Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Latin American media and RT, Moscow, July 23, 2019
Question: Mr Lavrov, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. Cuba has long been considered a closed-off country, but, for Russia, it opened before and is opening now unlike for any other country. However, the Spanish-language RT channel is part of an open network in many Latin American countries, but not in the friendly nation of Cuba. How important is media presence on the island for Russia? What can be done in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: I wouldn’t say that Cuba was a closed-off country. Europeans and Canadians have long enjoyed vacationing in Cuba and continue to do so. Americans have visited Cuba and, similar to many Russians, enjoyed vacationing there until completely unreasonable bans were introduced.
With regard to the processes that are unfolding in Cuba, we believe that they represent important reforms. A new Constitution has entered into force, economic reforms are under way, the private sector is expanding, and mobile internet is now available.
As far as I know, there is an RT representative in Havana. There may be no daily broadcasting, but news and documentaries run once a week. I believe the company should sit down and talk with our Cuban friends.
I’m convinced that the greater the access to high-quality information that has nothing to do with the fake news now permeating the entire media space, the more interesting it will be and the better people will understand ongoing international processes. I believe that the more actively Russian media work in various countries, all the more so in friendly Cuba, the better it will be for our relations.
Question: What do you think about the US embargo on Cuba? Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which punishes Cuba, is extraterritorial in nature and runs counter to international law, and is now being used more actively.
Sergey Lavrov: This is absolutely unacceptable behaviour. These sanctions have been in effect for almost 60 years now. They are trying to soften them a little, then ratchet them up again.
By using Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the United States has once again showed the world its disregard for international law and that it is trying to enforce its own laws on everyone else extraterritorially. It’s sad. I think this policy has no future.
An overwhelming majority – over 190 states – votes each year for a resolution demanding the lifting of the trade embargo on Cuba. The United States alone or with two or three of its closest allies (which happens very rarely) vote against this resolution.
To reiterate, I see no future for such a policy. I’m convinced that ultimately the United States will realise that this is a dead-end policy. It will be better if the US conducts business the way it is supposed to be conducted with equal states. No one in the world supports this kind of policy.
Question: Will there be talks in Cuba on the situation in Venezuela and ways to resolve the crisis? Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said that half a million Venezuelans had immigrated to his country.
Sergey Lavrov: We know that many Venezuelans have immigrated to Ecuador and other countries.
We have never suspended the dialogue on the situation in Venezuela. We are working hard, talking with all representatives of the Venezuelan political landscape, I mean the government and the opposition, and people representing Juan Guaido are seeking contact with us. We are explaining to them why the attempts to resolve domestic issues by provoking external interference, like the regular threats by the US that we are seeing, are unacceptable: all options are on the table.
The situation in Venezuela seems to be changing for the better. At first there were several initiatives. The so-called International Contact Group, that the European Union was pushing forward, was based on an ultimatum – to urgently hold a presidential election and then everything would be fine. The Montevideo Mechanism – Bolivia, Mexico, Uruguay and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – supported the idea that the government and the opposition should initiate a dialogue and reach an agreement without any preconditions. This position is much more feasible as it complies with international law.
Ultimately, after the botched attempts to trigger, at one go, another of these colour revolutions from abroad the situation has moved to what we call the Oslo process. This process seeks to secure agreements and compromise between the government and the opposition. Common sense is gradually starting to prevail. Positive comments by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and members of the opposition regarding the course of the negotiations allow me to hope that an agreement that will suit everyone can be reached. This will primarily be in the interests of the Venezuelan people.
Question: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said after a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Osaka that he would not like to engage in controversy with his Russian counterpart on the subject of Venezuela, because, in his opinion, the future of the world was decided by nuclear powers and he was unwilling to argue with one of them. To what extent is the situation in Venezuela influencing Russia’s relations with the countries in the region? How could Brazil’s antagonistic position on the Venezuelan issue affect interaction within BRICS?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not think that this is an antagonistic position. Nor do I think that President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil meant what has just been said, namely, that all matters in the world are decided by the nuclear powers alone. This is not so at all. And the developments involving Venezuela are the best confirmation of this claim.
If everything were decided by the nuclear powers, the United States would have long had its way with deposing the legitimate president and the legitimate government in that country. But the situation has proved much more complex. Many countries in the region would not accept any use of force. Even those insisting on President Maduro’s immediate resignation are totally unreceptive to the idea of a military scenario. International law does work after all and enjoys support from the overwhelming majority of countries in the region. I am confident that Brazil is among these countries. There is no doubt that the Brazilians do not want any war over Venezuela, even though they are strongly opposed to the current authorities.
As far as BRICS is concerned, President Bolsonaro went on record as saying immediately after being elected that he would preserve continuity and that he would continue to participate in BRICS. Right now, the Brazilians are making preparations for a summit, which will take place in the autumn. Just a few days from now, Rio de Janeiro will be hosting a BRICS ministerial meeting. We will consider matters that need to be addressed as part of the preparations for the summit. Brazil is very active as the current BRICS chairman: it is holding several dozen events, including many ministerial ones. I have no reasons to believe that Brazil will review its fundamental approaches in favour of preserving and developing BRICS, which will reflect, by this virtue, the multipolar world realities. These realities, incidentally, manifest themselves not only in the BRICS format but also in the G20 format, a key years-long mechanism dealing with international economic and financial issues. The West – all on its own and without BRICS and BRICS+ countries holding positions similar to ours – can no longer tackle any world-scale economic and financial matters.
What our US colleagues are attempting to achieve now by extending their unilateral sanctions to all participants in the international relations and thus seeking to gain momentary advantages cannot last long. They are doing themselves more harm than good because the dollar and confidence in the dollar have declined sharply. When a leading world economy is abusing its status so rudely and attempting to punish all others in order to unfairly obtain competitive advantages, this will eventually play a dirty trick on the Americans.
Question: Russia is upholding the idea of a fair multipolar world, which runs against the US policy of global hegemony. The examples include Cuba, Venezuela and Syria. What could Russia do in this situation?
Sergey Lavrov: We discussed this just now. It is a multifaceted world. There is a growing number of impressive examples of rising economies: China and India are growing exponentially in the economy, creating new centres of economic and financial influence that also earn them political clout. It would be unwise and useless to ignore this fact. True, unilateral sanctions, tough ultimatums and the exterritorial application of national laws can produce an effect that would last several years. But there is no doubt whatsoever that in the long run the United States will have to accept the fact that global economic development is impossible without agreements, fair decisions and respect for the rules, which must be the same for everyone.
I am confident that BRICS and G20 are working in line with this historical trend and that we are “on the right side of history,” as our American colleagues love to say. At present, they are not quite on the right side though.
Question: You have mentioned the embargo against Cuba and noted that it is a dead-end policy. President Vladimir Putin said several days ago that there would be no sanctions against Georgia. Could this be an exceptional example that will encourage the United States to change its attitude toward the embargo?
Sergey Lavrov: We never tried to aggravate our relations with Georgia. It was the Georgian authorities led by Mikheil Saakashvili who severed our diplomatic relations and did their utmost to curtail our economic ties. But economic interests ultimately prevailed. Georgian producers remember how close our trade and investment relations were. Mutual trade has resumed now, and I don’t think anyone feels uncomfortable about this.
This happens because our Western colleagues, above all the United States, are doing everything within their power to tear our neighbours away from Russia. You may remember that in 2008, when President Saakashvili completely lost touch with reality, he decided to use armed force to settle all his problems with South Ossetia and subsequently Abkhazia, ignoring numerous warnings, including those made by President Putin. Dozens of American instructors trained the Georgian special operations forces and other units. The order to seize South Ossetia was a criminal decision per se. Everyone is aware of this. He [Saakashvili] attacked his own citizens as well as the peacekeepers, some of whom were Russian nationals. The Tagliavini Report commissioned by the European Union came to a clear conclusion that it was Saakashvili who started the war. As I said, we have no negative feelings or prejudice against the Georgian people. On the contrary, we have lived together for centuries and respect each other’s culture and customs.
I cannot say if the United States will draw any conclusion from President Putin’s refusal to impose sanctions on Georgia. The United States is a specific country with its own traditions, most of them great-power ones. I regret to say this, because I am confident that if the United States adopted a level-headed policy of mutual respect in relations with all of its partners, including Russia, China, the EU or any other country, we would find much more effective and reliable solutions to global problems.
We maintain dialogue with Washington, trying to explain our position on various international developments. The recent meeting between President Putin and President Trump in Osaka showed that the US president is willing, by and large, to look for mutually acceptable solutions. Time will show if this willingness is translated into action by the foot soldiers.
Question: You are planning to visit Cuba, and we know that Russia and Cuba have been seeking to strengthen their strategic relations. What topics do you intend to discuss with the country’s senior officials?
Sergey Lavrov: It is always a great pleasure for me to visit Cuba. I strongly believe that we will have useful talks with the Cuban leadership, as we always do, and will discuss our relations in all their aspects. We share substantial and multifaceted economic, cultural, humanitarian and foreign policy ties.
We will pay special attention to the question of how we can promote the principles of justice and international law in today’s world. An informal working group has taken shape in New York in connection with the developments in Venezuela to support the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. This group includes Cuba, Russia and a number of other countries. As part of our joint efforts to stand up for the principles of international law we have held recently a workshop on unilateral sanctions at the UN Vienna office. Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China and many other countries proactively contributed to this event. The extent to which our joint efforts are successful will depend on our persistence in demonstrating our principled position on all international matters.
Question: The United States has been expanding its military cooperation with a number of countries, for example, Ecuador. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has recently visited this country. There were statements on intentions to increase the number of US troops near the Islamic Republic of Iran. What do you think about these steps?
Sergey Lavrov: Ramping up military presence has never facilitated steady development in any region. There is nothing to add to what has already been said on the developments in and around Iran. An agreement was reached in 2015, unanimously praised as the highest achievement in today’s diplomacy. It was approved by a UN Security Council resolution that is binding for everyone. But then the United States decided that the agreement did not suit it anymore because it was negotiated by the preceding administration. This stance results to some extent from the domestic political infighting and tensions between Democrats and Republicans. Nevertheless, the US firmly refused to abide by this UN Security Council resolution, and did not stop at that. The US went as far as prohibit all other countries to execute this resolution. This is a paradox that would have been funny if it had not been so serious. A number of hotheads in Washington are eager to resolve the Iranian problem by military means. We do not believe that President Donald Trump has this attitude. I have a feeling that he does not share these views. Unfortunately, many US politicians are still exploring this option. It is my belief that this would be an extremely dangerous development. This region has suffered from Washington’s reckless policies on multiple occasions, for example in Iraq and Libya. After that the so-called coalition wanted to reproduce what had happened in Iraq and Libya in Syria. Fortunately, together with our Turkish and Iranian colleagues we have been able to avert this, and are making progress on the way to a political settlement.
I strongly believe that Iran must be part of a solution to the challenges the region is facing instead of being viewed as the main culprit of what is happening there. For more than 10 years now we have been saying that the Gulf countries, including both Arab countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran, must agree on measures to build confidence and ensure military transparency with the support of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. I also believe that there is no getting away from this. Presenting Iran as the main culprit of what is happening in Syria, on Palestinian territories, in Yemen and in neighbouring countries is tantamount to a confrontational policy which will not help to solve the existing problems. I have no doubt that Iran has to be part of the dialogue, and we have been discussing this with our US and Israeli colleagues. I also believe without any doubt that our efforts to promote this position will gather momentum, since more and more countries come to realise that scenarios of rogue military aggression lead nowhere.
Question: Is there a threat of the US expanding its military footprint in Latin America?
Sergey Lavrov: We were surprised by statements coming from US officials that the Monroe Doctrine is alive. When the US adopted its aggressive stance on Venezuela, it was said that it would not stop there, and will be followed by Cuba and Nicaragua. This position is utterly arrogant. Hearing such things is very rare in today’s world. But the statement whereby the Monroe Doctrine is still alive is a fact. We have heard statements to this effect from John Bolton, the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.
It is also my belief that this will never bring glory to US foreign policy. Even those of the Latin American countries who supported the United States in pursuing regime change in Venezuela will never agree to a military scenario. If at the end of the day someone in Washington actually decides to use force, I have no doubt that Latin America in its entirety will oppose this move. The countries in this region have long believed that unconstitutional regime change is unacceptable. This is one of the core principles for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. I think that Latin American countries have a sense of dignity and justice. With all this in mind, we hope that peaceful solutions and ways out of this crisis in Venezuela or elsewhere will be found.