15 September 202114:10

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions following the joint meeting of CSTO Foreign Ministers Council, Defence Ministers Council and Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils, Dushanbe, September 15, 2021

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Question: The Baltic countries and Poland overreacted to the Zapad 2021 military exercise, calling on the EU and NATO to condemn these manoeuvres with one voice. However, we remember that only recently, NATO countries held large-scale exercises along the western borders of Belarus and Russia, and some even called these drills unprecedented in terms of their scale. During these exercises, they openly portrayed Russia as an aggressor and made no secret of this. So who is actually creating the threats and unneeded hotbeds of tension?

In addition, the Baltic states and Poland accused Belarus of waging hybrid warfare, alleging that Minsk is using the migrant issue to its advantage. What do you think about these accusations?

Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the military exercises carried out by the armed forces of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, on the one side, and NATO, on the other, the picture is absolutely clear.

The size of the armed forces was set forth some time ago in a document called the Russia-NATO Founding Act. This instrument stipulates that there can be no additional permanent stationing of substantial armed forces in new NATO member states during peacetime. This principle has long been violated in two ways. First, the West has squarely refused to come to an agreement on what substantial armed forces means. We believe that an armed brigade fits this definition. In fact, how can anyone claim that a brigade does not present a substantial combat force? The second ruse employed by the West was to ensure the permanent deployment of troops in the Baltics on a rotational basis, with Canadians, Germans and the British coming for several months, and then rotating back. In reality, this is a direct violation of the Founding Act. Consequently, NATO has long deployed its military infrastructure and activity in new member states and approached the borders of the Union State of Belarus and the Russian Federation.

We hold exercises on our territory, while legends guiding exercises in new NATO states consist of unleashing aggression against the Russian Federation, including with the participation of overseas powers. At the same time, we are operating on our own territory. Our Western colleagues have upended the status quo established by the Russia-NATO Act in 1997. Today, they are trying to persuade us to update the Vienna Document on military transparency in order to make it even more intrusive. However, the Vienna Document reflects the balance of power between the Russian Federation and NATO on the European continent as of the time of its signing, and we are abiding by its 2011 version. The procedures set forth in this document reflect this balance of power.

The West is now trying to introduce tighter inspections. We do not want to accommodate these demands because the West has radically shifted this balance. The situation on the ground has changed in important ways. If they want to improve the Vienna Document, we propose reverting to our respective positions in the late 1990s. This is how we can be transparent in our confidence-building measures.

The West rejects our arguments, believes that it has the right to do what it pleases no matter what. A couple of years ago, Russia’s General Staff reached out to NATO with an official proposal to carry out a series of confidence building measures, including to agree on both NATO and us respecting a certain distance from the line of contact when holding military exercises. They squarely refused to agree on any such measures, just as they are unwilling to agree on the distance between our respective aircraft and ships. There is no lack of good will on our part, but NATO has been placing proposals of this kind on the back burner for the past two years. They firmly reject any military-to-military contacts that were suspended as a sort of a “punishment” for what happened in Ukraine and Crimea. We are ready to engage in a conversation as long as it is professional rather than emotional and bordering on hysteria.

We know where the migrants are coming from. They are arriving from Afghanistan and Iraq, the countries that our Western colleagues “stirred up.” Today, they are speaking out, calling what Belarus is doing “hybrid warfare” or using other terms.

If illegal migration is such a concern for the West, it needs to calm down. Let me remind you that illegal migration first emerged as an urgent issue after NATO bombed Libya and destroyed Libyan statehood. From one of the most stable and prosperous countries, from a social perspective, Libya turned into a “black hole,”  serving as a conduit for terrorists, as well as arms and drug trafficking to Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, it is through Libya that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups penetrated Sub-Saharan Africa and Sahel, and their offshoots are still operating there, terrifying people.

At the same time, illegal migrants headed north through Libyan territory, now in ruins. When the European Union understood that this burden was too heavy for it to bear, it started calling on others to share the responsibility for these migrants. However, we have no intention of sharing any responsibility, since not only did we not support their action but we also condemned them. The West must understand that if it continues with its gambles like in Iraq and Libya or persists with other actions that have not yielded any positive results after 20 years of NATO’s presence in Afghanistan and have done nothing to ease tension, people will keep fleeing places that the West has sought to “make happy” through its “democratic mission.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken once again tried to put a good face on what happened in Afghanistan by saying that the Afghans were unable to counter threats effectively, their armed forces were incapable of doing this, and the government lacked the will to do it. This means that for all these 20 years the United States has trained the military and shaped the government in such a way that they do not know how to perform their duties.

Question: Afghanistan has an observer status in the SCO. But no one has come to the summit from that country. Haven’t they been invited? Or have the new authorities failed to send a representative? 

You said recently that Russia’s recognition of Afghanistan’s new authorities would be contingent on how they kept their promises. What promises do you mean? Do you think they are eager to keep them? 

Sergey Lavrov: Afghanistan is an SCO observer. Observers are always invited to SCO summits. It was the case this time too. Former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani received an invitation in good time to the event that will take place in Dushanbe tomorrow. When Mr Ghani fled from his country, deciding to leave his post in order, as he explained it, to “avoid bloodshed,” the situation in Afghanistan underwent a change. The Taliban have not yet been officially recognised by a single country.  Everyone is saying that contacts should be maintained with them on current issues, primarily security, respect for citizens’ rights, and the normal functioning of diplomatic missions.  But no one is in a hurry to grant them an official recognition.

We are imposing no conditions on the Taliban. They have proclaimed their goals, including a commitment to the further struggle against terrorism and drug trafficking.  They have assured all others that they will do their best to prevent Afghanistan from posing any threats to neighbouring countries, that they have no intention of destabilising neighbouring states, and that they will form an inclusive government reflecting the entire spectrum of Afghan society and a political, ethnic and religious balance.

Like the overwhelming majority of world countries, we have welcomed this approach. Right now, we are watching how it will be put into practice. It is still too early to draw any final conclusions. At this stage, we are maintaining contacts with them on current issues, including on the removal of any risks for our Central Asian neighbours.

Question: The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been completed and documents have been submitted to the regulator. Currently, the German side is engaged in verification. Can countries that are disconcerted about the pipeline undermine the project at this stage? Do you see such attempts? Or is it now definitely impossible to stop it?  

Sergey Lavrov: A lot has been said about this pipeline. It is absolutely incomprehensible why so much criticism has been levelled against it. Moreover, most of it is coming from the United States, which contends that Nord Stream 2 will undermine Europe’s energy security, although European companies, primarily German ones, are actively involved in the project and the German government has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to it.

Our Ukrainian “friends” are constantly trying to bring this subject to the level of hysteria. It is their habit and principle to invariably beg the West for something. They believe Nord Stream 2 must be stopped.  If this fails, they should be compensated financially.  They suggest signing an agreement to the effect that if the Russians “do” something with Nord Stream 2 when it is operative, they need to respond in some way. They are requesting that they be allowed to join NATO and the EU. They say they have been ready for this for a long time and there is no need to make political excuses.  They are endlessly nagging and nagging. To my mind, a country should have dignity. Given its rich history, the Ukrainian nation deserves to be a creator, not a beggar with cap in hand.

The work on Nord Stream 2 is complete. A process is under way to obtain the necessary permissions from the German regulator. Under German law, this is not a rapid process, taking four months. The start of operations is scheduled for 2022.  I have no doubt that the attempts to attack this pipeline will continue. Its most zealous assailants are the aggressive minority – the Baltic states, Poland (for understandable reasons) and a few EU countries guided by their anti-Russian motives. I have once again become convinced that they are trying to adjust the entire EU policy to the views, tastes and manners of this Russophobic minority. Recently, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, declared that the EU should talk to Russia with one voice, that Russia wants to speak with individual member states rather than the European Union, and that the EU must compel the member states to demand that Russia communicate solely with the EU [as a whole]. This is an absolutely astonishing specimen of logic because it was the EU and not Russia that destroyed the entire architecture of relations that had existed between Brussels and Moscow – summits, meetings of heads of governments, almost twenty sectoral dialogues, four roadmaps on forming four common spaces, a visa-free dialogue, and much else. The EU has ruined everything.

In a situation where the EU is unwilling to restore anything, we will not sit on the fence and wait for some of them to change their “tastes.” We will contact those who are ready for this. If one follows this logic, if one analyses it (no one should deal with Russia unless through the EU), this could be a hint that some people in Brussels would like to impose the Nord Stream 2 policy pursued by the aggressive minority on all others. We will wait and see.  

Question: Not so long ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, who was given evidence of US meddling in the Russian elections. What specific facts have been presented? Has there been any diplomatic reaction? Has this meddling stopped?

Sergey Lavrov: I will not dwell on these facts. They concern the refusal by a number of Western internet platforms to remove forbidden content.  The concrete facts have been submitted to the US Ambassador. He promised to check this information, though adding that they had no data on anyone breaching Russian law. We have passed the data to him, and this data is rather serious. We are expecting a reply from our US colleagues as to why this has happened. At a certain point, the Americans declared that the internet companies and resources are independent and do not take orders from the government. But they must obey the laws of the Russian Federation. We have reasons to believe that the US government is not entirely helpless in this specific matter.

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