Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticizes plans to revive Russian-Ukraine negotiations
(Excerpt from an interview with state RT media)
May 27, 2022
Question: Turkey and Italy have proposed a plan for organising talks between Russia and Kiev. Is Russia ready to continue the talks, which have not yielded any results lately?
Sergey Lavrov: We pointed out on numerous occasions that our Western colleagues want to use Vladimir Zelensky and all citizens of Ukraine to the last Ukrainian, which has become proverbial, to damage Russia as much as possible, to defeat it on the battlefield. This has been openly declared in Washington, Berlin, London and especially loudly in Warsaw. Poland has proposed that the Russian world must be destroyed like a “cancer” which is a deadly threat to the whole world. I would like to look at this world as it is represented by our Polish neighbours. For many years Russia has tried to explain why NATO’s eastward expansion and the drawing of Ukraine into the bloc are unacceptable to us. They listened to us but did not comprehend what we said.
When the coup was staged in 2014, the [Ukrainian] opposition trampled on the agreements reached despite the EU’s guarantees. The EU proved unable to force the putschists to respect the signatures of France, Germany and Poland. In 2015, the war in Donbass unleashed by the new Ukrainian authorities, who seized power in the coup, was stopped. The Minsk agreements were signed and guaranteed by France and Germany. All these years we called on Kiev to honour its commitments. Since the West had the decisive influence on it, we also worked with the Europeans and Americans, appealing to their conscience. Regrettably, they have no conscience.
Instead of forcing Kiev to implement the agreements, which should have been done through a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, the West tried to justify Zelensky and his team, even when they said publicly that they would never talk with “those people,” although this is stipulated in the UN Security Council resolution approving the Minsk agreements. They said that they would never implement the Minsk agreements or give a special status to these republics. At the same time, they adopted laws that prohibited the Russian language in education and media. Media outlets were shut down. The Russian language was even prohibited in everyday life. Only the Ukrainian language was allowed as the medium of interaction between people in Ukraine.
Moreover, Vladimir Zelensky stated that those who feel Russian must go to Russia. He said this in September 2021. We drew the attention of some Western countries, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the relevant UN bodies to these aggressively Russophobic and racist statements made in the spirit of the neo-Nazi policy which was gaining a foothold in the Ukrainian legislation. They did not react in any way. Some officials sometimes called for respect for international commitments. But Zelensky doesn’t give a damn about international commitments or the Constitution of Ukraine, which guarantees the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine. They showed no respect for the Constitution and international conventions and adopted a lot of anti-Russian laws.
As for Russia’s readiness for talks, we have already explained why we couldn’t sit on our hands any longer. What we found on the Ukrainian army positions during the special military operation proved that we were barely in time with starting it, because Ukraine’s Plan B was to be enacted on March 8. A huge group of the Ukrainian armed forces, which was deployed on the contact line with Donbass by mid-February, planned to attack and occupy these territories in flagrant violation of the Minsk agreements and the UN Security Council resolution.
I have no doubt that had they succeeded the West would have turned a blind eye to these violations, just as it pretended not to notice Kiev’s disregard for all the agreements during the previous eight years.
When the Ukrainian authorities proposed negotiations several days after the operation began, we agreed immediately. We held several in-person rounds of talks in Belarus, trying to understand Ukraine’s position and what it wants to achieve at the talks, because we had presented our approach. After several rounds were held in Belarus and online, the idea of meeting in Istanbul was put forth, and the Ukrainian delegation brought, for the first time, written proposals signed by the head of the delegation to the meeting we held on March 29. We analysed these proposals, reported our opinion to President Putin and told our Ukrainian colleagues that we were ready to proceed on that basis. Since they didn’t present a complete agreement but only its individual provisions, we used them to quickly draft an agreement that was based on the Ukrainian proposals and turned it over to the Ukrainian delegation. The following day a flagrant provocation was staged in Bucha, where dead bodies were found in the streets three days after Russian troops had left the city, after three days of peaceful life. We were accused of killing those people. You remember what happened next.
The West adopted a new package of sanctions, as if it had been waiting for it to happen. The Ukrainians said that they had reviewed their position and would reformulate the principles underlying the agreement. Nevertheless, contacts between us continued. The latest draft agreement, which we submitted to Ukraine nearly a month ago, is gathering dust. If you ask who wants to hold and is ready for talks, Vladimir Zelensky said in an interview the other day (he does this almost every day) that he is ready for talks, but they must be held between himself and Vladimir Putin, because there is allegedly no use doing this at any other level. He said the talks should be held without any intermediaries and only after Ukraine resumed control of its territory as of February 23, 2022. Anyone can see that this is not serious. But it suits the West to keep up this unreasonable and unsubstantiated obstinacy. This is a fact.
The West has called for defeating Russia on the battlefield, which means that the war must continue and that increasingly more weapons must be provided to the Ukrainian nationalists, to the Ukrainian regime, including weapons that can hit targets in the Russian Federation. It is such weapons that Vladimir Zelensky demands publicly. We have issued most serious warnings to the West that it is, in fact, fighting a proxy war against the Russian Federation with the hands, bodies and brains of the Ukrainian neo-Nazis, which can become a major step towards an unacceptable escalation. I hope that the remaining reasonable forces in the West are aware of this.
As for Turkey and Italy, Turkey doesn’t have a plan. At least nobody has presented it to us, although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has noted on many occasions that Turkey is ready to provide a venue just as it did in Istanbul on March 29. In fact, it was a useful contact. For the first time the Ukrainians presented their vision of a peace agreement on paper in response to our numerous requests, which we accepted and translated into the legal language. I have told you what happened after that. President Erdogan stands for peace and is ready to do all he can to bring it about. But Vladimir Zelensky has said that he doesn’t need intermediaries. That’s his business. He is as fickle as the wind: first, he rallied the support of all the G7 countries, and now it appears that former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is creating an advisory group at Kiev’s request that will provide proposals on security guarantees for Ukraine in the context of a peace settlement.
I would like to remind you that initially the Ukrainians’ concept was to draft a comprehensive agreement which would include Ukraine’s pledge not to join any blocs or have nuclear weapons, as well as guarantees of its neutral status. It would also stipulate the guarantor countries’ guarantees that will take into account the security interests of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and other countries in the region. As I have mentioned, Kiev is moving away from that concept. If Andreas Fogh Rasmussen has been recruited to formulate certain “guarantees” in a narrow circle of the Ukrainian regime’s Western sponsors and to subsequently try to submit them to Russia, it is a path that leads nowhere.
Question: Is this a non-paper? Just an initiative of former [NATO] officials?
Sergey Lavrov: We are looking into this now. This has already been promoted as a breakthrough step. The same applies to the Italian initiative. Luigi Di Maio is quite active in the media landscape promoting the Italian four-point initiative. All we know about it is that it can bring the long-awaited peace, and not just suit both Russia and Ukraine, but launch something like a new Helsinki process, a new agreement on European security, and that it already enjoys the support of the G7 and the UN Secretary-General. I don't know whether this is true, or to whom he has shown it. No one has sent us anything. All we can go by is speculation, descriptions of this initiative as they appear in the media.
But what we have read (if it is true, of course) makes us regret that the sponsors of this initiative show so little understanding of what is happening or knowledge of the subject, the history of this matter. Allegedly, it says that Crimea and Donbass should be part of Ukraine, which should grant those regions broad autonomy. Serious politicians who want to achieve results, not just grandstand to impress their voters, cannot be proposing such things. Donbass could have returned to Ukraine a long time ago if the Ukrainian regimes (Petr Poroshenko, and then Vladimir Zelensky) had fulfilled the Minsk agreements and granted a special status to the people that refused to accept the coup. The package included the status of the Russian language. However, instead of granting that status, Ukraine banned the Russian language. Instead of unblocking economic ties, Poroshenko announced a transport embargo on those regions, making retirees travel many kilometres to receive their pension benefits.
This Italian initiative you asked me about – as reported by the media – also calls for launching a new Helsinki process, in addition to reconciliation between Russia and Ukraine, to ensure the safety of everyone and everything. Our colleagues in Rome came to their senses too late. The Helsinki process has given a number of important gains to the world, to our region, to the Euro-Atlantic region, including declarations signed at the highest political level, at the OSCE summits, in particular in Istanbul in 1999, in Astana in 2010 – declarations on indivisible security. Those documents said security can only be equal and indivisible. Further elaborating on this, they said all participating states have the right to be or not to be a party to treaties of alliance, but no country can join any alliances or otherwise strengthen its security if it affects the security of any other state. The third component of this formula is that no country, no organisation in the OSCE area will claim to dominate security issues.
Anyone familiar with the situation in Europe understands that Western countries have been grossly violating the key components of that commitment by strengthening their security in violation of Russia's right to its own security. They claim that only NATO can call the tune in this region, and no one else. We have tried to make those beautiful political words become reality, to make them work rather than keep them on paper signed off by the presidents of the United States and European countries. We proposed making that political commitment legally binding. As far back as in 2009, we proposed an agreement to NATO countries. They said they wouldn't even discuss it because only NATO could provide legal security guarantees. When we asked about the OSCE’s role, they said those were just political promises and slogans. That showed how Western politicians treat the signatures of their presidents. But we did not stop there.
We made another attempt last year. In November 2021, President Vladimir Putin instructed his team to draft new documents to agree with the United States and NATO on the principles that would be approved by all at the highest level. We drafted those treaties and transferred them to Washington and Brussels in early December 2021. Several rounds of negotiations followed. I met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. We were told that we could discuss the arms control agenda, but NATO expansion was not our business or anybody’s business, for that matter. When we again quoted their commitment not to strengthen their security at the expense of others, they dismissed that as immaterial. What mattered was NATO's so-called open door policy. We have warned them repeatedly – in 2009, then in 2013, 2014 (when a coup d'état occurred in Ukraine), and in 2015 (the Minsk agreements). All these years, we have been telling our Western colleagues that it will end badly because they continue to ignore our legitimate interests and rudely tell us no when we ask them to take us into consideration – not somewhere tens of thousands of kilometres away, but right on the borders of the Russian Federation. This arrogance, this air of being exceptional, this colonial mentality (I can do anything and you will do what I tell you) is not manifested only in their attitude to our interests.
Remember 1999, when the United States suddenly decided that Yugoslavia, lying 10,000 kilometres away from its coasts, posed a threat to its security? They bombed it to dust in a heartbeat. They used OSCE Mission leader William Walker from the United States to loudly declare that several dozen corpses discovered in the village of Racak were a crime against humanity. As it turned out later, these corpses were not civilians, but militants who were disguised as civilians and scattered around the place.
The same setup was used in Bucha near Kiev on April 3. It works regardless of whether the public finds it convincing or not. They didn't need to convince anyone. They bombed Yugoslavia, created an independent Kosovo violating every OSCE principle in the process and then said it would be like that from then on.
They said no after the referendum in Crimea. According to them, self-determination in Kosovo is a good thing, but self-determination in Crimea is not. This is being done as if nothing were wrong. No one is even blushing, although it’s a shame for Western diplomacy which has lost its ability to provide elegant explanations for their grossly reckless moves.
In 2003, the United States decided that a threat was coming from another country located 10,000 kilometres away and produced a vial with what I think was tooth powder. Poor Colin Powell later lamented that he had been set up by the intelligence. Several years later, Tony Blair, too, said it was a mistake, but nothing could be done about it. Nothing can be done about it. They bombed the country killing under a million civilians. Until now, Iraq’s integrity has not been restored. There are enough problems there, including terrorism, which did not exist there before. Indeed, Iraq and Libya were authoritarian regimes, but there were no terrorists, ongoing hostilities, or military provocations.
Libya is on that list, as well. In 2011, President Obama said that they would be “leading from behind” Europe. France, the most democratic nation in the Old World (freedom, equality, fraternity), led the NATO operation to destroy the regime. As a result, they destroyed the country. It is hard to put it back together now. Again, the French are trying to do so as they come up with initiatives, convene conferences and announce election dates. All in vain, because, before going in, they needed to think about what would become of Libya after the West ensured its “security” in that country.
I’m citing this example not to say: they can, but we can’t. That would be simplifying matters. What I’m saying is that the Western countries believe that the entire world is part of their security, and they must rule the world.
As NATO was crawling up to Russia’s borders, it told us not to be concerned about it, since NATO is a defensive alliance and does not threaten our country’s security. First, this sounds like a diplomatic effrontery. We must decide for ourselves on our security interests, just like any other country. Second, NATO was a defensive alliance when there was someone to stand up to like the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. There was the Berlin Wall between Western and Eastern Europe. Everyone was clear about the line of defence. After the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union ceased to exist, any lieutenant with basic training knew there was no longer any such thing as a defence line. All you need to do now is live a normal life based on shared values and a common European space.
We put our signature under multiple slogans including “from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean,” “from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” and “we are brothers and sisters now.” However, they retained their military nature as they continued to move the “line of defence” closer to our borders. We have just had an in-depth discussion on the outcomes of this policy. In recent months, the NATO Secretary General and warmongering politicians like the British Foreign Secretary have been publicly stating that the alliance must have global responsibility. NATO must be in charge of security in the Pacific. This may mean that next time NATO's “defence line” will move to the South China Sea.
Not only NATO, but the EU leaders also decided to “play soldiers.” Ursula von der Leyen, who is rivalling EU top diplomat Josep Borrell in terms of bellicosity, claimed that the EU must be in charge of security matters in the Indo-Pacific region. How are they going to accomplish this? They keep talking about an EU “army.” No one will let them create this “army” as long as NATO exists.
To all appearances, no one is going to even reform NATO. They are going to turn this “defensive alliance” into a global alliance claiming global military dominance. This is a dangerous path that is definitely doomed to failure.