Question: Russian diplomatic missions have been recently attacked in Ukraine, namely the Russian Embassy in Kiev and the consulates general in Lvov and Odessa. How has this affected our diplomatic staff? Is there any danger to their lives and health? How are they living in blockade-like conditions?
Sergey Lavrov: We are monitoring this situation and maintain contact with the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine and his subordinates. They go about their jobs well, as befits those who feel their homeland’s support and know that it will stand up for them. We are shocked by the actions of the thugs who attacked the Russian Embassy and consulates general, who broke into their [protected] territory and tore down Russian flags – if I’m not mistaken, this has been done [in Lvov] by a Ukrainian MP named Vladimir Parasyuk. Frankly, we’ve seen no reaction of anyone outraged by these events from the so-called international community.
When Iranian citizens broke into the territory of the Saudi consulate general, this provoked a loud outcry. We joined in those actions aimed at protecting diplomatic missions under the conventions that all countries have signed. But in this case we’ve seen no reaction from our Western colleagues. They are busy demanding that we stop the trial of and release Nadezhda Savchenko, which is a separate issue. Anyway, this is flagrant hypocrisy and double-dealing.
Our diplomatic employees have the necessary means to respond to such illegal actions and to protect themselves against them, but the main issue in this situation is for the Kiev government’s “curators” to preclude such actions. These “curators” exercise decisive influence on the current Kiev authorities. I will discuss this issue again today with US Secretary of State John Kerry. We’ve also sent relevant messages to European leaders.
Question: Do the Russian diplomatic staff have everything they need? Do they have enough foodstuffs and water? As far as I know, they cannot go outside because it’s rather dangerous.
Sergey Lavrov: They have means to replenish their supplies, which are quite considerable. We’ve dramatically reduced the employees’ ability to go outside, especially when there is no official need for this. I don’t think we should worry about our diplomats and their families. We are helping them and will prevent any unlawful actions against our citizens.
Question: Will you present claims to Ukraine for damages done to the exterior of the buildings and for other illegal actions?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, we’ll demand compensation.
Question: You mentioned the case of Nadezhda Savchenko. Is it true that you discussed it during a conversation with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin?
Sergey Lavrov: We have talked more than once. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister phoned me several days ago asking that Ukrainian doctors be allowed to again visit Savchenko. I’d like to remind you that they visited and examined her some time ago and that they were accompanied by Savchenko’s sister. After it was announced that Savchenko went on a hunger strike again, Mr Klimkin asked us to make one more exception and to allow the doctors to examine her, even though he understands that this is contrary to the Russian procedure and global penal practice.
After considering this request, we forwarded it to the court that is hearing Savchenko’s case and has the authority to decide this matter. After the hearing on March 9, the judge said she was willing to allow the doctors to examine Savchenko. But since Savchenko’s only goal was to express her contempt of the court – everyone who watched this on TV remembers well that her speech was often interrupted by bleeping, but EuroNews showed the uncensored version – the court has decided against doing any favours to Savchenko after she behaved so defiantly and openly expressed her contempt for the court.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin phoned me again yesterday to express his regret over this situation (by the way, he called from Turkey, where he accompanied President Pyotr Poroshenko on a visit). Not that Mr Klimkin apologised for Savchenko’s behaviour, but he clearly indicated that the defendant’s actions have decided the issue against her, if she needed medical attention at all. According to our information (Russian doctors regularly examine her and I maintain contact with the Federal Penitentiary Service), there are no ground to believe that Savchenko is terminally ill. Overall, she is well and does physical exercises. I told Mr Klimkin that we had granted their requests as an exception to the rules that are applied in such cases and for humanitarian reasons. However, Savchenko’s defiance at the hearing made the agreed visit impossible.
Question: We are witnessing a campaign to support Nadezhda Savchenko, which strangely overlaps with the anti-doping campaign against Russian athletes who allegedly use banned substances. Don’t you get the feeling that these campaigns are orchestrated and intended to deal a blow to Russia’s image?
Sergey Lavrov: Even though I’m not usually one to buy into conspiracy theories, it is striking that so many things have come together at once.
The charges Nadezhda Savchenko is facing are extremely severe: taking part in the premeditated killing of Russian journalists in the conflict zone. Kiev’s benefactors in the West have little concern for the fate of these journalists, as the Foreign Ministry has noted on numerous occasions, while the Savchenko case is being hyped up with her personal and perhaps unenviable situation used for overtly political ends. It appears that she likes it, and is willingly playing along. It is their choice.
You are absolutely right to say that the situation has been blown out of proportion, despite its complexity and severity of the charges. Some are even calling for sanctions against Russia and suggest drawing up a Savchenko list.
You know, sanctions are about to replace politics and diplomacy, especially for our US colleagues. There were calls in Washington to impose additional sanctions on Russia for the developments in Syria. It is happening as Russia and the US are promoting a settlement process based on arrangements reached by our presidents. A UN Security Council resolution has been adopted to this effect, and the ISSG was established with two groups holding regular meetings in Geneva to discuss ways to strengthen the truce and facilitate humanitarian access. Nevertheless, some in Washington (not in the Administration, but influential politicians are joining the chorus) are calling for “punishing” Russia for Syria as well. Let me just reiterate that Russia is operating in Syria at the request of its legitimate government. Before that, the country was shelled and torn apart by almost everybody else in grave violation of the UN Charter. Everyone found this state of affairs to be acceptable, and no one noticed the refugees that started to flow into Europe in numbers. But now Russia is said to be responsible for that as well. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has recently accused Russia, if you allow me, in an absolutely outrageous manner, of being the cause of the worsening of the migrant crisis in Europe.
The Savchenko case, Syria and any other pretexts can be used to impose sanctions against Russia. There are other topics that overlap with these issues. You’ve mentioned doping, which has become a very popular story. Judging by what we see in the media and public space of our Western partners, I won’t be surprised if someone accuses the Russian Aerospace Forces, Armed Forces in general and the Russian diplomats of using doping as a pretext for banning Russia from participating in any global processes.
Seriously speaking, leading Russian athletes have recently faced an unprecedented amount of bans and accusations, and this raises serious questions. After several decades of being viewed as a regular medication used by athletes as well as regular patients with heart problems, meldonium was all of a sudden included on the doping list. In recent days there was no shortage of comments coming from various experts, including the developers of this medication. They have been explaining in all honesty and very professionally that meldonium is not a performance enhancing drug, but a medication intended to help the body recover its basic functions by facilitating oxygen release and treating magnesium deficiency. Could it be that the problem with meldonium is due to the fact that it was created in Latvia back in Soviet times? Had it happened after Latvia became part of the so-called civilised world, maybe meldonium would have had a different fate? This is not an issue to sneer at. What I want to say is that the World Anti-Doping Agency has not responded to expert opinions on whether meldonium should have been included on the doping list. It is my understanding that if an expert raises an issue, a professional reply should follow. Maybe WADA management had very serious reasons to ban this drug that we, researchers and experts for some reason are not privy to. If that is the case, these reasons should be made public. For now, the only thing we’ve been hearing from WADA are statements by its Independent Commission Chair, Richard Pound. Instead of stating the reasons for the decision and addressing concerns raised by experts, he focused on saying that Russia will probably miss the Olympics after proving, as he put it, to be absolutely corrupt, including in sports. This is street talk, not a professional conversation between serious people. Russia respects WADA and wants to work with it professionally and honestly, without any slogans or attempts to hijack scientific data and medical knowledge. There are other experts, in Russia as well as in other countries.
Of course, there are coincidences that make one think, but I hope that this tide would soon recede, because people of sound judgment in Europe and America are beginning to grasp the absolute futility of such groundless attacks against Russia.
Question: Some argue that this situation is due to the fact the Mildronate is popular in Russia and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.
Sergey Lavrov: I’ve read a number of explanations. I read that this drug has been successfully used as a preventive medication for heart insufficiency and some mild conditions for several decades, but now a competing medication has been developed in the US. There was a story about unfair competition in the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t know about that. What I can say is that being a mechanism for ensuring that the sport is doping-free, WADA should justify its approaches in a professional manner. The latest decision by this organisation has raised misgivings among experts, questions which deserve a professional and honest response.
Question: Mr Lavrov, you’ve mentioned sanctions. The Americans say that new sanctions should be introduced on this or that issue, for example the case of Nadezhda Savchenko. How probable is this? You often speak over the phone with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Do you feel that the United States and its European allies are willing to aggravate the situation?
Sergey Lavrov: As you know, there are many towers in Washington which we must take into account. I have a very good personal relationship with Secretary of State Kerry; there’s personal rapport between us, and we discuss issues unrelated to our job such as sports and our attitudes to life. He often comes to Russia and has met with President Vladimir Putin several times, and he often talks with me, including by phone every two or three days. We recently had rather lengthy meetings on the sidelines of various events; in general, we talk regularly, including about Syria. I believe that Mr Kerry is a sincere person and a professional who knows the situation in the world and is aware of the real legitimate interests of his country free from the influence of ideology, a person who builds relations with US partners, including Russia, based on his personal feeling of the situation, and who is promoting US interests but in a way that aims to balance his country’s interests with those of its partners. This is an honest position. In fact, we are acting in the same manner.
Secretary of State Kerry has been to Moscow and Sochi for meetings with President Putin. The last time this happened was in December 2015, when he said at a news conference that he doesn’t seek to isolate Russia. A few days later, Washington announced new sanctions against Russia, saying that it was only a technical amendment while in fact it was a whole new package. So, it’s difficult to find any logic in a partner’s actions when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. And if this is a good cop, bad cop game, then the choice is rather primitive.
As I said, according to our principled approach, we are not working with the United States to make it like us and to treat us more kindly. No, we are working with it in the spheres where our cooperation is in our interests. We are cooperating with the Americans in Syria because we don’t need terrorist groups in the Middle East, as the terrorists who are fighting there now can eventually pose a threat to our country and our neighbours. We likewise cooperated with our American partners on Iran’s nuclear programme, because we don’t need new nuclear powers, but we also need to protect the universal right of nations to peaceful nuclear energy, which is why our cooperation eventually resulted in an agreement on Iran. We don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons, let alone nuclear ambitions and threats. We will be working to influence it and to convince it to resume talks and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Likewise, we don’t need the crisis in Ukraine. We know that Kiev is heavily influenced by the United States, which actually controls everyday life in Ukraine. Being pragmatists, we are cooperating not only with our French and German partners within the framework of the so-called Normandy format, but also with our American partners through a special bilateral channel. I hope that the Americans are aware of the need to search for compromise solutions to ensure the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
Acting contrary to his surname, Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has made absolutely incongruous statements, saying that they must prepare to fight and win a war against Russia, which he meant literally. So, there is a war party and a sanctions party in Washington. It’s probably very difficult to change attitude when you grew up believing that your country doesn’t have to listen to anyone and everyone must do what it says.
But times change and I take it in stride. When you have power that no one can control, this changes your focus and even corrupts you, to a degree. Americans now feel that they cannot address serious issues single-handedly, that they cannot even influence their long-time allies, for example, Turkey, which is disregarding their demands regarding the Syrian settlement. Americans are cooperating with the Kurds in Syria, whereas Ankara has declared the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, a US partner and ally, a terrorist organisation and is shelling its positions from its territory. We have told the Americans several times that this is a violation of our agreements and resolutions, but they revert their eyes in embarrassment, saying that they fully agree but they need time to allay someone’s concerns somehow.
Washington cannot control everything and everyone. This super trooper attitude will eventually be laid to rest. It is a painful process that will take time. We will wait patiently for this to happen, for Washington politicians to accept this new reality. In the meantime, we will cooperate with Washington whenever this suits our interests and will rebuff any unfriendly actions.
Question: REN TV’s crew was on Syria’s border with Turkey on the side of the Syrian Kurds. It was able to see the results of shelling with its own eyes. Local residents said that this was the only Russian TV crew that was able to get to the region. Our crew filmed Turkish tanks stationed on the border, as well as military equipment and how the Turks were entrenching their positions. All these materials are available, and even Russia’s Ministry of Defence has looked at them.
Sergey Lavrov: I’ve heard about this video and watched it. This is some kind of a creeping expansion. Even though the Kurds fought against ISIS with support from Russia and the US from their western and eastern enclaves in Syria, separated by ISIS, Turkey is still saying that reuniting these two enclaves would be unacceptable, even if it means winning over ISIS. For Turkey, what matters most is that the Kurds do not reunite on the Syrian territory. We view it as Syria’s problem, not Turkey’s. In fact, this is a separate issue. It is for this reason that we believe that the Kurds should take part in the process that is getting underway in Geneva, if we really mean it when we talk about our commitment to upholding Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
If the Kurds are ejected from the talks on Syria’s future, will they be willing to stay in the country? They’ll just give up on the international community and all these schemes. It is for that reason that Russia has adopted a position similar to that of a number of other countries, except Turkey, and will stand firm in requiring that the UN not give in to ultimatums and allow the Kurds to be at the negotiating table from the very beginning of the talks.
Seeking to prevent the Kurds in Syria from strengthening their positions in any way, Turkey refers to its sovereign right to create some kind of safety zones on the Syrian territory. According to our data, the Turks are already entrenching themselves within Syria just a few hundred metres from the border. Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has recently visited the European Union in Brussels to discuss the migrant crisis or, to be more exact, to work out a response to Turkey’s ultimatum. The response that came out of this meeting raises serious questions in terms of the EU’s authority, reputation and ability to stand up for its legitimate interests, as well as whether these agreements are consistent with the international humanitarian law.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and NGOs have already voiced misgivings over the fact that the principles of international law enshrined in universal conventions on refugees were largely ignored. Documents and declarations signed by Turkey and the European Union contain, among other things, an oblique reference to the EU understanding the need for some kind of a safety zone. This provision reads as if these zones are to be located on the Syrian territory. We asked Brussels whether this approach is consistent with EU’s public and official position to support all UN Security Council resolutions, that Syria should not fall apart, and its territorial integrity should be maintained. We are waiting for a reply.
Question: Turkey proposes to build a city for refugees on the Syrian territory. Will Russia respond to this initiative in any way?
Sergey Lavrov: As I’ve already said, Russia views as unacceptable any action on the Syrian territory without the approval of the Syrian Government. Let me remind you that Russia is the only country, along with Iran, whose representatives (Russian Aerospace Forces and Iranian consultants) are working on Syrian territory at the request of the country’s legitimate government. All other countries, including the members of the US-led counter-terrorist coalition, have no legal ground for being there. They are not operating under a UN Security Council resolution or at the request of the legitimate government. However, when we established contact with the US-led coalition through Washington and agreed to work together in order to prevent accidental and unintentional incidents in the air, and later to coordinate issues related to strengthening and promoting the ceasefire and delivering humanitarian aid, the Syrian Government accepted this modality. It believes that if Russia is involved, it doesn’t violate its sovereignty.
Question: Has this formula been formalised in any documents?
Sergey Lavrov: There is no document to this effect, but the Syrian Government has said that in a situation where an external player coordinates its actions with the Russian Federation, whose presence in Syria is legitimate, this will be deemed as acceptable.
Question: If ISIS is forced through common efforts to leave Syria, could it move to neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon? Could this organisation spread across the Middle East, and are there any plans in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: This is already happening. ISIS is gaining a foothold in Libya and Yemen. For instance, Yemen is engulfed in a war that nobody needs with hostilities breaking out now and then despite agreements on a ceasefire and to hold talks. Many forget or fail to see that terrorists, including ISIS, are the ones who take advantage of this situation. While the Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthis and supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ISIS reaps the fruits of this conflict. Terrorists are gaining a foothold in Yemeni regions that are overlooked by the government and opposition. In Afghanistan, ISIS has also taken root, including in the north, where it has either driven out the Taliban or is trying to talk to some of them. This is a dangerous trend. And, of course, ISIS in Iraq is part of the problem related to the idea of a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
Mosul is the ISIS capital in Iraq. The Iraqi armed forces are waging a military campaign against the city with assistance from the US-led coalition. In Syria, Raqqa is the main city of the so-called caliphate proclaimed by ISIS on the Syrian territory. Russia is ready to coordinate its actions with the United States because Raqqa is in eastern Syria, where the US-led coalition mainly operates. I won’t reveal any secrets if I say that the United States proposed a “division of labour” of sorts with Russian Aerospace Forces focusing on liberating Palmyra, and the US-led coalition seeking to free Raqqa with Russia’s support.
Question: That is, we’ll “take Berlin”?
Sergey Lavrov: Anyway, it was evidence of our involvement in an advanced stage of the fight against terrorism in Syria. It means that they are coming to see things as they are. The United States understands that we should not just exchange data so as not to shoot down each other’s aircraft, but also really coordinate our actions in the fight against terrorism, as we won’t succeed otherwise.
We are receiving contradictory signals about the Americans’ real intentions. A hotline has been established between our militaries, between the US command in the capital of Jordan and our command at the Hmeymim base. Besides, there are Russian and American officers in Geneva. And lastly, there is a direct emergency line between Moscow and Washington, between our militaries at Frunzenskaya Embankment and the Pentagon.
Yet it is sometimes said, even by Pentagon officials, that there is no coordination with Russia. When we hear this, we ask Secretary of State Kerry and his colleagues at the US Department of State what this may mean, and they reply that there is coordination but they need to state this it in such a way so that no one would take it in bad part that the Americans are cooperating with Russians.
I would say that this is childish, that the United States is looking around as if trying to gauge what others think about its actions. The problem is clear: ISIS is a threat to all of us. As you said correctly, if – no, not even that – when ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq (and I think this will happen relatively soon), we’ll have to deal with the pathological growth of this caliphate in other countries. ISIS differs from al-Qaeda and any other known terrorist organisation in that it has announced that its goal is not just to attack the infidels, be it people of other religions or in Islam, but to create a state called caliphate. ISIS has been moving towards this goal rather effectively, adjusting life in entire territories to its barbarous laws. But many people were so tired of the war that they accepted even these laws to get a degree of certainty in life.
This is a dangerous ideology, considering the inhuman principles of ISIS, which is distorting Islam and is attracting allies by playing on the unsettled problems of Palestinians and other conflicts in the Middle East and claiming that the Western civilisation led by the “Great Satan” can only bring destruction to the Arab world and hinder its independent development.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, has recently written in the Politico magazine that in 1957 his uncle, then a Senator, insisted on the right of self-governance in the Arab world and an end to America’s meddling, including military interference, in Arab countries. Unfortunately, the CIA and Pentagon won the day, arguing that the United States must assume control of these countries and must not stop at anything to attain this goal, including the overthrow of governments that don’t suit its purpose. There were open and secret interventions. The nephew of one of America’s greatest presidents concludes that the problems of the Middle East are rooted in the US desire to force the regional countries to live according to US rules regardless of opinions and aspirations to the contrary.
He also made an interesting point: none of these states wanted to declare the Americans enemies, or renounce contacts with them. They wanted to cooperate with America but the Americans proved more than once that they easily betray their friends as they betrayed former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Several days after the start of the Arab Spring in Cairo he realised that the nation wanted change and resigned decently, letting the vice president run the country. He didn’t flee and settled in his house in Sharm el-Sheikh. Several days later he was put into a cage and driven to Cairo for trial. In the spring of 2011 we sent signals to the Americans, expressing doubt that this was right. Mubarak was a decent man. He guaranteed the interests of Egypt and the United States and maintained good relations with Europe, including Russia. Why don’t we ask the leaders of the uprising in Cairo to let this elderly and distinguished man go? He shouldn’t be driven into a cage like a beast, a dangerous criminal. They sighed.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was the best friend of European capitals during the first years of his presidency. A wise man said: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” People in the Middle East know well how they are treated.
We are interested in a strong and independent EU. It is, of course, a separate actor but its foreign policy is under strong US pressure. We want the EU to be united and make decisions proceeding from the interests of its members and Greater Europe, as they call themselves. I hope that the current developments, in part, the migrant crisis will be a lesson for its executives who used to say until recently: “Those who got here are civilized people.” They were so arrogant and spoke in a deductive tone, saying that everything was okay with human rights there, that they shouldn’t even be discussed in the UN or the Council of Europe; they will straighten everything out themselves. They will review the human rights record of others. They have found solidarity on one point – if Russia ever looked askew at one of them (although at whom have we ever looked askew?) they will stand against such an unacceptable Russian policy. Now the migration crisis showed what solidarity means not in fat years but when trouble comes – every state for itself.
We don’t derive pleasure from this, we are not gloating – just emphasising again that a proposal to establish a common economic and humanitarian space was made long ago. Naturally, the humanitarian space implies the resolution of the migrant issue, the elaboration of a common migration policy and cooperation in separating refugees from economic migrants, etc. The EU reluctantly agreed to this, but conceptually lacked the political will to start building a common economic and humanitarian space.
Now we are accused that our participation in countering terrorism in Syria is nearly the primary reason behind the migration crisis although it broke out long ago when Libya was destroyed by bombs and turned into a channel for smuggling illegal migrants from half of Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attempts are still made to prove that all those who are in Europe arrived from Syria. This is also a distortion of the truth and the dumbing-down of the public.
Or we are told that we are pushing out refugees into Scandinavia, Norway and Finland. We are having a normal discussion with the Finns and Norwegians and want to regulate this issue, but trying to blame Russia for the emergence of any problem is ridiculous. Many politicians have come to realise that, and not only those who cooperate with us and are anathematised by the systemic mainstream media but also representatives of parties in power in many EU countries.
We said back in 2004 that the haste in admitting new members to the EU and NATO, which did not fully meet their changing criteria, was explained by the desire to lay hands on the geopolitical space that Russia was left with after the Soviet Union’s collapse. We assumed a philosophical approach towards this issue but warned our colleagues: “For God’s sake, don’t follow in the wake of these countries as some of them, for instance our Baltic neighbours, have a Russophobe mentality.” They replied: “Don’t worry. They will join the EU and NATO, calm down and feel safe.” Regrettably, the reality is far from so and the Russophobes in the EU are trying to set the tune. Powerful states are increasingly aware of the harmfulness and futility of such attempts.