Question: The developments that unfolded in recent years and the gradual global escalation were seen by many as separate things. Today, the puzzle has been put together: a failed rebellion in Belarus with an eye towards transferring it permanently to Russia, a Polish-Baltic provocation involving refugees, the deployment of NATO troops near our borders, the open flooding of Ukraine with weapons and sponsorship of the Nazis and Russophobia in Ukraine, and massive sanctions pressure. One can get a sense that all this is one sweeping special operation by the West, which they have been cynically planning for a long time now.
Sergey Lavrov: I agree. This can have different names: a special operation or a strategic policy of cancelling any country that dares to contradict the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to this in detail at the recently held St Petersburg International Economic Forum. We are well aware of his views on the matter. All of that is connected with the sentiment and the illusion that the West “suddenly” developed.
When the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were disappearing, the West, through the mouth of the renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama, declared “the end of history” saying that from now on the Western-style liberal democratic order will dominate on Earth and will guide other countries in their policies. Admittedly, Russia’s first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union provided the West with grounds to believe that this concept would be approved and Russia would put up with its new subordinate position in international relations.
We are well aware of the most recent historical developments. The early 2000s saw Russia embarking on a course towards returning to national identity and religious, cultural and family traditions and values. Back then, the West started mobilising forces and means to suppress dissent. President Vladimir Putin appeared with the Munich speech in 2007. Everyone who had ears was given the chance to hear. Most didn’t seem to hear, but those who did decided that the “rebels” must be taught a lesson. Next, threats were created on the borders of Russia and Belarus as our closest neighbour and ally. We know what followed next.
Clearly, these designs are doomed to fail. We will push for democratising international relations and do so not on some made-up basis like the “rules” that the West never stops talking about, but on the basis of international law, primarily, the UN Charter principles which say that the UN is based on respect for the sovereign equality of states. This is what we are striving to achieve. I’m convinced that we will get there.
Question: When the events of 2020 took place in Belarus, some people in Russia were poking fun at Minsk saying that “external intervention,” foreign intelligence services and hybrid war were a “purely internal agenda.” Later, it turned out that a similar scenario was launched with regard to Moscow with the same elements and resources working against you. Do you see these parallels? Do you share the opinion that the first “blow” against Moscow was dealt in 2020 when, fortunately, the “rebellion” failed?
Sergey Lavrov: This is part of the same fierce campaign which shows the unipolar world’s agony. That is why the West has been acting so rabidly over the past couple of years, especially after the special military operation started in Ukraine.
We heard “half-joking” assessments of what was happening in Belarus and the available evidence. Those were political scientists who are constantly looking for something in all places to express their negative thoughts about the Russian and Belarusian leaders. We are well aware of that.
That unpleasant episode clearly showed that we are genuine allies. Russian officials had no doubt that we must help the fraternal allied people and state. The CSTO had no doubts in January, either, when something like that was undertaken in Kazakhstan, but in a different form and scale.
It was amusing to hear about the equality of large and small nations under the UN Charter (thinking back to the events in Kazakhstan) seeing the West react nervously to the speed with which the CSTO responded to President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s appeal. Later, he said he was not happy with the fact that the CSTO was called in. I won’t be revealing a secret (the Western media reported this), that emissaries from the EU (I’m sure the Americans do the same), when they travel around Central Asia, seek explanations from Kazakhstan about what happened and why it took such action to suppress demonstrations. They consider themselves entitled to demand explanations although they would be better off addressing their own issues that are snowballing.
Question: Some people believe that Belarus held out in 2020 owing to two factors: the personality of President Alexander Lukashenko and Russia’s support.
Sergey Lavrov: I share this opinion. I have already said that Russia provided political and moral support without delay. It was ready to render any other assistance to prevent a coup d’etat.
Question: We are seeing today that the West has declared a war on the entire world. At the same time, it fears the truth like the plague. It is enough to mention the closure of YouTube channels, Belarusian and Russian TV satellite channels and popular Telegram resources in Belarus. Zombifying the Western public to the point of absurdity – is it a sign of weakness? The values that they tried to teach us during all these years, democracy – this smokescreen instantly collapsed like a house of cards.
Sergey Lavrov: The West fears honest competition. Many people are aware of this. Hence, a desire to cancel the culture of any country that stands on its own, nationally-oriented positions, a ban on TV broadcasting, expulsion of objectionable politicians from social media and suppression of everything that contradicts in some way the neo-liberal vision and arrangement of the world. This happens all the time. The West does not live in accordance with the truth.
In one of his recent speeches, President of Russia Vladimir Putin called the collective West “an empire of lies.” A succinct statement. I agree with it one hundred percent.
Question: Provocations and lies even at the official level have become a brand of Ukrainian politics. In his recent interview, Petr Poroshenko said that Kiev never thought of settling the conflict peacefully and needed eight years to bide its time and build up military power. It appears that all promises to stop hostilities were empty words. Instead of fulfilling the Minsk Agreements, they were methodically bombing Donbass.
Sergey Lavrov: I am not at all surprised that lies have become a brand of the Ukrainian regime. This was the case under Petr Poroshenko and is the same under Vladimir Zelensky.
Recently, dressed in camouflage and a T-shirt and frowning in earnest, Zelensky dismissed as false the reports about the shelling of the centre of Donbass and residential areas by the Ukrainian armed forces. He did it although the Western media, which is doing all it can to justify the actions of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, had already admitted that reports blaming the Russian armed forces for these attacks were false.
It is common knowledge how Donetsk is being shelled. Any foreign embassy (if this is not shown in Europe and the US) has an opportunity to watch onsite reports here in Minsk. It is impossible even to imagine that they don’t know the truth. Most of them are honest, professional diplomats. They surely report the truth to their capitals but the latter paint a completely different picture of the events.
What surprises me more is not so much the lies that we hear from Kiev every day and every hour as by the way the Kiev’s patrons have started playing this game of lies.
They have been shifting the blame from Kiev all the time, not just now. You mentioned eight years after the anti-constitutional coup d’etat. This coup was the result of the opposition simply spitting in the face of the European Union, on behalf of which France, Germany and Poland guaranteed the agreement between Viktor Yanukovych and three opposition leaders. All this was torn up the following morning; the need to cancel the regional status of the Russian language was called a priority and armed thugs were sent to Crimea. This is how it all started.
However, recalling these events, the West merely says that we “annexed” Crimea for no reason. They cancel everything that happened before, and not only since February 2014 but also the previous decade when Ukraine was forced to make a critical choice between staying with Europe or Russia.
Ministers, other officials and government members said this bluntly prior to every election in Ukraine. They lied when guaranteeing the agreement with Yanukovych (torn into pieces by the opposition) and the Minsk Agreements (which Germany and France presented as their achievement). Every year and every month, we urged them to look at the outrageous conduct of Kiev: the President of Ukraine publicly refused to abide by the Minsk Agreements. They kept a low profile and asked us to show understanding for the Ukrainian state. Such is the nature of our European partners. We know it well by now. It has been turned inside out.
Question: As a reporter, I covered the events on Maidan. Please believe me, I got an eyeful of the local flair and the rest of it – the revolutionary racket, the rosy vision, and especially what came after it.
Sergey Lavrov: Didn’t you get the cookies?
Question: No, we didn’t. And I would not like to replay this in other countries.
Given the Ukrainian partners’ behaviour, is it worthwhile, in principle, to offer them a different version of agreements – tentatively speaking, a Minsk-3? Or is it all of no importance now?
Sergey Lavrov: It would be meaningless in the form that our attempts to come to terms with them took over the last eight years. I mean the agreement that was broken off by Maidan in February 2014 and later the Minsk Agreements.
We don’t have to travel far afield. The Ukrainians proposed talks just a few days after the start of the special military operation. We accepted the offer right away. During several meetings, the Ukrainians just went through the motions. They were sitting at the table with their baseball caps on and demonstrating their moral values and the cultural heritage of their ancestors. In Istanbul in late March they tabled a document. We took it as a basis for talks. On April 15, we submitted to the Ukrainian side a draft agreement based on their document. But immediately after Istanbul (we know this for sure) the Americans and the British snapped at them, because it is the Anglo-Saxons who are ruling the roost in Kiev. A day later, a heinous provocation was staged in Bucha. After the facts of a hypocritical and cynical frame-up were revealed, everyone immediately fell silent about it. Today, few people mention anything in connection with Bucha. But we take an interest in whether they have learned the names of the people whose bodies were found with so much pomp and demonstrated to the whole world? No one is saying anything. They are also keeping silence about The Guardian reporting that the first results of the autopsies showed that the majority of these people had been killed by fragments of artillery shells. This information immediately receded into the shadow.
Since April 15, Ukraine has not been available for negotiations. Vladimir Zelensky now says that he is ready for talks and there will be peace anyway, then a day later he claims that for the talks to be restarted, Russia must withdraw to the February 24 line, with Boris Johnson making encouraging noises. The two look organic beside each other.
The most important thing is that the Istanbul meeting was held on March 29. It was said there that Ukraine should be a neutral, nuclear-free and non-bloc country, which simultaneously would be given security guarantees. These guarantees (as stipulated by the Ukrainians) would not extend to Crimea and Donbass. We were ready to discuss this. But they disrupted the talks.
When at last they have the grace to suggest resuming the diplomatic process (something, as I understand, the Europeans are insisting they should do, but the Anglo-Saxons do not permit them), we will see what situation has emerged on the ground. There are liberated areas there. The majority of the population cannot so much as think of returning under the control of the neo-Nazi authorities or the authorities that are in every way conniving at neo-Nazism.
Question: I think that over the past eight years Kiev has set a unique record by destroying its sovereignty in such a short time. There is very little left of a once independent state.
Sergey Lavrov: They decided to strengthen sovereignty by cancelling everything that is Russian and non-Ukrainian. They wanted heroes who are Ukrainian as understood by neo-Nazis, who glorify Roman Shukhevich and Stepan Bandera and demolish monuments to those who liberated Ukraine, as well as cancel the Russian language, education and media. They have cancelled all of that.
Regrettably, Moldova is now trying to cancel everything Russian as well. The [Moldovan] President has signed a law banning Russian news in the country. This is sad.
Ukraine tried to build its sovereignty by cancelling its own history. But it does not have a history without the Russian people, none at all. They entered that path. The West rubbed its hands and pushed it further down that slippery path, encouraging that approach and that conceptual vision of the Ukrainian state just to harm Russia, create threats to and unbalance Russia and its closest allies, as we found out in the past few years.
Question: Suppose talks are held after all, and the leaders of Russia and Ukraine sit down to negotiations, would you accept the initiative of the Belarusian President, who said recently that Belarus must take part in the talks, considering that the West regards it as a co-aggressor?
Sergey Lavrov: We will be delighted to accept the invitation of the Belarusian President to meet in Belarus. But I wouldn’t make premature plans. Today I don’t see any possibility for Ukraine to make any proposals, and we are not going to suggest anything either. We have made our proposals long ago. The ball is now in their court. I don’t believe that Kiev will be allowed to resume talks.
Question: This is a matter of external management. Another widely discussed subject is food security. Europe, which used to be well fed, is thinking about such simple things now as what to eat and drink, and what to grow on their land. Belarus was criticised for paying too much attention to agriculture. They see now that it is an extremely important sector. Ukrainian grain has become a highly desired product. Antonio Guterres phones Alexander Lukashenko, and Russia is being pressed from all sides to help them out with logistics. Paradoxically, nobody has so much as mentioned the sanctions, which are the main obstacle in this case.
Sergey Lavrov: It’s like the warped reality of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. In one word, the empire of lies. Yes, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has put forth an initiative and sent his delegates here. President Vladimir Putin explained that there is an elementary route without any talks or memorandums. It lies across Belarus. It only takes, as you have said, to set up logistics and financial chains. There are also other, more expensive routes via Romania and Poland. As for ports, it was not Russia who blocked them. Starting in March this year, our armed forces announced numerous safe corridors between the mined territorial waters of Ukraine and the Bosporus. We are ready to cooperate with Turkey. But first Ukraine must clear the port of mines. It doesn’t want to do this. At the same time, Antonio Guterres has been trying to settle the problem of transporting grain via Ukrainian ports regardless of the corridors we open every day. He wants first of all to settle the problem of Ukrainian grain and only after that to talk about Russian grain. We are not being encouraged to make haste.
This situation is creating problems for many developing countries. The UN Secretary-General’s actions are protracting the food crisis and preventing the expeditious transportation of grain there. This is regrettable. He sent his representative, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Rebecca Grynspan, to Russia. She met with Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov.
All the proposals President Putin formulated have been put on paper and sent to New York. We have done everything we could. We are concerned about the slow reaction to what is described as a pressing matter. It cannot be ruled out that the UN Secretariat is under strong pressure from those who would like to establish external management at the organisation.
Question: I have a feeling that if the problem of hunger gets worse, and this is quite likely, Minsk and Moscow can be blamed for it as well. They would say: “We proposed you do this, but you didn’t agree.”
Sergey Lavrov: We should not worry about this because our conscience is clean. You and we have explained all there is to explain. Everyone understands the hypocrisy of the demagogic groaning about the absence of sanctions on food and fertiliser. Yes, food is not under sanctions, but all the necessary steps for delivering it to consumers fall under sanctions. By the way, the Americans quickly came to their senses and lifted sanctions on fertiliser. There are some commodity flows. The European Union remains irretrievably confident in its own rectitude and infallibility. Contrary to common sense, they are continuously repeating the mantra that they must defeat Russia and, apparently, Belarus as well.
Question: Obviously, there will be no harvest without fertiliser. Everything will be more time consuming and more expensive without logistics. What is the West hoping to achieve in this case? People have already been hit by these sanctions.
Sergey Lavrov: I’m not sure. I think the West is nervous. Let them figure it out themselves. We have done all we could. We offered them honest cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and this offer is valid but they do not want it.
Question: Obviously, the world cannot stand still. If a chain is disrupted somewhere, another point of growth replaces it. Now there is talk about creating a new G8 without the United States, Germany and France, that is, a club of countries that respect normal, equitable and balanced dialogue. Do you think this is a promising idea?
Sergey Lavrov: We don’t need a new G8. We already have structures relying on the principles you mentioned, primarily in Eurasia. The EAEU is actively promoting integration processes with the PRC, aligning China’s Belt and Road Initiative with the Eurasian integration plans. Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are taking a close look at these plans. A number of them are signing free trade zone agreements with the EAEU. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is also part of these processes.
All this is happening in the CIS and CSTO (if we take the military and political aspects) and the Union State of Russia and Belarus. There is one more structure beyond the geographic borders of Eurasia. It is BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). This association is relying less and less on the Western style of doing business, and on Western rules for international currency, financial and trade institutions. They prefer more equitable methods that do not make any processes depend on the dominant role of the dollar or some other currency.
The G20 fully represents BRICS and five more countries that share the positions of BRICS, while the G7 and its supporters are on the other side of the barricades. This is a serious balance. The G20 may deteriorate if the West uses it for fanning up confrontation. The structures I mentioned (SCO, BRICS, ASEAN, EAEU and CIS) rely on consensus, mutual respect and a balance of interests, rather than a demand to accept unipolar world realities.
Question: Naturally, it is necessary to stick together during such a global confrontation, and not only for Belarus and Russia, but as you said, for all Eurasia. But at this point, unity is facing an obvious problem. President Vladimir Putin spoke about this at the recent CSTO summit. We are seeing that American generals still visit post-Soviet countries. Sometimes, voting in international organisations is problematic. Official statements with a consolidated agenda are rare. Do you think that now post-Soviet countries are helping the West shatter these once-strong ties?
Sergey Lavrov: We spoke about this at the recent session of the CSTO Council of Foreign Ministers in Yerevan. Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei and I made opening remarks in the same vein. We emphasised the need to maintain allied commitments and relations. Departure from a common position by any country is unthinkable in NATO. Now Turkey is trying to gain respect for its interests in connection with the accession of Sweden and Finland. This is a very rare exception, even more so since the Turks have explained very clearly what they want. They consider several organisations that have found refuge in Finland and Sweden to be terrorist organisations. Turkey explained that it wants this problem to be addressed. As for voting on different issues in the UN or elsewhere, all NATO members raise their hands in solidarity. We know that those in doubt experience awful pressure. This applies to our allies as well.
We don’t use the rod of discipline in the CSTO. We are always striving to find a balance of interests. Having lost all decency, the West is against the observance of the UN Charter principle on respect of the sovereign equality of states, in accordance with which we set forth our position together with Belarus and our other allies. The West also explained its position. Let the developing nations compare and analyse these positions and make their own decisions on the problems emerging between the West and us. However, the West does not want to allow them to make their own decisions. It is sending emissaries there, twisting arms and subjecting their leaders to direct blackmail and ultimatums by exploiting their financial status and even naming schools where their children study. I know this perfectly well. That said, I cannot even imagine something similar happening in our relations in the CSTO. There are politicians under this influence in different countries. We must continue the conversations started at the CSTO meeting in Moscow, which were supported by the CSTO foreign ministers in Yerevan. We are allies and friends. We must honestly discuss all issues we are going to resolve together. As Bulat Okudzhava used to sing: “Let’s join hands, my friends, lest we get lost one by one.” This is great wisdom. I am sure that all our neighbours understand this very well.
Question: Let’s end the discussion about unity on a positive note. In this regard, Belarus and Russia compare favourably with the Eurasian space, among others, with their regular meetings, including between the two presidents, and invariably clear mutual understanding on all matters. We are talking in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations. We’ve come a long way. There were different periods not without disputes and disagreements. We always managed to find solutions. How do you assess the level of diplomatic relations today, including future aspects of integration?
Sergey Lavrov: It’s just mutual respect and mutual striving despite subtle differences (there is never such a thing as 100-percent overlapping positions on all matters in relations between any two countries) in approaches. I see our presidents set an example of honest discussion on all issues, finding solutions based on respect for the interests of the partner, ally and on promoting their priorities, i. e. the search for that very balance of interests that makes agreements sustainable and promising.
There are 28 allied programmes underway that have been coordinated within the logic that I’m talking about. We spent a little more time, but we got reliable solutions that are now being acted upon at a fairly fast pace. We are allies. Our alliance extends to all spheres of life and activities, from military-political security, which we jointly provide on the western flank of the CSTO with Belarus playing a key role, to economic cooperation. The main thing is to create a level field for the companies from our two countries and social conditions for the citizens of Russia and Belarus. This is a critically important matter that makes it possible for Belarusians to feel at home in Russia and for Russians to feel at home in Belarus.