January 20, 2023

Excerpt from Sergey Lavrov press conference, Jan 18: Talks with Ukraine ‘are out of the question’

(for full text:  https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1848395/)

Good afternoon, colleagues.

Our tradition has been to meet at the beginning of the new year to discuss the results and events of the past year. 2022 was difficult and even unique to some extent. It reflected deep-rooted trends in geopolitics and the international aspirations of the leading states, which had been brewing for more than a decade.

Our Western colleagues tried to turn Ukraine and the developments around it into the main media, political and economic event, accusing the Russian Federation of the troubles in the global economy because of its “aggression” against Ukraine. I do not want to dwell on refuting these assertions. The statistics of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other international agencies convincingly show that the crisis had been developing long before the start of the special military operation. President of Russia Vladimir Putin repeatedly cited data showing the emergence of negative phenomena in the global economy, primarily due to the egoistic position of the United States and its allies.

What is happening in Ukraine now is the result of preparations by the US and its satellites for the start of a global hybrid war against the Russian Federation. Nobody is hiding this fact. This is clear from statements by unbiased Western politologists, scientists and politicians. In his recent article, Ian Bremmer, political science professor at Columbia University, wrote: “We are not in a cold war with Russia. We are in a hot war with Russia. Now it’s a proxy war. And NATO is not fighting it directly. We are fighting it through Ukraine.” This admission is frank and this conclusion is on the surface. It is strange that some people try to refute it. Recently, President of Croatia Zoran Milanovic said that this is a NATO war. An open and honest statement. Several weeks ago, Henry Kissinger (before he urged NATO to accept Ukraine in his recent article) wrote in clear terms that the events in Ukraine were a clash, a rivalry of two nuclear powers for control over that territory. It is clear enough what he meant.

Our Western partners are cunning while vehemently trying to prove that they are not fighting Russia but are only helping Ukraine respond to an “aggression” and restore its territorial integrity. The scale of their support makes it clear that the West has staked a great deal on its war against Russia; this is obvious.

The events surrounding Ukraine have brought to light the implicit push by the United States to drop attempts to reinforce its global position with legitimate means and to adopt illegitimate methods to ensure its dominance. Anything goes. Once revered mechanisms and institutions that were created by the US-led West have been discarded (and not because of what we are seeing in Ukraine). Free market, fair competition, free enterprise, the inviolability of property, and the presumption of innocence, in a word, everything the Western globalisation model relied on collapsed overnight. Sanctions have been imposed on Russia and other objectionable countries that do not comply with these tenets and mechanisms. Clearly, sanctions can be imposed any time on any country, which, in one way or another, refuses to mindlessly follow American orders.

The European Union has been completely subsumed by this US dictatorship (there’s no point in discussing this at length). The signing of the Joint Declaration on EU-NATO Cooperation on January 10 was the high point of this process, something that has been in the making for several years. It states explicitly that the alliance and the EU’s goal is to use all political, economic and military means in the interests of the golden billion. This is exactly what it says: in the interests of the one billion residents of NATO and the EU countries. The rest of the world, to quote High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, is a “jungle” that stifles progress in the “garden” and must, therefore, be reformatted, adjusted to their needs and turned into new-style colonies in order to use new methods to ruthlessly pump out resources from them. These methods are all too familiar and include demonisation, blackmail, sanctions, threats of force, and much more. The West’s course on destroying traditional ties between historical partners in different regions and fragmenting and destabilising them has become more salient. We can see this in the Balkans and in the post-Soviet space, especially if we take a closer look at what the United States, their “clients” and “fixers” are doing in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

Everything that is happening around Ukraine has been in the making for a long time. The first Maidan protest took place in 2004 when European officials declared for the first time that Ukraine had to choose sides and decide who it was with, the West or Russia. Since then, this either/or approach has been consistently promoted by the West in its policies in this region. Those who chose the wrong side or believed that their historical and family ties, and their traditions and religious beliefs bonded them with the Russian Federation (even though they lived in Ukraine), were at first more or less delicately, and then ruthlessly, ground down, excluded from political life and criminally prosecuted. They killed intractable journalists and politicians and closed media outlets that did not promote the official point of view. The creation of a police-run Nazi state was in full swing. In fact, it has now been created with the blessing of the West. They used the “either with the West or Russia” choice to identify those who were against the West and proceeded to severely punish them.

Coming back to the NATO-EU Declaration – this is an interesting document. These two organisations are being presented as an alliance of democracies against autocracies amid global rivalry. A patently confrontational agenda has been announced for the world to hear. Europe has waived its independence. The Joint Declaration directly subordinates Europe to NATO. It includes commitments to serve US interests in matters of geopolitical containment of Russia and China. Their declared goal – well known to everyone before but now laid out in black and white – is to enable the US-led alliance to achieve global preeminence.

NATO is not limited to organising life on the European continent. In June 2022, NATO’s Madrid Summit declared that the military bloc had a global commitment, specifically in relation of the Asia-Pacific region, which they call the Indo-Pacific region.  It is clear that they are attempting to make overtures to India to create additional problems in its relations with China. Their battle-cry is indivisibility of security in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. Mere word play. Since the 1990s, the same commitment to the principle of indivisibility of security was declared by the OSCE and Russia-NATO Council. This term was used to mean equal security for every state and an obligation not to strengthen one’s own security at the expense of another’s. Now it has been taken out of context and given a new meaning – the indivisibility of interests of NATO and the Indo-Pacific region. The difference is obvious.

In the so-called “Indo-Pacific region,” the West is out to create bloc architecture against Russia and China. With this aim in view, they have consistently been destroying (although they prefer to keep quiet about this) the decades-old mechanisms and formats of cooperation created around ASEAN based on equality, consensus, and a balance of interests. Instead, they are putting together military blocs. A shining case in point is AUKUS, an Anglo-Saxon bloc in Asia, which includes the US, the UK, and Australia). Japan is under pressure to join it as well. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent visit to Washington ended up confirming this course. Japan is militarising again. As I understand it, Japan is bracing to alter the articles in its constitution that prevent it from doing this. The process is underway. 

I will not speak now about the West’s actions in other geopolitical areas. Today we regard the policies of the US and the West as a whole as the main problem creating difficulties in all areas. In short, this is what it means. Washington’s policy of dictate in international affairs means precisely that the Americans can do anything anywhere they want, even at the other end of the Earth.  They do what they think is necessary. All other countries cannot do anything without the US’s approval, even in response to direct security threats the US creates on their borders.

Like Napoleon, who mobilised nearly all of Europe against the Russian Empire, and Hitler, who occupied the majority of European countries and hurled them at the Soviet Union, the United States has created a coalition of nearly all European member states of NATO and the EU and is using Ukraine to wage a proxy war against Russia with the old aim of finally solving the “Russian question,” like Hitler, who sought a final solution to the “Jewish question.”

Western politicians – not only from the Baltics and Poland but also from more reasonable countries – say that Russia must be dealt a strategic defeat. Some political analysts write about decolonising Russia, that our country is too big and “gets in the way.” The other day I read an item in The Telegraph that called for liberating Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria, while leaving Karelia, Koenigsberg and the Kuril Islands for negotiations. Of course, it is a tabloid, but we have to read yellow sheets because they sometimes make headline news.

Quite a few such statements have been made, including in our non-system opposition. No Western politician has refuted them. President of France Emmanuel Macron, who proposed creating a European Political Community as a format which all European countries apart from Russia and Belarus will be invited to join, has also suggested convening a conference of European states. He suggested that it should be open for the EU member states, Eastern Partnership countries (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), as well as Moldova and Ukraine. I doubt that Belarus will be invited. The potential participants as the EU states and Eastern Partnership countries, plus – note this – politically active emigres from Russia. It has been said (not in Macron’s presentation but in subsequent comments) that some Russian regions, which are trying to maintain ties with Europe, could be invited as well. I believe that everything is clear. It is not a black-and-white situation, contrary to what our Western colleagues claim; it reflects their strategy of global domination and unconditional suppression of all countries on pain of punishment.

The Western politicians are talking only about sanctions. Ursula von der Leyen has recently said in Davos that new sanctions will be imposed on Russia and Belarus, that they know which sanctions to adopt to strangle the Russian economy and cause it decades of regression. This is what they want. They have shown their true colours. For many years, UN Security Council members discussed sanctions against countries that violated international law or their obligations. And every time the Western countries that initiated such measures promised that the sanctions would not harm the people but would be targeted at the “regime.” What became of their promises?

They openly say that sanctions against Russia are designed to incite the people to rise in a revolution to overthrow the current leaders. Nobody is observing or intends to observe proprieties any longer. But their reaction and frenzied attempts to ensure, by hook or by crook, by any foul means possible, the domination of the US and the West, which Washington has already brought to heel, is proof that, historically, they are acting contrary to the objective course of events by trying to stop the rise of a multipolar world. Such change does not happen on orders from the high offices on the Potomac or in any other capital, but for natural reasons.

Countries are developing economically. Look at China and India (our strategic partners), Türkiye, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt and many African countries. Considering their immense natural resources, their development potential is enormous. New centres of economic growth are emerging. The West is trying to prevent this, in part, by exploiting the mechanisms created to service its interests within the globalisation framework it created. The role of the dollar as a reserve currency is very important in this respect. This is why in our contacts through the SCO, BRICS, the CIS, and the EAEU, and in our cooperation with associations of Asia, Africa and Latin America, we are doing all we can to create new forms of interaction to avoid dependence on the West and its neocolonialist methods (that are now clear). President of Russia Vladimir Putin spoke about this frankly and clearly. These methods are used with the express purpose of robbing the rest of the world in these new conditions. In dealing with our reliable partners and friendly countries, we are developing forms of cooperation that will benefit all of us. Those who want to subdue the entire world have no say in it.

These are my thoughts on the past year. The main point is that the processes that took place did not start yesterday, but many years ago. They will continue still. It takes time to create a multi-polar world and finalise the relations needed for the triumph of democracy and justice and for the observance of the UN Charter principle of respect for the sovereign equality of all states. The UN Charter is a good foundation. At the time it was adopted, it was a revolutionary document. Unfortunately, the West distorted all its correct principles. It did not respect the principles of sovereign equality of states, non-interference in internal affairs and peaceful settlement of disputes. The United States used its armed forces abroad hundreds of times since the establishment of the UN. In the majority of cases, it crudely violated the UN Charter.

It will take a long time to create a multipolar world order. This will take an entire historical era. We are now in the midst of this process. Sometimes, direct participants of such major events do not see everything immediately. This is why we value so greatly that we are in constant contact and share our opinions and impressions with each other. I am referring not only to our foreign partners but also to media colleagues. Your observations and the questions that you want to ask are useful for us.

Question: What’s your take on the likelihood of holding talks about Ukraine between Russia and major US-led Western countries this year? What security issues in the context of a Ukraine settlement would Russia like to put on the table? Do you think it’s possible the active phase of the hostilities will be stopped this year?

Sergey Lavrov: With regard to the active phase of hostilities, our military have commented on these issues more than once. President Putin once again personally confirmed that the goals of the special military operation are real and not pulled out of the blue, but rather determined by the fundamental and legitimate interests of the security of the Russian Federation, its international positions, primarily in our immediate vicinity.

As with any other territory bordering the Russian Federation, there should be no military infrastructure that poses a direct threat to our country, discrimination, or persecution of our compatriots in Ukraine. By the will of fate, they ended up citizens of the Ukrainian state, but they want to preserve their language, culture and traditions, to bring their children up in these traditions in full accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine, which states that it guarantees the free use and protection of Russian and other languages ​​of ethnic minorities. The Russian language is highlighted there. This Constitution remains in force.

We sent materials to media outlets listing the articles of the Constitution and Ukraine’s specific obligations under international conventions, as well as an extended list of laws that were adopted in violation of the Constitution and international obligations of the Ukrainian state. I was surprised by President Zelensky’s interview with ZDF in October 2022. He argued that if Russia were allowed to win, other large countries would decide that they “can” too.  And there are enough such countries on different continents. Therefore, they will allegedly “strangle” the little ones and divide everything else among themselves. Vladimir Zelensky stressed that he is for a different scenario in which everyone on the planet will know that no matter where they live, they have the same rights and are protected like any other person in the world. This was stated by a man who in November 2021 (a year before) said that “species,” not people, live in eastern Ukraine. Even earlier, in August 2021, Zelensky noted that if any of the citizens of Ukraine feels Russian and thinks in Russian, and wants to stay Russian, then for the sake of the future of his children and grandchildren, they should clear out for Russia. It was the same man who now declares that he dreams of the day when all are equal and can live as they wish. It is clear that these “beautiful” words are uttered for the benefit of the West, but all this vividly describes the current regime. It is clear why we cannot abandon the core goals of the special military operation.

As for the prospects of talks, they have been discussed and considered dozens of times. I don’t want to repeat obvious facts. Starting in March 2021, we supported Ukraine’s request for talks. Moreover, we finalised the draft settlement agreement proposed by that country. But Ukraine got a slap on its wrists and told it was too early. Since then, after the spring of 2022, all summer and until the beginning of autumn, Western officials have repeatedly said in different words that it is too early to start negotiations. The country needs to be given more weapons so that it can start negotiations from a stronger stance. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said bluntly the other day that arming Ukraine is the path to peace. Zelensky himself put forward completely absurd 10-point plans which cram everything together: food, energy and biological security, the withdrawal of Russian troops from everywhere, repentance of the Russian Federation, a tribunal and condemnation.

Negotiations with Zelensky are out of the question, because he adopted a law that banned talks with the Russian Government. The Western claptrap to the effect that they are ready to talk, but we are not, is nothing but prevarications.

You asked about the prospects for talks between Russia and the West on Ukraine. We are ready to consider serious proposals and to decide on what we do next. So far, there have not been such proposals. We hear mantras coming from Western capitals about “not a word about Ukraine without Ukraine.” It’s nonsense. In fact, the West is making the decisions for Ukraine. They also told Zelensky not to agree on anything with Russia in late March 2022, when an agreement was fully formalised. So, the West is making the calls. It decided without Ukraine and for Ukraine that it was not the right time. Now, they are saying the same thing: they need to get more weapons and to humiliate the Russian Federation.

I’m not sure who among them is doing military planning. CIA Director William Burns met with Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service Sergey Naryshkin. The idea of holding this meeting was put forward by President Biden, and President Putin agreed. The meeting took place without any breakthroughs.

In sporadic and rare contacts that are taking place at one level or another, the West is not saying anything more than it says in its public statements. Our position on this score is well known. Talking with the West only about Ukraine is pointless. It is using Ukraine to destroy the security system that had existed in the Euro-Atlantic region for many years now and relied on the principles of indivisible security and addressing issues through dialogue and cooperation. The OSCE embodied the ideals that the West is now busily burying, just like it practically buried the Council of Europe. Organisations that were created for dialogue and the search for consensus and compromise are now being used to promote the same policy of total domination of the United States (and the rest of the West, which is at its heel) in everything and everywhere. Telling us that we will “think of something” with Ukraine, and everything else will be theirs? No. We will need to sit down and have a candid discussion.

I don’t think we need at this stage to take the initiative in the areas that the West itself closed down, including what it did in the Council of Europe, which everyone was so proud of. Moreover, there are several dozen conventions in the Council of Europe, which do not require a country to be a member of the Council of Europe to be able to participate in them. The West has decided to cancel Russia here as well and to build discriminatory obstacles to the participation of our representatives in the work of the relevant bodies of these conventions, which are open to non-members of the Council of Europe. In this situation, they are putting forward unacceptable terms for the participation of our representatives in review events. Given these circumstances, we will not put up with it. Recently, we withdrew from the Convention against Corruption for this particular reason. This does not mean that we will no longer fight corruption. This means that we are not willing to sit on a side chair during the meetings of a relevant body and listen to Western lectures at a time where even our procedural rights are limited. The list of examples of that kind goes on and on.

Question: Many Europeans believe that Russia did not show its best side when it launched the hostilities, and that it is doing just what the other imperialist countries, like the United States, do. They bombed nearly half of the planet, violating international law to seize territories. These critical remarks have been made in Greece, Cyprus and the Balkans, which also fell victim to this policy. You probably know this issue better than many. It is rumoured that Türkiye is threatening Greece in the Aegean Sea. What are your arguments against this view?  

Sergey Lavrov: I will not argue; I will simply put forth my view. You said that Russia did not show its best side when it started the special military operation. This is interesting phrasing.

We showed our “best side” after the Soviet Union dissolved, as President Vladimir Putin pointed out many times. In 2001, one of the first foreign trips he made after he was elected president was to Germany, where he sed thaddrese Bundestag in the German language. By doing that, President Putin became personally involved in a historical reconciliation between Germany and Russia. That reconciliation took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s and began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. It took place at the state and official levels. Vladimir Putin personally contributed to that historical reconciliation between Russians and Germans. Remember that the reunification of Germany became possible first of all thanks to the Soviet Union, because the other victorious nations were not enthusiastic about it, to put it mildly.

We were willing to show our best side and we did it repeatedly in terms of respect for international law and looking for solutions that could benefit Europe and humankind as a whole. I have cited the example of the first Maidan protests in Ukraine (2004), when the European authorities said that Ukraine must choose between Europe and Russia. It happened three years before Vladimir Putin’s Munich speech. We hoped then that reason would prevail, and Europe would see that they should not lie all the time and keep moving NATO further east contrary to their promises. This is unacceptable not only because of their oral promises but also because of their written OSCE obligations that nobody should enhance their security at the expense of other states and that no organisation in the OSCE space should claim domination. That promise was put on paper and signed, in part, by the leaders of Greece, the United States and Russia. The provision that no one should claim domination in Europe has also been included in the documents of the Russia-NATO Council signed at the highest level.

If you think that the alliance’s reckless advance, contrary to our official protests, can be interpreted as compliance with that obligation, there will be no understanding between us. I am sure that you don’t think so and that you clearly understand the issue at hand. You said that we acted just like the other imperial countries. Yes, we have again been described as an empire. I would rather leave this to experts and professionals.

Russia is a country with a huge number of ethnic groups, nearly 300 languages and nearly all the global religions, where the national traditions of all these ethnic groups are respected. Russia has been developing as a multiethnic and multifaith country for hundreds of years. Unlike the colonial practices of the West, we never suppressed nations that joined the Russian Empire, never destroyed them and never threw them into a melting pot where they would have lost their identity and integrity, becoming all the same, like the Americans. They have failed, like you can see now. All the nations that joined the Russian Empire preserved their values, traditions, identities, customs and languages.

As for seizing territories and that we have the same “instincts” as the Western empires, the United States has invaded other countries’ territories about 300 times. In most instances, they did this because somebody had offended the Americans, as it is happening all the time in Central America and the Caribbean, or to eliminate threats to peace and security. For example, Saddam Hussein allegedly had weapons of mass destruction, which later turned out to be a lie. In Libya, they wanted to eliminate Muammar Qaddafi because they thought he was not a democrat but a dictator. They have ruined both Iraq and Libya, prosperous countries where people lived quite well in social and economic terms. In Yugoslavia, they wanted to ruin the Balkans, in part for the benefit of Germany, which did not wait for the EU to coordinate a common line and recognised [the independence of] Croatia and Slovenia. This made the process irreversible and prevented any chance for the restoration of a confederative or any other form of unification of the Balkan countries. Serbia stood up against the Balkans’ subordination to the West. What have they done to it? Senator Joe Biden said in 1998, a year before NATO’s aggression against Serbia, that he was for bombing Belgrade and proposed sending US pilots to bomb all the bridges across the Drina River and confiscating Serbia’s oil reserves. As you remember, Senator Biden’s demands were implemented a year later, in 1999.  The Time magazine said on its cover then: “Bringing the Serbs to heel. A massive bombing attack opens the door to peace.” Nobody reacted to that. No tribunals were proposed. Nobody even considered it.

Likewise, nobody proposed any tribunals when the United States invaded Syria without any legitimate reason and started razing Syrian cities to the ground. For example, Raqqa was turned into rubble. Dozens and hundreds of corpses lay there for months unattended. Yes, the international community, Doctors Without Borders and Reporters Without Borders raised their voices, but nobody mentioned tribunals. When the International Criminal Court decided to investigate war crimes committed by the Americans in Afghanistan, the United States threatened to slap the ICC with sanctions and to seize the court’s funds kept in US banks. And that high international body of justice stopped talking. Of course, comparisons can be made.

But we defended our security. Ukraine was being turned into a bridgehead for attacking Russia and undermining our interests. Naval bases, first of all Anglo-Saxon ones, were to be built in the Sea of Azov. This is a serious matter.

Second, the humiliation of Russians, whose rights were guaranteed in the Ukrainian Constitution, is unacceptable because they are our compatriots. They look to us to protect their legitimate interests, which are guaranteed in the Ukrainian Constitution. The 2014 coup, which was inspired by the West, was not followed by any attempt to launch a national dialogue in Ukraine. The West unequivocally took the side of the regime, which immediately declared its anti-Russia goals and its commitment to the Nazi theory and practices by bombing Donetsk and Lugansk. Nobody is investigating these crimes. No tribunals were established, and nobody is even considering this. When the war launched against those who refused to recognise the coup was stopped, the Minsk agreements were signed. As you know, Germany, France and Poroshenko, who signed these agreements (with the exception of President Putin), have recently said that they did it to gain time for more weapons to be sent to Ukraine and for it to be better prepared for the next stage in the war. How is it?

Do you think we have not shown our best side in this case too? Russia was the only side to press for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. All the other sides were crooks who acted on the Americans’ advice.

As for the suffering of Greece and Cyprus, I don’t know what they are suffering from more. We have always been good friends with the Greeks and the Cypriots. We have taken note of the change that took place in the two countries’ leadership.

Everybody knows how forces were built up for launching a hybrid war against us. I cannot imagine that the prime ministers and presidents of European countries, let alone the countries that have centuries-long historical ties with Russia, are unaware of the facts or are unable to analyse them. The conclusion I make from the positions taken by European countries, including Greece and Cyprus, is that they have either been forced or have voluntarily agreed to submit to the US dictate. The United States has brought Europe to heel. Europe will no longer be allowed to think about “strategic autonomy.” When sending more US troops to Europe was discussed a year ago, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin was asked if these troops would be deployed there on a rotational basis or permanently. He replied that this matter would be decided in Washington. Nobody will ask Europe’s opinion.

We have drawn conclusions from this, and we will draw them with regard to those who have quickly and subserviently supported the aggression against Russia.

This war will eventually end. We will uphold our truth, one way or another. But I don’t know how we will live after that. Everything will depend on the conclusions reached in Europe.

Question: After the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, all of us have observed that, in fact, this is the collective West’s confrontation with both Russia and some countries other than Russia. The region’s smaller nations, including Georgia, have found themselves in a difficult situation. There are constant radical attacks by US-controlled political and media groups, whose owners, the Americans, are seeking to impose immoral and perverse values as well as norms of Western behaviour. This is out of character with our culture and identity. Therefore, the West is attempting to subvert smaller countries’ cultural sovereignty and gain control over them. The ultimate goal of this cynical policy pursued by the globalists is to sacrifice these smaller countries to their political interests. Ukraine, regrettably, is a sad case in point. Georgia and other smaller countries in the region are facing the same threat. Under these circumstances, we are keen to know whether Russia has a clear-cut strategy against the West’s destructive cultural expansion and whether this implies its cooperation with countries that could be its natural allies in the matter of defending the conservative values.

Sergey Lavrov: This is a vast matter. We have just talked about Ukraine. Yesterday, the UN Security Council held a special meeting convened at Russia’s initiative and dedicated to threats to international peace and security as posed by the Kiev regime’s policies on human rights, including religious rights, and ethnic minorities. 

Cultural presence and opposition to negative trends through preserving the traditional values are directly related to religion and the activities by the Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches. In Ukraine, [the Russian Orthodox Church] is not a tool of Russian influence. Rather, it is an institution that serves to preserve traditions and history and to pass on these traditions from generation to generation.  But it is being destroyed and banned, while priests are subject to arrest or stripped of their citizenship. These are the methods used by the West to wage a war for asserting its values.

We have to retaliate in kind in cases where popular Russian journalists, politicians and political scientists who can bring the truth to foreign audiences are faced with sanctions. We have to reciprocate. But this is not our choice. Soviet and US researchers regularly met and discussed current issues of modern times even during the Cold War.  Today, there are practically no opportunities for this. Occasionally, certain representatives of Western political thought would sound out timidly via absolutely unofficial channels, whether or not we could jointly organise a workshop on neutral ground, to which “your” and “our” people might come? Earlier, no one asked that. An institute would come to agreement with another institute. Today, our Western partners, who participated in these exchanges, are scared stiff. They have been exposed to rather strong harassment.

I have much respect for the stand taken by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which is defending these values. Generally, we have never had any problems with the Georgian people.

There was the story in 2008, when NATO played a role at its April summit in Bucharest, where a declaration was approved saying that Georgia and Ukraine would join NATO. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, too, came to Georgia a month before Mikheil Saakashvili ordered to shell Tskhinval and the positions of the peacekeepers. In all evidence, Saakashvili was excessively excited and came to the conclusion that all of that was an indulgence for him.

It took the Bucharest impulse somewhat longer to reach the minds of people in Ukraine. But eventually they started chasing all things Russian from their land. We are in favour of Abkhazia and South Ossetia establishing relations with Georgia. There are dialogue mechanisms there, in which we participate. It is rather long since Georgia suggested implementing a joint economic project to build trust.  These are all useful things. But now the Western participants in the Geneva Discussions between Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia (the EU, the UN, the OSCE, and the US) are attempting to make even this format hostage to what is going on around Ukraine.  This is indecent and unprofessional, and it means that they make their aims in this specific region dependent on their own political grievances and whims.

I am glad that our people-to-people contacts with Georgia are making strides. In 2022, Georgia’s GDP grew by 10 percent. This happened largely due to tourism and trade relations with the Russian Federation. I hope that we will soon be able to resume direct air service.

We see Georgia and all other countries face pressure from the West, which is publicly urging them to join the sanctions against the Russian Federation. The fact that a small country and its government have the courage to say that they will be guided by their national interests and the interests of their economy, this fact commands respect.

Question: You just said that the West has thrown off their masks. How would you comment on the rather frank statements President of Finland Sauli Niinistö made in his New Year’s speech about the Russian Federation being as brutal as the Nazi regime?

In Soviet times, the words “imperialism” and “colonisers” were part of the political rhetoric, and we are hearing them increasingly often today again. There are some new terms as well – neoliberalism and globalism. Gennady Zyuganov and the Communist Party of Russia have been using them for the past 30 years, and now you and the President of Russia are using them too. How would you describe those opposing Russia today? Are these concepts relevant today or are they history?

Sergey Lavrov: As to President Niinistö’s New Year’s statement and another recent interview, similarly to Greece and Cyprus, we have been viewing Finland as a model of friendly relations between states for years, ever since the time we used the term “coexistence of countries with different sociopolitical systems.” I was amazed by how fast Finland (and Sweden too) reversed their rhetoric. Apparently, there was a change of approach behind this, or it had been this anti-Russia all along, just well camouflaged with beautiful phrases about the need for a common European home and respect for the Helsinki Final Act principles. They even mentioned the possibility of holding an OSCE 75th anniversary summit in Helsinki in 2025. I don’t know. I was definitely taken aback by those statements.

Sauli Niinistö directly compared Joseph Stalin’s attack of Finland with Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and stated that Putin would lose just like Stalin in Finland. To be honest, that was a rather primitive monologue. But his allusions to Nazi Germany make one wonder if they reflect what really is on his mind. I would expect the Finns to be better aware of their history, including the fact that they (actually) weren’t the innocent victims of the processes that took place before and during the WWII. It is regrettable that Europe is now dismantling (largely through Finland’s efforts) what it had earlier created – again, in many respects, with Finland’s leading role). But we are still neighbours. This can’t be changed. Finland is so happy – and desperate – to join NATO, trusting that membership would guarantee its security. But, as we said, we will have to draw our own conclusions from Finland and Sweden’s accession to the alliance (if it happens) and we will take appropriate military-technical measures on our side of the border.

I didn’t mention “neo-imperialism.” The person next to you said we were behaving just like other imperial powers. It’s a matter of taste. As for colonial habits, President Vladimir Putin mentioned this. It was a truthful assessment of what the West is trying to do. Colonialism refers to seizing a nation and living at their expense. But that can be done in a variety of ways. In the 17th century, slaves were carted off on ships; another way is to subjugate a country or an organisation, with all its plans and programmes to the coloniser’s will, which is what the Americans are now doing with the European Union. Iceland is not an EU member. You are lucky. The EU has completely lost its independence now and has essentially become a NATO appendage. Occasional public statements emerge in the European Union about being discriminated. French Minister for the Economy Bruno Le Maire mentioned the need to persuade their American allies to be more considerate of Europe’s interests rather than to sell gas to European industries at four times the price at which it sells to domestic enterprises.

In general, the long-term transition to liquefied natural gas, despite the price fluctuations that we are now seeing, means a serious rise in the cost of production in Europe. It’s funny that many years ago the Europeans insisted that Russia shift to spot pricing from long-term contracts. Now, against the backdrop of the Ukraine events, the Europeans began to negotiate with Qatar, trying to find new sources of energy. The emirate said, it’s our pleasure, and offered a 15-year contract as a minimum. The Europeans went back to negotiating with the United States. Yesterday I read a report that the Americans agreed to give them a better price, but only under long-term contracts. Reliability and sustainable prospects are more important than following zigzags on one or another stock exchange every day. But European industry is already beginning to move to the United States. Certain political scientists, including Western ones, say that one of the goals of the processes happening around Ukraine is making Europe less competitive. This is a step towards making China and other rivals less competitive in world markets as well.

Colonialism is markedly manifested in [Western] relations with developing countries. Look where American investment is going. And each investment deal always includes either some political demands or the deployment of US troops. I don’t see a big difference. I know that many scholars are already studying this phenomenon, colonialism in the new conditions, which is not even neo-colonialism. It is colonialism in its purest form, considering its goals and objectives – subdue and use their resources to your advantage.

Question: Diplomacy has many tools, primarily words. What do you consider the most tragic word in the diplomatic world in 2022? What word gave hope in the past year and what word does the whole world need to hear today?

Sergey Lavrov: Quite a lyrical question. We think about concrete matters for the most part and would ask you to characterise what we do.

I am not afraid to say that in the first case this word is “war.” What is happening is our response that, as the President said, should have come a bit earlier. This is the response (it is not late) to the hybrid war that was unleashed against us. The West is pushing its agenda today in most diverse guises. The word that gives hope is “victory.” And I think the third word is “victory.” Unfortunately, those who want to hear the word “negotiations” do not want them themselves. They are manipulating this term in many ways to drag out the war against Russia as long as possible.

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