Washington must stop acting unilaterally, with no regard to other nations’ interests, and should engage in honest cooperation to tackle global problems, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in an interview with RT and the VGTRK media corporation.
Read the full version of the interview
RT: We’re talking right after your speech at the UN General Assembly. Perhaps for the first in 10-15 years, many speakers criticized the UN: the Brazilian president spoke on this issue, the Venezuelan president spoke about it, and there have been many protesters outside the UN building in recent months. They say the UN needs to be reformed. Do you agree? Do you think the UN is an efficient institution today?
Sergey Lavrov: The UN cannot be more efficient than its member states because the UN is not some abstract notion; the UN is an international organization composed of governments, and it is these governments that define its agenda. All the Secretariat does is act on the instructions they receive from the governments. The UN has been changing and will certainly continue to change; the UN reform is an ongoing process. And this is not just because the people working on it have nothing else to do; no, we live at a time when the whole world is changing. New challenges come up all the time. Who knew this Ebola virus would come up, for example? And yet it is perhaps the top priority now. Something needs to be done to stop people from dying. We need to find some kind of cure.
The UN is being reformed in many different aspects. For example, the Peacebuilding Commission was set up a few years ago. It deals with the situations when a conflict enters the stage of settlement, and there is a need for reconstruction. Such situations are in between two jurisdictions: that of the Security Council dealing with war and peace matters, and that of the Economic and Social Council – dealing, naturally, with the matters reflected in its name.
There is also another lengthy process that is currently under way. It started in the early 2000s or even earlier. I am referring to the UN Security Council reform. The Security Council is criticized primarily for being unable to resolve certain specific conflicts. For example, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict hasn’t been resolved, and this is the longest conflict under the Security Council’s consideration. It has been going on for about 70 years, and no solution has been found so far that would be acceptable both to the Palestinians and the Israelis. So, people criticize the Security Council for that, even though it is the parties to this conflict who should come to the negotiating table and work out an agreement. The Security Council can’t invent anything for them. All the Security Council can do is encourage them, provide certain recommendations, appoint mediators, special envoys, etc., and the Security Council does all that with all the conflicts – be it the Western Sahara, which is another long-time conflict, or new conflicts like the ones we are witnessing today in Mali, in the Central African Republic, in Afghanistan. I repeat, the Security Council can’t solve all the problems for everybody.
Some people criticize the Security Council because in some situations it fails to sanction the use of force in order to defeat one of the parties to the conflict. But the UN can only be efficient if we focus on the key matter, and the key matter is this: if we are facing obvious common challenges like terrorism, the illegal drug industry, WMD proliferation, epidemics, or food security (which is another very serious challenge), we should focus on finding ways to deal with these challenges collectively. But instead, people sometimes use the Security Council for entirely different purposes: to make an appearance or to spite someone. For example, when the Syrian crisis broke out, Russia and China were first to propose a resolution that would urge both the government and the opposition to launch the political process of settlement, discussing what kind of nation they all would live in. Western countries categorically rejected the idea and said they would veto the resolution. So, we decided not to put it up for a vote because that would create a somewhat scandalous situation, you know, with a resolution backed by Russia and China being vetoed. This was not because we thought the approach we suggested was wrong; no, we just thought there was no point in starting this whole process if we know for sure that the resolution has zero chance of passing. We didn’t want to put our partners in a position where they would have to vote against it. But then our partners proposed their own draft, which put all the blame on the Syrian government and justified everything the armed opposition did. And they put it up for a vote, knowing perfectly well that Russia and China would veto it. So, you see, different countries have different concepts of partnership in the UN Security Council. I think our concept is more appropriate, more ethical, if you will. But unfortunately, we are not always able to persuade our partners that they shouldn’t use the Security Council to increase tension. On the contrary, the Security Council was set up for the purpose of working out compromises – primarily, between the five permanent members, each of whom has the right of veto.
Some people accuse the permanent members of abusing the veto right but these criticisms are misplaced, because when the UN was established, it took into account the negative experience of the League of Nations with its “one country, one vote” system. The United States, for example, did not join the League of Nations, because its opinion would not matter much under such an arrangement, and the League of Nations gradually sank into oblivion. And so when the UN was set up, it was decided that the resolutions of the Security Council must be approved by all the five permanent members unanimously. It’s a not a privilege, it’s a responsibility for maintaining peace and security. The authors of the UN Charter were wise enough to incorporate this requirement. They realized that consensus was vital to resolving issues in a collective and efficient way. We must put an end to the UN being exploited in someone’s narrow egoistic interests. We create this body and we bear the responsibility for its efficiency and we must work hard together on the issues where we share the same opinions. On the issues where our views are divergent we need to continue consultations seeking ways to align our positions as much as possible. But it doesn’t always happen that way. Some of our Western partners are tempted to use some of the world’s issues to make a biased statement tailored to their domestic audience. Some leaders are getting ready for re-election, some are vying for high-ranking positions within the EU. That’s life and there can be no perfect solutions but anyway we must be moving towards that goal.
Vesti: In one of the statements by the Russian Foreign Ministry, it claimed that the US often resorts to lies in its foreign policy. Now that you’ve been to the General Assembly and heard Barack Obama’s speech, does it re-affirm that view? Can you give us any examples from this forum and elsewhere?
SL: In their public statements on the Ukraine crisis, Washington relies on unconfirmed reports or spins facts on purpose. Once they claimed the footage showed a helicopter downed in Ukraine while in reality it happened in Syria. There were multiple cases when false data was used to back up a public statement or a call for action. We all remember how Colin Powell, the then US Secretary of State, displayed a vial with a white substance that he claimed was anthrax and that the Iraqi leadership was working on a program to illegally produce biological, chemical and other kinds of weapons of mass destruction. It later turned out Colin Powell had been actually framed by the CIA. Some use lies on purpose, some make statements based on unconfirmed online reports. This is very embarrassing.
Russia and the US have a solid channel of communication between me and John Kerry. Our discussions are straightforward on any issue – be it the Ukraine crisis or anything else. Sometimes I get a hope that our signal has been heard but unfortunately it’s not always followed up by action. We actively worked together during the active phase of the Ukraine crisis, it was in April, and the outcome of the efforts was the Geneva declaration signed by Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU which outlined the key provisions for a settlement. It was agreed that Ukraine should immediately launch an inclusive dialogue involving all the political groups and regions to pursue a constitutional reform that would ensure the interests of all Ukrainians are respected. Ukraine signed up to it but the process didn’t start at that point. And it was only in September that together with the EU leaders we managed to persuade the Ukrainian authorities to sit down at the negotiating table with the militia forces. And since then we’ve seen some relative success. People may be still dying, but not as many as before, and the shelling became less intense. The disengagement process is underway, heavy weaponry is being withdrawn 15km away from the separation line, and the OSCE mission is going to monitor the ceasefire. The parties are now expected to engage in the talks on a political settlement. The Ukrainian parliament recently adopted a law on the self-government of those regions. This is a good example that diplomatic efforts can achieve success – despite the fact that there had been attempts to torpedo the talks as part of the so called Minsk process. These attempts were made by foreign stakeholders, including in the US. I don’t have the names but there were folks in Washington who encouraged Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yatsenyuk whose stance is different to that of President Poroshenko. Every time there’s a ray of hope he engages in arrogant rhetoric suggesting Ukraine should join NATO or that Russians are not to be trusted or that the West should push for more sanctions against Moscow. It’s strange to hear these comments from a prime minister who is supposed to be in charge of the economy. I remember the times when Arseny Yatsenyuk was Ukraine’s Foreign Minister and at that time he had completely different views. Something has happened to him. Or maybe it’s part of the internal squabbles ahead of the election. As you know, Yatsenyuk and Turchinov refused to cooperate with the Poroshenko-led party and set up their own People’s Front. Again, the goals of the election campaign are out of sync with the need for a settlement to the Ukraine crisis.
I very much hope that the US will finally see the light and realize that they can no longer act as the prosecutor, the judge, and the executioner in every part of the world and that they need to cooperate to resolve issues. As you can see, they began fighting terrorists only when their own citizens were beheaded and that footage was made public. We had warned them long ago that the US should not support those forces only because they are fighting Assad in Syria. So they declared this war on terror and their plans to defeat ISIS. And they had to build a broad coalition – they realize the mission required a political and military alliance. The proper way to do it would have been to put the issue up at the UN Security Council and to cooperate with the Syrian government which had long declared they were ready to cooperate with the international community in fighting terrorism. But the US picked a different path. This is wrong, and doesn’t add legitimacy to the process. Furthermore, unintended consequences could provoke an escalation of the situation. I still hope that the reality will teach all of us that there’s a strong need for collective action and that there’s no room for personal grievances. Grievances are okay if it’s a family issue or an issue between friends. There’s no room for petty grievances in politics when one country takes actions to spite the opponent. In doing so, they simply shoot themselves in the foot.
RT: Mr. Lavrov, you mention your personal relationship with Kerry and other Western partners. We’ve been hearing the term “Cold War” a lot recently – from them and especially from the Western media. Do you think we are really witnessing Cold War 2.0 today? And how would you describe your personal relationship with John Kerry and other Western colleagues in view of their tough rhetoric?
SL: Like I mentioned recently elsewhere, I was talking to one of my colleagues here in New York, and as we were discussing the opening part of the General Assembly and the speeches given by some of the Western leaders, he told me, “It seems like the Cold War never ended.” Perhaps he is right in a sense. Look how quickly NATO switched to confrontation over the Ukraine crisis and started hurling serious yet completely unfounded and biased accusations at us. They immediately terminated all of our cooperation programs, including the ones that served their interests. They did this so quickly and so brusquely that it becomes clear that NATO still has the Cold War mentality.
This is very sad because we had been building a relationship after the 2008 crisis in the Caucasus, when Georgia attacked, basically, its own citizens in South Ossetia, because even though it was a conflict zone, nobody questioned Georgia’s territorial integrity at the time. Yet Saakashvili gave the order to attack his own citizens. We had our peacekeepers there, and they came under fire, and some of them were killed. We went to the Russia-NATO Council and asked for an emergency meeting in order to discuss this situation. But the Americans told us, “No, there will be no Russia-NATO Council meeting, and we will even suspend the Council altogether for what you did in response to Saakashvili’s actions.” Then, after a few months, Western countries came back to us and said, “We made a mistake. We want the Russia-NATO Council to continue its operations under any circumstances, because otherwise we’ll have no channel for dialogue.” So, today they are making the same mistake again. Of course, they kept the political format at the level of ambassadors, but all practical cooperation has been suspended.
If a cold war starts today, I think it will be different. It will be primarily a media war. Of course, the Cold War we know used the media as well. But that was nothing compared to what you can do with the media today, with the Internet and all that comes with it. But in my contacts with John Kerry and with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and many other European countries, I can see that they don’t particularly enjoy the current situation but they simply can’t abandon the position they’ve taken, namely, that it’s all Russia’s fault, that it was Russia who brought about the Ukraine crisis.
The same thing happened three-and-a-half years ago, when the Syrian crisis broke out. The president of the US, France and other European countries said there could be no talks with Assad. I’m pretty sure they regret saying that today. They hoped everything would happen quickly, like in Egypt and Libya, but Syria turned out to be different. We always said the situation in Syria can’t be resolved unless we bring the government and all of the opposition forces to the negotiating table. In fact, this is what we all agreed on back in in June 2012, when we had a meeting on Syria in Geneva. The document says that there should be a “transitional governing mechanism” that has the support of both the government and all the opposition forces, representing the entire spectrum of the Syrian people. This is what the document said. But when we said, “Alright, let’s implement this, let’s call a conference,” they told us, “No, first Assad has to go.” So, you see, they even violate the agreements we have, which makes us wonder whether it is even possible to have any agreements with them at all.
There is a saying in Russian, words are not birds: once the word is out, you can’t take it back. Politicians usually don’t want to risk their reputation by taking back what they said on the spur of the moment. This shows that we should never jump to conclusions. You have to examine the situation before you say something.
With Ukraine, I think our Western partners realize today that they made a botch of their– first, when they refused to have trilateral talks between Russia, the EU and Ukraine on a solution that would enable Ukraine to align its ambitions to sign the Association Agreement with the EU and stay within the free trade zone of the CIS member states. Back in November Moscow made a proposal to that effect but the EU rejected it. They told us bluntly that their relationship with Ukraine is none of our business. Then on February 21, 2014 an agreement was signed between Yanukovich, Yatsenyuk, Klitschko, and Tyagnibok, and the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany also put their signatures. The first provision called for the establishment of a national unity government that would draft a new constitution that was expected to be adopted until September, with the presidential election to be held by the year’s end. It was clear as daylight that Yanukovich didn’t have any chance to win it. A day after that agreement had been signed, the radical forces stormed government buildings and announced a new government, a government of winners instead of a national unity government. They also demanded the abolition of laws giving Russian-speaking Ukrainians the right to speak their native tongue and granting the same right to other ethnic minorities. They attacked government and public buildings in other parts of Ukraine, including in Crimea.
We urged the parties to get back to the February 21 agreement, we addressed our Western partners, those who took part in drafting the document specifically. We were told that ship had sailed and the realities on the ground had drastically changed. But how deep should the realities change for the national unity to be completely removed from the domestic agenda? We continued to get this sort of ridiculous explanations, including when we pushed for the Geneva declaration to be implemented. We were told ‘it’s a great plan but look, there’s a new plan proposed by President Poroshenko’. Our partners have been clearly engaged in moving the goalposts, as they say, when the terms are changed time and again. It’s dishonest and utterly ineffective.
Finally, Ukraine has returned to the idea of a national dialogue. Right now it involves Kiev and just these two regions but I am certain Ukraine needs a comprehensive constitutional reform. Fortunately, the country is now moving towards a political settlement. Incidentally, the EU and President Poroshenko recently recognized our concerns and agreed to delay the implementation of certain provisions of the Association Agreement that affect the economic interests of Russia and other member states of the Free Trade Zone. The parties now have until the end of 2015 to work out the differences. Paradoxically, things have come back to where they were supposed to be – we now see the launch of a national dialogue and negotiations on our economic concerns. But it could have been done a year ago. Yanukovich made the same kind of argument. He never wanted to reject the pact with Europe altogether – instead, all he asked for was more time to review its impact on the economy. So we got back to where we started but at the cost of thousands of lives, considerable damage to the infrastructure, and a crisis that shook the whole of Europe.
Vesti: We often hear about a new cold war raging in the world at the moment, at least in the minds of many leaders who spoke at the UN General Assembly. But contrary to their statements you had dozens of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the forum. Some view Russia’s visa free treaty with Honduras with irony but the reality is that we now need visas only to get to the US and Canada. Does it mean their claims that Russia is isolated do not hold water?
SL: We still have a visa regime with the EU.
Vesti: I referred to the countries in the Americas.
SL: There are still a number of Latin American countries that have not lifted the visa regime with Russia. It’s Mexico – and we agreed with its Foreign Minister to move towards this goal, Panama and some others. You don’t need any visa to travel to the rest of Latin America. As for Honduras, it’s a wonderful country, with responsible and experienced leaders, and we enjoy a great relationship. I would recommend Russians to take advantage of the treaty and spend some time in Honduras. It’s a very hospitable land.
I met with many counterparts and also with the leaders of a number of international organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and CELAC. We held a ministerial session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS. The latter resulted in a substantive communique. We met with member states of the Southern African Development Community, a powerful body led by South Africa, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique.
These meetings have been very productive. The world is seeing a growing number of new centers of gravity. Integration efforts in Africa and Latin America are picking up steam and offer a bright future. We have expanded our interaction and signed a cooperation memorandum with Mercosur, Latin America’s trading bloc and customs union. We are finalizing another memorandum that would grant Russia observer status in another body, the Central American Integration System.
So, in general I didn’t notice any evidence that Russia is isolated. To the contrary, there were even more people who wanted to contact me than before.
RT: When the MH17 flight crashed in Ukraine, the Western media rushed to blame Russia. How come that today, two months on, Russia appears to be the only country that is repeatedly calling for a full investigation into the tragedy, here at the UN and other international bodies, while the nations that lost their citizens in the crash are silent?
SL: It’s a mystery to me and a source of much concern and doubt. It’s not the first time that incidents in Ukraine are investigated not as fast or full as they should be. Take the deadly sniper shootings at Maidan which killed the Heavenly Hundred. There is evidence that it was actually a provocation by the Right Sector and Paruby, the commandant of the Maidan, who was seen with a sniper rifle. The chairman of the investigation committee resigned saying he didn’t manage to get the data from the current Kiev regime. There is no probe into the Odessa tragedy on May 2 when dozens were burned alive. There were reports that the authorities identified a suspect and maybe a second suspect, but the investigation has been frozen in its tracks. A similar tragedy took place in another Ukrainian city, Mariupol. There’ve been numerous cases. Just recently, mass graves were discovered near the city of Donetsk. There’s evidence that civilians were shot in cold blood.
Russia will demand that the real cause of all these incidents be established. We have repeatedly raised this issue with the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the UN human rights agencies. They seem to be heeding our call and are ready to take action. But the Ukrainian authorities first need to ensure independence and transparency of the investigation.
The same goes for the situation with MH17. They say the experts sent by the Netherlands and Australia don’t have safe access. “Safe access” is the explanation provided by the Ukrainian authorities. Militiamen say, “You are welcome to come anytime, we will provide you with everything you need for your work.” Immediately after this disaster, the Security Council adopted a resolution on July 21, calling for an immediate independent international investigation. In other words, we were supposed to see something happening immediately, on July 21. The resolution demanded “immediate access.” Yet I remember very clearly that the Kiev authorities said they would provide access after they clear this area of terrorists and separatists – and this is after the Security Council adopted a binding resolution demanding immediate access! And it was only about ten days later, in the last days of July, that they declared a ceasefire so the experts could come.
So, those are the facts. There is an international commission headed by the Dutch Security Council. It includes ICAO experts, including some from Russia. But not all the experts have access to all the documents, unfortunately. And this is another question we regularly raise with our partners. The preliminary report presented by this commission says nothing of the steps that any expert investigating such a disaster must take. These things are like ABC. I won’t go into details but specialists know what I’m talking about. There is a certain procedure. But the experts who went to Ukraine did not collect all the debris, did not look for the objects that hit the plane. After our aviation experts read this report, they wrote a few pages with questions regarding this ongoing investigation – and that’s in addition to the 20 questions they wrote immediately after the disaster.
So, we will insist on completing this investigation.
Vesti: And the last question. On the same day the US president gave his speech, the New York Times carried a large piece saying that the US is currently upgrading numerous nuclear facilities and will spend $1 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next 30 years – and this despite the fact that Obama spoke about the need of disarmament at a Security Council meeting in 2009, and this was part of the reason why he received the Nobel Peace Prize. If this is not a cold war, is this a new arms race?
SL: Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize before he addressed the Security Council. I don’t think we are on the verge of a new arms race. At least, Russia definitely won’t be part of it. In our case, it’s just that the time has come for us to modernize our nuclear and conventional arsenals. We have a long-term armament program, which takes into account our economic situation and, of course, the need to have efficient and modern defensive capabilities to protect our national interest. It is not super-expensive, and besides, like I said, we haven’t been doing much in this regard for a number of years. The US nuclear arsenal is somewhat younger than ours but perhaps it is also time for them to upgrade it. I just hope that the US will abide by the provisions of the New START treaty, which are legally binding. It is fine to upgrade your stockpile, replacing old weapons with new ones, but there are certain restrictions on how many weapons you can have, and all these restrictions are still in place.