MOSCOW: During his interview with Sputnik, Russia’s top diplomat has weighed in on a wide array of subjects that define the state of international affairs on a global scale at the moment – from tense presidential campaign in the US, to security in the turbulent Persian Gulf and the tumultuous relations between Russia and the US and the European powers.
On 17 September, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov joined three Sputnik journalists at MIA Rossiya Segodnya Press Centre via a video call to answer questions about key developments in the international political arena in an exclusive interview.
Sputnik: If you don’t mind, let’s start with the Russian-American relations and the upcoming US presidential elections. Very often, the US political elites, regardless of their party affiliation, are talking about their country’s key role as a hands-down global leader. How much does this internal agenda affect the US’ foreign policies, and its relations with its allies and partners, including its relations with Russia? In your view, how does the US’ principle of exceptionalism affect international processes?
Sergei Lavrov: I think that everyone who is closely and professionally following the US political in-fighting, has deduced that political in-fighting has always been a motive for the positions held both by the Republicans and the Democrats. What we are observing today is no exception. The key thing [for parties] here is to collect as many arguments as possible to outrun your rivals in the information, rhetorical and polemical field. The debates between the main presidential candidates, from the Democratic and Republican parties, – are on the horizon, and the issue of the “Russian meddling” in US internal affairs is at the top of the agenda. However, in recent weeks or months, the most-discussed topic has been China, which today ranks first in the list of the United States’ “enemies” trying to do everything possible to trigger some “disastrous” processes in the US.
We’ve gotten used to that over the past years. It started under the Obama administration. It was he who was saying, including publicly, that the Russian authorities had intentionally taken a line of harming the relations between Moscow and Washington. It was he who was speaking about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, and imposing some unprecedented sanctions, including illegal takeovers of Russian property in the United States, the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats and their families, etc.
By the way, the thesis about American exceptionalism is shared by both the Republicans and the Democrats, as well as all other political movements in the United States. We have repeatedly said that history has seen attempts to portray oneself as an arbiter of humanity’s fate, as someone impeccable and most sapient; these attempts have never come to any good.
We always prove our approach to any internal policy processes in any country, it’s the United States’ internal affairs; and it’s a shame that they involve a lot of rhetoric, which doesn’t really reflect the existing situation on the international stage, in their internal affairs. It’s also a shame that, to gain as many points as possible in this presidential race, they don’t hesitate to impose unlawful sanctions, sometimes for no reason at all, against those who don’t agree on everything with the United States on the international stage. This kind of sanctions instinct that the current US administration has developed – but Obama was also actively engaged in this – is becoming contagious in Europe as well, with the EU opting for sanctions more and more often.
So, my conclusion is quite simple: we will work with any government that takes office in any country, including the United States; but we’ll discuss any question that the United States is interested in only on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and a balance of interests. Using ultimatums to talk to us is useless and pointless. If there are those who have failed to understand it yet, they are worthless politicians.
Sputnik: You’ve mentioned the sanctions pressure, which, in many instances, does not emerge in political circles but is initiated by the mass media. It happens rather frequently in the US, the UK and in Europe. The American press accused Russia of conspiring with the Taliban against the US military in Afghanistan, in the British Foreign Office, they stated that Russia almost certainly meddled in the UK parliamentary elections of 2019, the EU member states this week are discussing another sanctions package against Russia related to some alleged human rights violations. Is there a chance that this approach, this policy of demonising Moscow, might change, or will it intensify?
Sergei Lavrov: So far, we don’t see any signs of this policy changing. Unfortunately, this sanctions itch only grows. As for the recent examples, they want to punish us for what’s going on in Belarus, and for the Navalny incident, even as they firmly refuse to adhere to their obligations under the European convention on legal assistance and to respond to official requests from the Prosecutor General’s Office. The pretexts are purely contrived: Germany says “We can’t tell you anything, contact OPCW”, we’ve contacted that organisation several times and were told to contact Berlin. There’s an idiomatic expression, “Ivan points at Peter, and Peter points at Ivan”, and that’s roughly the manner in which our Western partners, so to speak, react to our legal approaches, loudly proclaiming that “the poisoning has been established, no one but Russia could’ve done it, now confess”. All that had previously happened with the Skripals, and I’m positive that, even if the current situation with Navalny hadn’t arisen, they would’ve invented something else.
At this point, everything is subordinated to undermining relations between Russia and the EU as much as possible. In the European Union, there are countries that realise this, but they still have the consensus principle in play, the so-called solidarity; and said principle is grossly misused by countries that comprise the aggressive, Russophobic minority. As I understand from the European Commission chairman’s report, the EU is currently debating whether to make decisions on some issues via a (majority) vote rather than via consensus. This will be interesting, because then we will see who stands for misusing international law, and who implements a thoughtful, calculated and balanced policy, based on pragmatism and realism.
But of course, those issues that you’ve mentioned, us being accused of establishing relations with the Taliban in order to motivate them to conduct special operations against US servicemen in exchange for financial reward – the Taliban members fight for their interests and their beliefs, and to suspect us of doing such things, strictly criminal stuff – I think that’s even below the dignity of the American officials. By the way, the Pentagon had to refute such speculations, having found no confirmation for them. The Taliban themselves said that it was untrue. But in our age of social media, in the age of disinformation and fake messages, one only has to launch any fiction into the media space, and no one will bother reading a refutation afterwards. The initial furore caused by these sensations, so to speak, is what their authors are counting on. That’s why we’ve told the Americans and the British numerous times, “If you have any grievances with us, please, let us conduct a professional diplomatic dialogue based on facts.”
As most claims about meddling are related to cyberspace, as we’re being accused of practically state hacking and infiltrating all the imaginable life-support systems of our Western colleagues, we offered to resume a dialogue on cybersecurity, on international data security in all of its aspects, and announced our readiness to review mutual concerns: we’ve also registered plenty of cases that allow one to suspect the meddling of Western websites, representatives and hackers in our vital resources. Yet we were met with a flat-out refusal. And the justification for said refusal? “You invite us to a dialogue on cybersecurity, which is the very sphere that you utilise to meddle in our internal affairs.” That’s it. It’s just like the situation with Navalny, the same kind of reasoning is being used: “what, you don’t trust us?”
When Rex Tillerson was the US Secretary of State, he once publicly and officially stated that they have irrefutable proof of Russia meddling in the US election. I told him, “If you’ve got such irrefutable proof, how about sharing it? We, too, would be interested in resolving this matter, because slandering us is not in our interests.” You know what he told me? He said “Sergei, I’m not going to give anything to you. Your secret services that organise all that know everything themselves. Talk to them, they should tell you everything.” That’s the whole discussion on the matter that becomes practically pivotal in the relations between our countries.
That’s why we firmly believe that, someday, particular questions will have to be answered, and facts will have to be presented, both regarding the situation with Navalny and, by the way, regarding the poisoning in Salisbury.
Speaking of Salisbury, two years ago, when that situation was being hyped up and we were being branded as the only manufacturer of Novichok, we presented substantiated and publicly available facts that show that several Western countries developed substances from the Novichok group, with some of these substances being patented in the US – tens of patents for combat application of substances from that group. One of the countries that we’ve mentioned was Sweden, and two years ago we were told “don’t you dare mention us in that context, we’ve never conducted work related to Novichok.” And now, as you know, one of the countries Germany contacted to confirm their findings (other than France) was Sweden. They said that, yes, they confirm the conclusions made by the Bundeswehr lab that it was Novichok. But if two years ago Sweden lacked the expertise to determine whether it was Novichok or not, and now they have such expertise, that means something has happened. And if that something, which made Sweden Novichok-savvy, happened, that something probably should be regarded as a potentially gross violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
To conclude my answer, allow me to say that we’re willing to talk with everyone, but only if we’re not being forced to make excuses without some facts being presented first. We will always be ready for a professional discussion based on specific, clearly-formulated concerns.
Sputnik: Other than the disagreements with our Western partners on contemporary issues, there are also matters related to us disagreeing with them on the interpretation of history. At this time, mass protests and demonstrations that have taken place in the US have led to more radical events. Essentially, a revision of a considerable portion of American, international, and world history and culture has begun: monuments are being defaced, the description of some events is being changed. Similar attempts have also been made regarding World War II and the Soviet Union’s role in it. In your opinion, what kind of consequences might the United States’ attempts to revise history entail, and what kind of consequences on a global scale might we be looking at?
Sergei Lavrov: You are correct. We’re very concerned with what is happening in this sphere – the sphere of world history and Europe’s history. Essentially, a historical aggression is taking place, aimed at revising the contemporary foundations of international law which came into being after WWII in the form of the United Nations, the principles of its charter; attempts are being made to undermine these very foundations.
The reasoning that’s usually being employed attempts to equate the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany, the aggressors with the vanquishers of aggressors, the vanquishers of those who sought to enslave Europe and to turn the majority of our continent’s people into slaves. They offend us by openly declaring that the Soviet Union bears an even greater responsibility for unleashing WWII than Hitler’s Germany. At the same time, the factual aspects of the matter – how it all began since 1938, the whole appeasement policy towards Hitler that was practised by Western powers, primarily by France and Great Britain – is tacitly being swept under the rug. Much has already been said on the matter: in a generalised fashion, the famous article by Vladimir Putin, of course, features all our key arguments and, based on documents, convincingly shows the senselessness and counterproductive and destructive nature of the attempts to undermine the results of WWII.
By the way, the vast majority of the global community supports us; every year at the UN General Assembly, we introduce a resolution on the inadmissibility of the glorification of Nazism. Only two countries – the US and Ukraine – vote against it and the entire EU abstains, unfortunately; abstains because of the Baltic States being those who primarily demand not to support the resolution, as it was explained to us by European states. But as they say, an uneasy conscience betrays itself: said resolution does not name any specific country or government, it merely calls upon the global community to not allow the glorification of Nazism, to not allow the removal of monuments, etc. But apparently the countries that demand that the EU not support that clear, direct resolution, they feel that they cannot sign on to these principles. And that’s what happens: we see the SS marches, the destruction of monuments (our Polish neighbours are especially active in that regard, and similar processes have begun in Czech Republic). It is unacceptable.
And by the way, other than undermining the results of World War II that were enshrined in the UN Charter, it is also a gross violation of the bilateral agreements we have with those countries regarding the protection of war graves, and the maintenance of war graves and the monuments that were erected in Europe in honour of the victims of World War II, in honour of the heroes who liberated those countries. That’s why we will continue this work, and I believe it is important to point out that those who oppose our efforts to prevent the glorification of Nazism cite human rights, claiming that the freedom of thought and the freedom of speech that exists in the United States and in other Western countries cannot be subjected to any kind of censorship, and if that freedom of thought in speech were to be restricted by inadmissibility of the glorification of Nazism, it would violate the existing legislation.
But let’s be honest, what we see today in the United States likely has a certain relation to what we say about the unacceptability of revisionist approaches towards the outcome of WWII. Racism is apparently rampant in the United States, and there are political forces that seek to fan such racist sentiments and utilise them for their own gain; that we can witness practically every day. And you’ve also mentioned other historical issues that get sacrificed for the sake of momentary political gains. In the heat of the moment, those in the US who seek to destroy their own history and wreck monuments dedicated to Confederates due to the latter being slavers, moved against the monument to the first governor of Alaska, Baranov, which was situated in Sitka and always elicited great respect both from locals and those who visited Alaska. We’ve heard, however, that the governor of Alaska and the Sitka authorities said the monument won’t be demolished but rather moved respectfully to a history museum. If it occurs the way we were assured it will, I believe we’ll appreciate the attitude of the Sitka authorities towards our common history, and we hope that installing Baranov’s monument in a museum might help create an additional special exhibition dedicated to the history of “Russian America”.
Sputnik: I have a few questions about France and Africa. Let’s start with France. Emmanuel Macron has been in office for three years, and the first head of a foreign state he invited to France was Russian President Vladimir Putin, to improve Russian-French relations. What real changes have occurred since then in relations with France at the diplomatic level? Was the meeting scheduled for 16 September postponed because of the Navalny case? As far as I know, a meeting was to take place in Paris yesterday, but it never took place…
Sergei Lavrov: Not yesterday. This meeting was supposed to take place a few days earlier, but that doesn’t really matter. First of all, France is one of our key international partners. We have long considered our relations as a strategic partnership. Right after taking office, one of President Macron’s first foreign policy steps was inviting the Russian President [to Paris]. Following the meeting that took place in May 2017 in Versailles, the leaders of both states confirmed their intention and readiness to deepen our partnership, including in bilateral cooperation, international relations, regional and global agendas. Following that Versailles summit, the Civil Society Dialogues Forum, the Trianon Dialogue, was formed, which is still functioning quite successfully, although, due to the coronavirus restrictions, face-to-face events are impossible at the moment. Since then, President Macron has made more visits to Russia, and President Putin has made more visits to France.
The most recent meeting, which took place in August 2019, was President Putin’s meeting with President Macron at Fort de Brégançon. It was a rather productive, confidential, deep discussion on the need for strategic relations, aimed at considering the key problems of the modern world: first of all, of course, in Europe, in the Euro-Atlantic area, strengthening security there. At the meeting, the Presidents agreed to create ramified interaction mechanisms both through the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Ministries of Defence. The 2 + 2 format, which had been created long ago but suspended, was resumed. In September last year, a regular 2+2 format meeting was held in Moscow. In addition to the Ministries, it was decided to discuss strategic stability issues through the Presidents’ foreign policy assistants. With the consent of President Putin and President Macron, more than 10 working groups have been established in various areas of strategic stability cooperation: arms control, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other issues.
Most of these mechanisms are functioning, and are aimed at ensuring that we and our French colleagues come up with initiatives to stabilise relations in Europe, and normalise the current situation when dividing lines are deepening, and NATO is building up its military infrastructure on the territories of its new member states, thus violating the fundamental Russia-NATO act, signed back in the 1990s and considered the basis of our cooperation.
There are a number of alarming trends. One such destabilising factor is the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, followed by its officially-declared intention to deploy short and medium-range missiles not only in Asia, but in Europe as well. At least the anti-missile weapons that are deployed in Romania and are being deployed in Poland may well be used not only for defensive, but also for offensive purposes, since they can be used to launch shock cruise missiles. In fact, that was prohibited by the INF Treaty, but now the treaty has ceased to exist, and the Americans have a free hand.
Almost a year ago, President Putin called to all the leaders of Europe, the US, Canada, and a number of other states regarding the fact that the Americans had destroyed the INF Treaty, asking not to escalate the arms race but to declare a voluntary mutual moratorium on the weapons banned by the INF Treaty. None of the leaders responded to that call, except for President Macron. And we appreciated that. That emphasised the French leader’s genuine interest in using any opportunity for dialogue with Russia. And it’s becoming more and more openly recognised that it’s impossible to ensure European security without such a dialogue. We really did plan to hold 2+2 meetings, but for reasons that one can only guess, they have been postponed. According to our French colleagues, they need to slightly revise our meetings’ schedule. I’m not going to talk about the reasons [for that], but it seems that the current general atmosphere, the tone that the EU is now ramping up in relation to Russia affects the schedule of our contacts. However, just recently the two states have had consultations on a number of important issues: the fight against terrorism and cybersecurity issues. All of this in line with the plans approved by Presidents Putin and Macron.
Sputnik: As Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich recently noted, Sputnik’s situation in France hasn’t really improved, with journalists still being denied access to press conferences and other events at the Elysee Palace. What possible ways to resolve this issue are being considered? Has this been discussed with the French side?
Sergei Lavrov: Of course, we have discussed this issue. We consider it unacceptable that both Sputnik and RT reporters are openly discriminated against in France. Speaking of Sputnik, the same is taking place in the Baltic countries. It’s quite sad that since 2017, neither RT nor Sputnik have been accredited at the Elysee Palace. What’s even more surprising is that, with all their commitment to freedom, equality, fraternity, and apparently sisterhood, our French colleagues say that they won’t revoke their decision and accredit RT and Sputnik, since these are “not the media, but a propaganda tool”. I think there is no need to speak of the absurdity of such labels, since RT and Sputnik are quite popular; they are gaining audience in an increasing number of countries, I’ve seen the statistics. I can only assume that this is another manifestation of the fear of competition on the part of those who until recently dominated the global information market.
We ask these questions not only to the French, demanding that they stop discriminating the Russian-registered media. The argument they are using is that [Sputnik and RT] are state funded; but many media outlets, which are considered beacons of democracy, are state funded. Both Radio Freedom and the BBC are state funded, but for some reason there are no restrictive measures against them, including in the Internet, where censorship is openly introduced, with Google, YouTube and Facebook, clearly under pressure from the US authorities that discriminate against the Russian media, deciding whether to post [Sputnik and RT’s] materials or not. As I’ve said, we don’t just raise these issues bilaterally. We raise these issues in the OSCE, where there is a special representative on freedom of the media; we raise them in UNESCO, which is supposed to support free journalism and freedom of speech. We raise these issues at the European Council.
Interestingly, in the 1980-90s, during the perestroika processes and the formation of a new political reality, when Russia was opening up to the world, our Western partners were actively promoting solutions that required free access to any information, both based on internal sources and coming from abroad. That was clearly intended to reinforce the Soviet society’s tendency of opening up to the outside world, etc. Now, when we recall these decisions and demand that access to information be respected, including in France regarding Sputnik and RT, our Western partners even hesitate to re-confirm the decisions made at their initiative 30 years ago. Unfortunately, double standards and hypocrisy are the words to characterise their position. There will be another OSCE ministerial summit in December this year; these issues will remain on the agenda, and our Western colleagues will have to answer a lot of questions.
Sputnik: Speaking about the African agenda, at the Sochi summit, more than 90 cooperation contracts were signed with African states. At what pace is Russia returning to the signed agreements’ implementation after the pandemic? Which of these projects, and which African states, are of the highest priority?
Sergei Lavrov: We didn’t take any break after the Sochi summit in October last year, which was an obvious success of our foreign policy according to our African guests. The pandemic has taken its toll regarding the forms of communication, but we are now working remotely, which is also possible in foreign policy and diplomacy. President Putin has had a number of phone conversations with African leaders, the Presidents of South Africa, [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, and Ethiopia. Videoconferences between the Foreign Ministers of Russia and the African Union troika (South Africa, Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) have also taken place. The Russian Foreign Ministry has established a special secretariat, the Russia-Africa Forum. The decision to create such a forum was made in Sochi. The secretariat is already fully staffed.
Yesterday, a meeting was held with the Head of one of the African sub-regional organisations, IGAD, headed by Ethiopia’s former Foreign Minister, where specific plans for Russia-IGAD cooperation were discussed. We have such plans both with the Southern African Development Community and the Economic Community of West African States, with all sub-regional organisations, along with the African Union, which is a pan-African structure. These plans cover consultations on issues that are relevant on the African continent: conflict settlement, holding joint cultural and educational events, economic cooperation development, developing cooperation and support through Foreign Ministries, as well as developing Russian companies and their partners’ activities in Africa. We have a lot of plans, and this work is highly appreciated by our African colleagues. By the way, speaking of the pandemic, dozens of African countries have received our assistance in the form of test systems, personal protective equipment, and medicine, and this cooperation is still ongoing. African states, along with Asian and Latin American countries, are interested in launching the production of Russian Sputnik V vaccine on their territory. Our competent authorities on these issues are now considering potential candidates to launch such production, since it’s clear that large amounts of the vaccine will be needed. We have good experience that we gained while working in Guinea and Sierra Leone: at the time of the Ebola outbreak, our doctors established field hospitals there and launched the production of the vaccine against that fever in Guinea. The experience in fighting Ebola in many ways helped our doctors develop the coronavirus vaccine swiftly, based on the platform created to fight Ebola. I think we’ve got some good plans. By the way, we have also agreed to increase the number of scholarships that Russia provides to African states. Speaking of economic cooperation, a few weeks ago, we established the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States. I’m sure that as soon as the quarantine restrictions are lifted, all these plans will be implemented even more actively. In the meantime, we are working mainly via videoconferencing.
Sputnik: We’ve discussed the situation in the United States, as well as the situation in Europe, let’s now talk about the Arab world. How would you assess the US Caesar act, which hits not only Syria, but also Damascus’s closest partners? What new measures can be taken to improve the country’s humanitarian situation amid the dire economic circumstances?
Sergei Lavrov: This plan envisages sanctions, which they would like to see as a suffocating tool against the Syrian leadership. In fact, like the previous sanction packages – there were quite a few of them, both on the part of the United States, the EU and a number of Washington’s other allies – these sanctions hit, first and foremost, ordinary people, the Syrian citizens. Just yesterday in New York, the UN Security Council discussed the development of the humanitarian situation in Syria, and our Western colleagues were rather very vigorously and dramatically proving their innocence, saying the sanctions were exclusively aimed at limiting the actions and capabilities of officials and representatives of the regime, as they said, while ordinary citizens weren’t affected, because the sanction decisions provided for humanitarian exceptions for medicine, food and other essential items. That is not true, because no such products from the countries that announced some alleged sanction exemptions have been delivered to Syria, except some very small batches [of goods]. Syria trades with Russia, Iran, China, and some Arab states; but the number of countries that understand the need to overcome the current abnormal situation and restore relations with Syria is growing. More and more countries, including the Gulf states, are deciding to reopen their embassies in Syria; more and more countries realise that going on with these suffocating sanctions is totally unacceptable from a human rights perspective.
These sanctions were announced unilaterally, they are illegitimate. The other day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres renewed his call, which he made six months ago, to the states that had announced unilateral sanctions against a developing country to suspend these sanctions, at least during the fight against the pandemic. The West seems to ignore these calls, although the overwhelming majority of UN member states have backed them. We’ll seek the further condemnation of such practices. The UN is adopting special resolutions that declare unilateral sanctions illegal and illegitimate, saying that only sanctions imposed through the UN Security Council should be respected, this is the only legal tool, based on international law.
Speaking about the Syrian issue, we are actively working with our Turkish and Iranian partners within the Astana format. Together with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov, we have recently visited Damascus, where President Assad and his Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to implement the agreements reached between the government and the opposition at the Astana Troika meetings. The Geneva Constitutional Committee has resumed its work, the editorial commission meeting has been held. The parties are agreeing on approaches to Syria’s future, which will allow for work on constitutional reforms.
On the ground, the number of terrorist-controlled areas is gradually declining; here we’re talking primarily about the Idlib de-escalation zone. The Russian-Turkish agreements are gradually being implemented, including on the need to differentiate between opposition elements who are open to dialogue with the government and terrorists, who have been recognised as such by the UN Security Council; however, this is happening now, as quickly as we would like it to. Our Turkish colleagues are committed to these agreements, and we are actively cooperating.
The situation to the east of the Euphrates is quite concerning, where illegally-deployed US troops are encouraging separatist trends among the Kurds, literally turning the Kurds against the government, and restraining their natural desire to embark on a dialogue with the government. Of course, this raises concerns both in terms of Syria’s territorial integrity and the explosive atmosphere that the American actions have created around the Kurdish issue. As you know, this issue concerns not only Syria, but also Iraq, Iran and Turkey; it’s a dangerous game in this region. The Americans habitually take such actions to create chaos that they hope will be manageable. They are far away [from that chaos], so they don’t really care; however, the consequences can be catastrophic for the region if they promote these separatist tendencies there. Recently, some decisions of this illegitimate American group in eastern Syria have been announced, who signed an agreement with Kurdish leaders, allowing an American oil company to produce hydrocarbons on the territory of Syria, a sovereign state, which is a flagrant violation of all conceivable principles of international law.
There are many problems in the Syrian Arab Republic. However, the situation has stabilised compared to what it was a few years ago. It was the Astana format activities and the initiatives we implemented that played a decisive role in this process. Solving acute humanitarian problems and restoring the economy, which was destroyed by the war, is currently on the agenda. We’re actively supporting dialogue in these areas with other countries, including China, Iran, India, and the Arab states. We think it’s important to involve UN organisations and systems in activities aimed at mobilising humanitarian assistance to Syria as a priority step, and mobilising international assistance to restore the economy and infrastructure destroyed by the war at the next stage. There is a lot of work, but at least we know in which directions to move.
Sputnik: I can’t help but ask you about cooperation with the Persian Gulf states. What are the current prospects of Russia’s international cooperation with the Persian Gulf states? Are there any “priority countries” in the region for us? Is Russia considering the role of a mediator in the resolution of the Qatari crisis, which has lasted four years now?
Sergei Lavrov: Regarding the Persian Gulf, I’d say we’re the first of the states that have relations with the countries in the region, who offered to draft a plan for the long-term, stable and neighbourly development of that zone. Even back in the 1990s, the Russian side offered a concept for maintaining security and cooperation in the Persian Gulf zone. Since then, the concept has been updated several times; its updated version was presented last year, and last September we even held an expert discussion of that concept, with the participation of scientists and the expert community of Russia and Persian Gulf states, the Arab states and Iran.
The concept essentially proposes to capitalise on the experience of consultations on security and cooperation in Europe from the time when, during the height of the Cold War, despite the complicated relations between the USSR, the Warsaw Pact and NATO, the understanding of the necessity for coexistence led all countries of the Euro-Atlantic region – which includes Europe, Canada and the US – to get together and develop norms of conduct based on trust; they spelled out special measures of trust and transparency. And so we proposed to use the same principles as the basis for cooperation within the framework of this concept for security in the Persian Gulf. We presented the concept to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and to our Iranian colleagues, and a number of the council members states expressed their readiness to discuss it; some members of that organisation have also proceeded to take additional time to review the concept. We continue to engage in dialogue, and the discussions that were held on the scientific community level obviously helped advance these initiatives.
The problem is that recently, as you know, the US authorities have demonised Iran, which got labelled as the main problem of the region in question, as well as of other regions of the world where Iran gets accused of meddling in local countries’ internal affairs, one way or the other. The United States essentially seeks to set the whole dialogue on Mideastern and North African problems on an anti-Iranian track.
First of all, that is futile, as a reliable and sustainable resolution of problems is possible only through agreements between all parties involved, while the entire current logic of the US policy is set on making Iran the focus of all containment and punishment efforts, with regime change being presented as the only thing that would let the whole region breathe freely.
That is a dead end. The sanctions that are being used in a bid to strangle Iran did not work before and will not work now. Iran has expressed its readiness for dialogue on numerous occasions, and that readiness remains – a readiness for dialogue that cannot be based on ultimatums that the US side periodically brings forth. We will help start such dialogue. Together with the European states and China, we stand for the JCPOA on settling the Iranian nuclear issue, which was approved by the UN Security Council in 2015, and which is now being destroyed by the US, which focuses on their drive to demonise Iran. The discussions in the UNSC continue, with 13 out of 15 of its members opposing the attempts to destroy the JCPOA and to blame Iran for everything that’s been happening.
You’ve mentioned disagreements among the members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, when some time ago, some members of that organisation and our colleagues from Egypt engaged in a conflict with Qatar. We’re ready to offer our services as intermediaries in any conflict, as long as all parties involved request them; so far, we haven’t received such requests.
We maintain good relations with all of the countries, including all members of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf. I know that the US administration is trying to help reconcile the antagonists and is seeking to convince Saudi Arabia and its closest allies to make peace with Qatar. We wish success to all efforts aimed at uniting countries, rather than those aimed at forming dividing lines. We’re ready to provide assistance if, I repeat, we get asked for it, and if all parties involved would be interested in it.
Sputnik: The Russian embassy in Libya resumed its work just a few weeks ago. Do you think it can become a platform for a dialogue between the Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord?
Sergei Lavrov: The Russian embassy is still operating from Tunisia. I hope it will return to Tripoli as soon as some basic security is ensured there. A number of embassies operate there, but the security is very poor; so it was decided that Russian diplomats would work from Tunis. As for Russian mediation between the Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord as Libya’s main rivals, the embassy, of course, maintains contacts with all Libyan parties; but the issue is much broader here, so Moscow is also actively involved in building bridges between the conflicting parties. The Russian Foreign Ministry, as well as the Ministry of Defence, is trying to promote practical steps to agree on a compromise solution that will help resolve the Libyan crisis, which is not easy. Let me remind you that all the problems that Libya is facing go back to 2011, when NATO, in gross violation of UN Security Council resolutions, conducted direct military aggression in Libya to overthrow the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Gaddafi was brutally murdered to the cheers of the then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; that was broadcast live, with some level of pride. That was hideous.
Since then, we, Libya’s neighbours, those who want to restore Libya as a state destroyed by NATO, have been trying to establish some kind of international process. There were a number of attempts: conferences in Paris, Palermo and Abu Dhabi were held; there were the 2015 Skhirat agreements. Over a long period of time, most external players have sought to interact with the political force, on which they seemed to count on. We have opposed such an approach from the very beginning. Given our existing contacts and historical ties, we started working with all Libya’s political forces, be it Tripoli, where the Presidential Council and the Government of National Accord are located, or Tobruk, where the House of Representatives is. The leaders of various groups have visited Russia. We also made efforts to organise personal meetings between Libyan National Army Commander Haftar and Head of the Government of National Accord Sarraj. They visited Moscow earlier this year, before the Berlin conference. It was largely due to the efforts we made together with our Turkish, Egyptian and Arab colleagues, colleagues with whom we’ve managed to draft the proposals that ensured the success of the Berlin Conference, which our German colleagues had been preparing for several months. The Berlin Conference adopted an important declaration, which was then approved by the UN Security Council.
Unfortunately, at that stage little attention was paid to ensuring that the ideas developed by the international community were approved by the Libyan parties. Some of our partners thought that as soon as the international community, represented by the Security Council and the Berlin Conference, made some decisions, the only thing to do would be to persuade the Libyan rivals to agree with them. Today, practice shows that we were right when we warned against such an approach, since everything has come down to the fact that the Libyan parties have failed to fully work out the agreements adopted in Berlin.
Berlin has created a pretty good foundation, but the details have to be finalised today. We’re observing quite positive developments here: both the Head of the Tobruk parliament, Mr. Saleh, and the Head of the Government of National Accord, Mr. Sarraj, spoke for a ceasefire and a stable truce, as well as for resuming the 5+5 format to resolve military issues, and resume negotiations on economic affairs, primarily on the need for a fair solution to the issue of using Libya’s natural resources. Mr. Saleh announced a very important initiative regarding the need to consider the interests of not only Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, but also Fezzan, the southern part of Libya, which often hadn’t been mentioned during previous discussions. Therefore, there are already ideas on the table that have already been tested in contacts between the parties. The Morocco meeting between the Libyan rivals played a key role; now, together with our colleagues, we are still contributing to these common efforts. The other day, consultations with our Turkish colleagues took place in Ankara. We are still working, communicating with both Egypt and Morocco.
I had a phone conversation with my Moroccan and Egyptian counterparts. I also talked to the Italian Foreign Minister, who, for obvious reasons, is also quite interested in promoting the Libyan settlement. I think a very promising outcome has emerged now, and we’ll try to actively support this process and contribute to the [Libyan] settlement. We consider it very important to appoint a Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya as soon as possible, since this appointment has been postponed for more than six months now.
The former Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya resigned in February, and for some reason Antonio Guterres hasn’t yet appointed his successor. There are reasons to believe that some Western states are trying to promote their candidates; but our [Russian] position is simple: it’s necessary that the appointment of Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya be coordinated with the African Union. This is obvious: Libya is an active African Union member, and the African Union is vitally interested in helping solve this problem.
I’ve spoken about the current situation in detail. There are grounds for cautious optimism.