Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Italian news agency AGI, November 22, 2018
Question: How would you assess Russia-Italy relations? What are your expectations of Italy in light of EU’s sanctions against Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: Our relations with Italy have traditionally been constructive and multifaceted. They are on the rise now. Our cooperation has been given an additional impetus at the top-level talks held in Moscow in October.
Russia and Italy maintain close ties in trade, the economy, energy, research, culture and the humanitarian sphere. Despite the anti-Russia sanctions campaign launched by Brussels, some 500 Italian companies and banking organisations continue to work in Russia. We are providing whatever help we can to them. For example, on October 24, Vladimir Putin and Giuseppe Conte had a highly constructive meeting in Moscow with the heads of Italy’s largest companies such as Enel, Pirelli, Maire Tecnimont, SNAM and ANAS, following which the sides signed a large package of B2B agreements. Their practical implementation is on the agenda now.
We appreciate that our Italian partners have not curtailed their cooperation with Russia despite a very complicated situation in Europe. This principled position objectively helps maintain trust and improve the situation on the continent we share.
Question: What is the importance of the Mediterranean region for Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: The Mediterranean has a special place in Russia’s foreign policy due to Russia’s traditionally close ties with a number of countries in the region and the existence of numerous seats of tension there such as Syria, Libya and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Because of the short-sighted actions to replace undesirable governments and impose alien development scenarios on the regional countries, a large part of southern Mediterranean has turned into a hotbed of terrorism and illegal migration. This is a serious security threat to the international community, including Russia.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia is working together with the other regional players to find effective solutions to regional problems. In particular, terrorism has been defeated in Syria thanks to our military and diplomats. Syria is rebuilding peaceful life and creating conditions for the return of refugees to their homes. It is a highly relevant and important issue for Italy, which has been virtually flooded by migrants. We urge Rome and our other Western partners to join the infrastructure restoration process in Syria more actively and without setting any preconditions.
We are firmly committed to building up international cooperation in the Mediterranean based on the values of partnership, respect for each other’s interests, collective search for responses to common challenges, as well as the settlement of disputes by political and diplomatic means. We see this as a guarantee of sustainable development, well-being and prosperity of all countries in the region without exception.
Question: What are Russia’s priorities in energy cooperation with Italy? What might be the consequences of the likely suspension of Ukraine gas transit after 2019?
Sergey Lavrov: Energy is a strategic area of our versatile cooperation. President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte discussed this topic in detail during their talks on October 24. Russia remains a major supplier of natural gas to Italy, providing about 35 per cent of Italy’s gas needs.
The Italian business community has a stake in joining Europe-bound gas delivery projects. Saipem is involved in the Nord Stream-2 project. Opportunities for enlisting Italian companies to build gas transport infrastructure as part of the southern route of Russian gas deliveries to European countries are being studied at the corporate level.
The agreement on the transit of Russian natural gas via Ukraine is due to expire next year. President Vladimir Putin has instructed the Ministry of Energy and Gazprom to study possibilities for its extension. In September and October of this year, Brussels hosted consultations of Russian, Ukrainian and EU experts. In this context, I would like to stress that Russia did not say that it would discontinue gas transit through Ukraine after 2019. But the amount and terms of transit should be agreed at relevant talks on the pragmatic and market basis.Question: What are you doing to help settle the conflict in Libya? Are you cooperating with Italy in this respect? Do you plan to create Russian military bases in Libya similar to the ones you have in Syria?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia has been actively contributing to the UN-led efforts to launch an intra-Libyan political process since the start of the conflict, so as to put an end to civil discord there. Our goal is to help the Libyans overcome their differences and reach firm agreements on the parameters of national reconciliation. At the same time, we firmly believe that foreign interference in the Libyan conflict, let alone a military intervention, is absolutely unacceptable.
We welcome the steps taken by various international and regional sponsors of a settlement in Libya, including Italy, with which we maintain close contacts on the Libyan subject. We have supported the initiative advanced by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to convene the International Conference on Libya in Palermo on November 12-13, where Russia was represented by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia is not taking sides in the internal Libyan conflict. We believe that Libya’s future must be determined by the Libyans themselves. We are convinced that there is no alternative to an inclusive intra-Libyan dialogue and that the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat in December 2015, even though not perfect, provides the only realistic basis for giving a future-bound push to the country. Our work on this track proceeds in this spirit and the belief that there is no alternative to preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya.
This is what the parties discussed with Chairman of the Presidential Council and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez al-Sarraj and head of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar on the sidelines of the Palermo conference.
In light of this, any parallel with Syria are untenable. The Russian military are present in Syria in full compliance with international law at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian authorities. Libya has to regain its statehood first.
Question: What are the forecasts for the developments in the United States, considering the November 6 mid-term election results, and the prospects for establishing real partnership with Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: We are certainly following the developments in the United States, since they have a direct impact on that country’s foreign policy, which in turn affects the general background for our bilateral relations. The results of the November 6 congressional elections did not come as a surprise. Their results seem to reflect the complex differently vectored processes underway in American society. I do not consider it appropriate to comment in more detail. We are talking about the internal affairs of a sovereign state. We do not interfere in those on principle, even though we are being regularly and unreasonably accused of this.
I will only say that Moscow remains committed to establishing normal constructive relations with Washington. However, at this stage, they still remain hostage to the rivalry among the American political elites, who hardly ever stop short of playing the “Russian card” for their own purposes, including electoral ones. At their prodding, the media are cultivating distrust of our country and fueling anti-Russia sentiments. I am not even talking about the ever-expanding bans on cooperation with Russia. This obsession with anti-Russian sanctions has become paranoid in the United States.
As a result, the foundation for our relations built in the preceding decades and severely destroyed during Barack Obama’s government, continues to erode. The huge cooperation potential remains unused, which hampers the resolution of many pressing issues on the bilateral and also on the international agenda.
Meanwhile, Russia and the United States, in possession of the world’s largest nuclear potentials, have a special responsibility for upholding global security. Therefore, the US leadership’s striving to reshape – and in fact to eliminate – the existing international arms limitation regime makes us perplexed and concerned.
In October, President Donald Trump, in an effort to secure greater license for the US in projecting military power, announced his intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty. There are others in the US political establishment who are also questioning the extension of the New START Treaty expiring in 2021. We consider these policies short-sighted and dangerous. The revival of the “peace based on mutual assured destruction” philosophy does not meet the realities of the 21st century. Will the US’s (and NATO’s) and Russia’s security increase if we start looking at each other through a nuclear barrel sight again?
Meanwhile, the number of threats and challenges that require our countries to work together – from terrorism to regional crises and climate issues – is not decreasing.
I repeat: Moscow is open to building a mutually beneficial partnership with Washington. However, it should be based on the principles of mutual respect and consideration of interests. So far, we do not see this understanding from our American partners. Nevertheless, we hope that common sense will prevail in Washington in the end. This would benefit the interests of not only the people of Russia and the United States, but also the entire world community.
Question: What are the chances that the highly probable victory of populist forces in the European Parliament election in 2019 will contribute to building a more constructive cooperation between Russia and EU countries?
Sergey Lavrov: The outcome of the May 2019 European Parliament election will reflect an expression of the European voters’ will. It is for them to decide which political forces to vote for. We do not interfere in these processes.
Unfortunately, the current European Parliament for the most part takes a very negative stance in regard to our country. Full-format inter-parliamentary cooperation has been frozen (meetings of the Russia-EU Parliamentary Cooperation Committee have not been held since January 2014). The European Parliament organises numerous anti-Russia events and regularly adopts resolutions replicating absurd anti-Russia accusations.
I would like to hope that the newly-elected European Parliament will reflect the fundamental interests of the European voters. It is my understanding that they should primarily seek genuine good-neighbourliness in our common European home.