving the European Union with its irrepressible activity) are advising Zelensky not to speed up the negotiations, but to toughen its position every time. We observed this after the meeting in Istanbul, where, as Russian President Vladimir Putin told us many times in his interviews and conversations with his colleagues, we first received proposals from them “on paper” with signatures of the heads of their delegation. We were ready to take them as a reference. Naturally, they required some fine-tuning to become consensual, but we were positive about them. So far the only written proposals were submitted in Istanbul. They were not in the form of a treaty, but in the form of an outline. We promptly transferred these theses to the “contractual genre” and passed the draft to our Ukrainian colleagues. Then they presented us with their counter-ideas, which were radically different from what was done in Istanbul. A huge step backwards. In the Leninist way. This step (or even two) backward was taken on the advice of our American or British colleagues. Maybe the Poles and the Baltics played some role here.
Q.: Ukraine hardened its position?
Sergey Lavrov: They backed away from the positions that the Russian side was ready to take as a basis. We prepared a document. It “unfolded” their proposals into treaty language. The Kiev representatives said, “That’s not it.” “We won’t write that down.” “That’s for later.” Nevertheless, after that, we continued to participate in discussions by video link, arguing our position. A week ago, after another video conference, we gave them an updated version of the agreement that already took into account their subsequent comments. As is usually the case. We have been waiting a week.
Zelenski was asked at a press conference what he thought of our proposals. He said that he had received nothing and had not seen anything. We asked the Ukrainian negotiators if they had reported it to the president. They referred to Zelensky’s lack of time. This shows how the President of Ukraine himself treats the negotiations, pathetically stating that he “prefers peace”.
Q: In preparation for my interview with you, I had a conversation with representatives of the Administration in Washington. They deny that they are directing Kyiv to drag out the negotiations. They say on the contrary: they see their task as supporting President Zelensky, and Kiev’s position in talks with Russia is that of the president of Ukraine, not the United States. The main thing that interests me now is the growing U.S. military assistance to the Zelensky government. It seems to me that the president of Ukraine is feared in Washington (my personal assessment). He has managed to put himself uniquely – as the leader of a country that is the “victim of aggression” by a stronger state and, at the same time, as a man who personally demonstrates a desire to support democracy around the world. In Washington, they say that helping Zelensky with as many weapons as possible is not so much a line to prolong the war as compensation for the fact that the US refuses to get involved in hostilities itself.
Sergey Lavrov: I beg to differ. They are already saying it differently: “V.A. Zelensky must beat V.V. Putin. British Prime Minister B. Johnson says, “Russia must be defeated. European Union`s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Georges Borrelle states that the victory must be achieved “on the battlefield”. It’s not “embarrassing” for them not to send soldiers themselves. Not that they want to support the newly minted “hero”. Zelensky is portrayed as a “light of democracy”, but in fact he promotes a ban on everything Russian in his state at the legislative level and the foundations of strengthening neo-Nazism and Nazi theory and practice.
But that’s not the point. They want to try as hard as they can to make sure that suddenly Zelensky will succeed in inflicting some irreparable damage on Russia and defeat them “on the battlefield” (although sensible people understand the situation). Then the Russians will have to beg for mercy and agree to far less favorable terms than they bargained for. Such speculation is going on.
Q: About mercy, it’s more the ‘commentators’ in Congress, not in the White House.
Sergey Lavrov: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is speaking in much the same language.
Q: Boris Johnson is a special case.
Sergey Lavrov: I agree with that. But Vladimir Zelensky is also a special case. They are similar in some ways: in their ability to work “for an audience,” in their ability to imitate. For example, they imitate negotiations. V.A. Zelenski was given a week to get acquainted with our proposals. Today I read the speech by the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada R.A.Stefanchuk. He said that as a result of this crisis Ukraine will not remove the clause from its constitution about the intention to join NATO. How is this? All the negotiations are discussing Kiev’s neutral, non-aligned status, coupled with security guarantees that will apply to a certain territory. V.A. Zelenskiy publicly says that they are ready for the non-aligned and non-nuclear status, and the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada declares that they will not remove anything from the Constitution: they will continue to join NATO as they did.
What is perceived in the West as the President of Ukraine’s talented presentation of his interests and approaches is a peculiar thing. He is a good actor, but sometimes funny things happen to him that show the state he is in. If you look closely and read into the essence of what he says, you will find a thousand contradictions. And he may contradict himself from day to day three, stating something, then denying it, then returning to his stated position again. It’s like this.
You have the sense that the Washington administration has formed an image of a man who has taken over the whole Western democratic world and become the embodiment, the symbol of democracy. Let me repeat: where were all of our Western colleagues when this democracy banned everything Russian (speech, education, mass media), destroyed the temples of the Russian Orthodox Church? Just as Bandera, Shukhevich at the head of the Ukrainian insurgent army, serving Hitler (division “Galicia”, Waffen SS), destroyed Polish churches and declared that they would destroy everything Polish and kill all Poles. Now even Poles try to keep silent about it. The Volhynia massacre was removed from the textbooks in schools, although then the Ukrainian insurgent army of Shukhevich and Bandera declared their goal to destroy the Poles about the same as the neo-Nazis in Ukraine have now declared the destruction of the Russians.
Q: Let’s take our minds off the intentions of the Washington administration and talk about business. I do not know how to characterize it: the unprecedented, unexpected (at least for me) scale of American military aid to the Zelensky government. Two weeks ago – $800 million. A week ago – another $800 million. Now the secretaries of state and defense were in Kyiv: another $700 million.
Sergey Lavrov: This is not only for Ukraine, but also for some other Eastern European countries. Kiev was paid roughly half of this amount.
Q.: Fair enough. The question arises: where will this lead to? What I particularly want to hear is not your assessment of these actions (although it is very important), but what will Russia do about it? Or will Moscow think that they are trying in Washington, but this will not lead to serious changes in the balance of forces?
Sergey Lavrov: I read several anonymous statements from the active U.S. military when asked what happens to these weapons when they cross the Ukrainian border, where they will find their final destination. They said, “We have no information about where all these weapons go.
In addition to tanks, armored personnel carriers, man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems and terrorist weapons are shipped in the thousands. It is not for nothing that for many years we had an agreement with the Americans to inform each other about any deliveries of MANPADS abroad. This allowed them to understand that we do not give the most dangerous weapons to the wrong hands, and to us – that they will not make such blunders, inconsiderate actions either. “The Javelin was also a portable missile. It was probably designed for tanks, but it can also be used to launch terrorist attacks. Where does it all go? I emphasize: it’s in the thousands and thousands of units.
Previous experience shows that from Ukraine (as from any other weakly controlled country), where the neo-Nazi battalions Azov, Aidar and other units that do not report to the Supreme Commander (and brag about it) occupy a special, autonomous, untouchable place in the armed forces, this weaponry will spread, including to countries where it now flows into Ukraine. There are also groups of people there, especially in the context of the wave of migration, who will not mind “putting their hand” on such an opportunity. The U.S. military doesn’t know where it will all go. Maybe they know something, maybe they don’t. What will the Russian Federation do? When the Turks sold the Bayraktars to Ukraine long ago, they were used for years to do reconnaissance in the Donbass, to help bomb that region with AFU artillery in flagrant violation of the Minsk agreements.
The latter were publicly buried by Zelensky. He refused to implement them, as did the decision of the “Normandy” summit in Paris in December 2019, although there was nothing there about Luhansk, Donetsk or Russia. Only he had to pass a law on the special status of Donbass. That’s all he had to do. He did! It didn’t depend on anyone else there. He signed off on it. Then he lamented for three years that Russia did not comply with the Minsk agreements. This is the KVN. The imitation of negotiations on the implementation of a set of measures. Now it’s an imitation of negotiating agreements with the Russian Federation. So is the imitation of democracy. Abolition of democracy, culture and radical dictatorship.
These weapons will be a legitimate target for the Russian Armed Forces, which are operating under a special operation. Warehouses, including those in western Ukraine, have become such a target more than once. How else could it be? NATO is essentially going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy. “In war as in war.”
About arms deliveries. There’s another example of the untidiness of the Americans when it comes to international law and their implementation of their own “as I wish, so I turn” rules. The U.S. had about two dozen Soviet-Russian Mi-17 helicopters. In the “best years.” (back in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council) we had a comprehensive project with them on cooperation in the interests of an Afghan settlement. It was called the “helicopter package. We supplied helicopters. They paid for them. We maintained those helicopters, and they went to the Afghan security forces. Now Washington has loudly announced that they are handing them over to Zelensky. We drew their attention to the fact that the helicopters were purchased under a contract with Rosoboronexport. It says there that they are being supplied solely for the needs of Afghanistan’s security services and that any transfer to a third party is not allowed without the consent of the Russian Federation. The obligation not to transfer to a third party is enshrined in the “end-user certificate letters. They were signed first before 2013, when the “helicopter package” was in effect, by H. Clinton as Secretary of State, and then by John Kerry. So sending these helicopters to Ukraine is a direct violation of obligations in a very important area of international relations.
Q: Do I understand correctly that at the current level of Russian-American relations and confrontation in Ukraine, the chances for a diplomatic settlement will appear when there is some greater clarity about the military dynamics in Ukraine? That at this stage we are talking about the armed forces, about the dynamics of the military confrontation in a special operation, which could make a shift in diplomacy and open some new opportunities or on the contrary close them.
Sergey Lavrov: Everything depends not on us, but on those in charge of Ukraine, the external management of the Zelensky administration. I mentioned Istanbul. At that face-to-face meeting, the Russian side for the first time got “on paper” what the Ukrainians proposed. We were ready to take it as a basis, we gave our specifications, but conceptually we agreed with what was proposed there: neutral status, security guarantees, their scope and the way they should be provided. So, to put it very crudely. They have departed from this concept.
I won’t give away any big secrets, but here’s an example. The Istanbul document said that there would be no foreign military bases in Ukraine, no exercises involving foreign military forces, except with the consent of all the guarantor countries of this treaty, including Russia. It was explicitly written. The version they gave us following our positive response meant: no exercises except with the consent of the majority of the guarantor countries. Is there a difference? Obviously. This is what they did on a number of other proposals they made in Istanbul. Let me stress it again: these proposals were received positively in general.
When we talk about where and when we can expect the agreement process to be completed, we have to keep in mind that in Istanbul the conversation was taking place in the situation that was then “on the ground. It’s different now. We have the feeling that the West wants Ukraine to go on fighting and, as it seems to them, to wear down and exhaust the Russian army and the Russian military-industrial complex. This is an illusion.
Are you perhaps the last Sovietologist left?
Q: No, there are a few more, even within the Administration. But the political dynamic in Washington is not on their side.
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, they are the old guard. As my American friends told me, back in the 1990s, when the Soviet Union disappeared, Sovietology somehow lost interest. People understood that it would not be a very promising profession. Neither was it on the Middle East at some point.
About the connection between the situation “on the ground” and the outlines of a hypothetical or, say, an eventual peace settlement. There is such a connection. As we emphasized from the very beginning in the statement that Vladimir Putin made announcing the special operation, first and foremost we want the Ukrainian people to be able to decide for themselves how to live their lives.
Q: If I understood you correctly, Russia will pursue its line and is not yet ready to retreat from the demands that it put forward at the beginning of the special operation. In terms of military action, will Moscow do what it deems necessary?
Sergey Lavrov: Absolutely. What we think is necessary was announced by President Putin: the destruction of military infrastructure in the context of the demilitarization of the country, of which they made a direct threat to Russia, as President Putin put it, “anti-Russia. With the strictest measures to minimize any damage to the civilian population.
Let’s expose the fakes that are now multiplying in the wake of Bucha. They are trying to portray the situation at Azovstal as having been created by Russia. Allegedly, Moscow forbids the civilian population to leave. They lie “left and right,” including that we are not opening humanitarian corridors, although this is loudly announced daily, buses and ambulances are being driven up. The Ukrainian side, which holds the civilian population as “human shields” not only in Mariupol, but also in other parts of the country where our operation is taking place, either does not inform people or forbids them to come out, forcibly holds them back. Those who manage to get out on their own describe how they are treated by members of the Azov battalion and other “territorial organizations”.
As in any situation where armed forces are used, everything will end in a treaty, but its parameters will be determined by the stage of hostilities at which the treaty becomes a reality.
Q: This has been a very interesting and important conversation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. You are a master of diplomacy. As I see it, you have shown an ironclad willingness to do what Russia thinks is necessary and in no way close the door to diplomatic negotiations. You even said that the initial Ukrainian positions seemed interesting and could be applied to some kind of agreement. This is quite a complicated position. Did I phrase it incorrectly?
Sergey Lavrov: That is correct. But, you know, good will is not limitless. If it is not reciprocated, it does not help the negotiation process. Many of us are still convinced (I have already mentioned this) that it is Washington, London and other Western capitals that really decide Ukraine’s position. Our political analysts say: ” Why should we talk to Mr. Zelensky, we should talk to the Americans, negotiate with them and reach some agreement?” We are still negotiating with the team that Zelensky put forward.
As for the Americans. It would not be a bad thing, but we do not see any expressions of interest on their part with regard to contacts on Ukraine or other Issues.
Translation by Internationalist 360°