Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Italian media, Moscow, December 9, 2015
Question: Mr Lavrov, let’s begin with the key issue. Is it possible to create a broad front against the terrorist organisations that are operating in Syria and Iraq, which President Vladimir Putin has recently proposed? The so-called “Bashar al-Assad Problem” appears to remain one of the main obstacles. Has there been any progress in attaining this goal?
Sergey Lavrov: As you said, the Russian President has been advocating this initiative for a relatively long time. He spoke about it at the UN General Assembly in late September and during his annual address to the Federal Assembly. We believe that the idea is quite realistic. After all, World War II saw several nations unite against an absolute evil, Nazism, and defeat it, forgetting about their differences, including ideological ones, which divided the Soviet Union and the West then, unlike the current period. But they set aside all these differences as being of secondary importance and without existential value. Their main goal was to prevent Nazis and their man-hating ideologies from conquering the world. Today, these man-hating ideals are advocated by ISIS. We must prevent it from developing into a state and dispel the illusion it entertains that it can associate itself with Islam. ISIS is an absolute enemy of humankind and must be regarded as such. We believe that it’s possible to unite against this evil. Serious forces in nearly all leading countries of Europe, Euro-Atlantic and the [Middle Eastern] region agree on the need to root out this evil. The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution that identifies ISIS, al-Qaida and Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist network that must be destroyed.
Russian experts are working jointly with their American colleagues in New York on an all-encompassing or omnibus resolution on counter-terrorism, which will highlight the importance of reviewing the previous decisions taken and ensuring their implementation. The UN Security Council resolution that Russia initiated early this year condemned any trade with and the provision of economic resources to ISIS and stipulated that regular status reports on compliance with this resolution be issued. However, the member states have not provided such reports, and there is a growing amount of factual information about such trade, including information provided by our sources, US sources, and the sources of other members of the US-led coalition.
I’d like to say that a truly broad and united counter-terrorist front is only possible if based on international law. In light of this, the lack of legitimacy with regard to operations in Syria is a major drawback of the US-led coalition. There is an agreement with Iraq, which has approved, and has even asked the coalition to help it destroy terrorists in its sovereign territory. I am convinced that the same policy should have been applied to relations with Syria. There are grounds to assume that the Syrian government would have cooperated with our Western partners had they done this. Unfortunately, so far only Russia is making air raids in Syria legitimately. At the same time, Syria has said more than once that it would consider those who cooperate with Russia as partners of the Syrian government and army. I believe that we should focus on creating this complicated but more or less legitimate system. This issue has been discussed with French President Francois Hollande during his visit to Russia. President Vladimir Putin also discussed it with US President Barack Obama at their meetings in New York, Antalya and Paris. This system underlies our cooperation with the regional countries. We have created an Information and Coordination Centre in Baghdad where the militaries from Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria are working, and an Information Centre in Amman, Jordan, which can be used as a liaison for interaction and, ideally, coordination between Russia and the US-led coalition, because there are US troops in Jordan.
As you said, our partners condition the mobilisation of counter-terrorism potential on the resignation of Bashar al-Assad. There has been a minor change, however. They no longer insist that he leave immediately, but have agreed that he can participate in the political transition. Yet they want to see a deadline in terms of how long he can implement his presidential powers. As President Putin stated about these ideas several times, we consider this approach unviable and contrary to international law and the principles of democracy. We must act on the basis of documents that recognise Syrians’ right to decide the future of their country, which all of us signed in the framework of the Vienna process, where Russia is cooperating with its partners, including Italy.
The regular argument of our partners, including the United States, is that the majority of Syrians are Sunni and don’t accept al-Assad because he represents a minority. This argument appears to be a poor attempt at playing the religious card in the Syrian conflict and to present the situation as if the US-led coalition is supporting the majority (Sunnis), while Russia is supporting the minority; that is, members of the Alawite sect of Islam.
First, this argument is unethical and, second, it is politically dangerous. Russia was the first country to point out that any actions that can whip up the tensions in the Muslim world, strong as they are, must be avoided. We believe that a lasting, stable peace can be only brought about by encouraging Muslims to unite and overcome their religious differences. This is why we told our Western partners after we created a legal framework with the Syrian government for our air operations in Syria: “Let’s coordinate our targets and share information on the deployment of the groups that both of us identify as terrorist, and let’s talk with opposition forces that don’t share terrorist principles and ideals and can be regarded as healthy patriotic forces.” Our partners only grudgingly agree to such contacts. So far, we have only agreed to coordinate procedures to avoid incidents. If they continue to insist that the “Bashar al-Assad Problem” is hindering the creation of a truly comprehensive counter-terrorism coalition, we will have to conclude that they are indirectly contributing to the preservation of conditions for ISIS’s expansion.
We have noticed that the US-led coalition stepped up its fight against ISIS only after Russia dispatched a combat air group and auxiliary personnel to Syria upon the request of the Syrian government. The coalition efforts undertaken in Syria earlier could be described as odd, to say the least. It can report some achievements, for example, preventing ISIS from seizing towns in Iraq. But overall, in over a year since August 2014, when the United States created the coalition, ISIS has expanded the territory under its control, where it has established inhuman, even criminal rules. This brings to mind NATO’s operations in Afghanistan, where the heroin production increased tenfold during the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) 10-year deployment. And then they announced the successful conclusion of the Afghan mission and pulled out the bulk of their troops. However, the heroin threat to Russia, Central Asia and Europe has increased palpably.
We don’t want the fight against the real causes behind common threats and challenges, which Russia and Italy also face, to be feigned.
This is why we must abandon double standards and stop insisting on preliminary conditions. If some members of the US-led coalition have a personal dislike for President al-Assad, they should make these personal reasons subordinate to the priority reason – to fight the terrorists who have caused real harm and killed Russians, Europeans, Americans and citizens of regional and African countries. The so-called international community in the form of various US-led coalitions has tried to settle global issues by liquidating a specific person. This was done in Iraq, and look at what happened to Iraq. This was done in Libya and we all know that the country is falling apart, with dire efforts made to avoid worse becoming worst.
In conclusion I’d like to say that a coalition can be created if our partners don’t link this task of global importance to their striving for unilateral geopolitical gains.
Question: In connection with your visit to Italy, I’d like to ask whether you’ll attend the Conference on Libya? Libya is close to Italy and has become a major problem for us. It’s rumored that al-Baghdadi is in Libya. What’s the role of Russia and Italy in this matter?
Sergey Lavrov: We understand how important the Libya problem is for Italy. I mean its geographical proximity and the historical ties. We understand and are prepared to help with the Libya issue. President Vladimir Putin has said as much during his meetings with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. They have met five times, I believe, since last October and the meetings are always held in a good atmosphere of mutual understanding.
I often talk with my partners, including those in American and Europe. When they attempt to persuade us that they are right in their approach to Syria, I remind them about Libya and suggest they stop being obsessed with regime change as a panacea. It was publicly announced that democracy had triumphed in Libya and that this was an offshoot of the Arab Spring. My Western partners say we shouldn’t look back. They admit that a mistake was made in Libya, and a mistake with regard to what wasn’t done rather than what was done. They say they should have sent in an occupation force and started organizing the country right after the deposition of Muammar Gaddafi (and his absolutely disgusting on-camera execution carried out to the approving shouts of spectators, including those on the other side of the ocean). I don’t think this scenario, first, should have been followed, or, second, should be emulated at all. For now we have a situation inherited from the absolutely adventurist and irresponsible policy that was conducted by the North Atlantic Alliance. Certain countries, our French colleagues, and our colleagues from Qatar publicly declared on the air that despite the UN Security Council’s embargo on any arms supplies to Libya, they had supplied weapons to Muammar Gaddafi’s opponents. Later the French had to fight the people they had armed, this time in Mali, and went to the UN Security Council for support against the terrorists who had invaded northern Mali, including huge forces from Libya, armed with the weapons that had been supplied to Libya to topple the regime. Everything is interconnected. We have a saying: “Don't do unto others what you wouldn't want done unto you.” It’s appropriate in this case. I’m sure that most languages have a similar proverb.
So what should be done now? Yes, there is a government and a parliament in Tobruk that the UN has recognised as legitimate. There is a government and a parliament (National Council) in Tripoli, which are not recognised by the international community. But the international community, the UN Security Council, is supporting the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is trying to bring about an understanding between these two power centres in Libya. But unfortunately, these are not the only centres of power; there are quite a few other groups that don’t answer to either Tobruk, or Tripoli. One of these groups still holds several Russian nationals in captivity. We managed to free some of them 18 months ago. Now we’re working to achieve the same for several other Russians citizens. But in addition to local militias that consist of Libyan citizens, ISIS groups have indeed been growing there. I don’t know if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is really there. But we hear things and everyone says that ISIS is planning to use Sirte as its other capital in addition to Raqqa in Syria and this is, of course, alarming to hear.
ISIS has to prove by its activities that it is a success. Success can be proved in practice by the fact that a caliphate is being created and expanded. This is why the meeting on Libya suggested by Italy, the US, and the UN is, of course, important and we will certainly attend it. I know that many countries will participate at the level of deputy minister or minister of regional affairs. But regardless of the meeting’s results, it won’t solve all the problems. The current UN plan calls for an agreement between Tobruk and Tripoli on what is actually national unity, but the speakers of the parliaments in Tobruk and Tripoli don’t agree on this scheme of course, each believing that it should have more. The plan, as far as I know, would ignore the parliament speakers, given they hold diametrically opposite radical views and to have MPs both in Tobruk and Tripoli form groups of likeminded representatives who support national reconciliation. If this works – and we’ll try to promote the efforts – then thank God. But ignoring the officials elected in the two rival capitals is also risky.
I won’t go into further detail, but I’m confident that we should step up our efforts to restore a united Libya and prevent the terrorist structure from entrenching itself on its territory. But this needs to be done in a consistent way without trying to put things in order in Libya, say, by Christmas. This won’t achieve anything. It’s very painstaking work. Perhaps we don’t need to repeat every case in which NATO can be blamed for all this. But we must remember what unilateral adventures eventually lead to. We won’t see any success in Libya or in other places, if each time we say: “It didn’t work there, but here we’ll remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and everything will be OK.”
Question: Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that Turkey’s actions regarding the downed warplane are a stab in the back. What does this mean? Was this a military provocation and a trap that Russia avoided?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe the answer is yes, this is our assessment based on the facts, rather than emotions. As far as I remember, they started making statements that they didn’t know it was a Russian plane after the fact. At first, when the media reported that the plane had been shot down, Turkish television showed the plane’s entire route from Hmeimim air base in Syria and, it seems to me, even the flight path. Reporters and camera crews were stationed nearby to film the events. These online videos were later removed, and they started saying that they didn’t know what plane it was, and that, had they known, they would have acted differently. Two hours later, they said they would act exactly the same way if the situation came up again. It’s just confusion.
To me, this shows the absolutely incompetent actions of those who issued the order. Of course, this is doubtless a stab in the back. Indeed, when Russian planes started operating over Syrian territory, one of our planes entered Turkish air space for a few seconds on October 3. Turkey lodged a protest, and we apologised for this absolutely insignificant intrusion that (and the Turks knew this perfectly well) did not mean in any way that we were planning any hostile actions against Turkey. President Putin personally spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Three years ago, the Syrians downed a Turkish plane and Turkish President Erdogan said an intrusion into their air space for a few seconds should not be considered a violation of international law, and that this was not a pretext for using weapons. Today, Turkey itself is being harshly criticized for deploying military units in Iraq under an alleged agreement on training the Kurds. But Baghdad is refuting these agreements. Most importantly, Turkish armoured units have been seen in areas where the Turks have never held any exercises with anyone, rather than in Kurdish regions. But listen to what the very same Turkish authorities that have insisted on the legitimacy of this hostile action are saying. They are saying that they respect the territorial integrity of Iraq, and that all their actions in Iraq are to guarantee and strengthen its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is the only explanation. The very same people are saying that, in their estimation, 17 seconds (even if we assume that this is the figure) is enough to down a Russian plane.
As President Putin noted again yesterday, we used to see Turkey and its people as our partners, our neighbours, and our allies during these anti-terrorist operations. To be honest, we of course, have known for quite a while that Turkish territory was being used for commercial operations with ISIS and for sending weapons and terrorists to Syria, for treating and accommodating extremists and militants and preparing them for combat in Syria and other regions including the North Caucasus. We quietly discussed these issues with our Turkish colleagues, without accusing them of anything, and we suggested actively cooperating with them in order to expose and subdue all those using Turkish territory for these purposes. We never tried to publicly voice our rejection of specific Turkish processes even once, and we didn’t make even a single remark in this context. We never had any reason to believe that Turkish authorities were supporting this line. To be more exact, we didn’t want to believe it. We strove to address these problems via special closed channels, but this didn’t work. Moreover, after deciding to shoot down our plane, Turkish authorities have shown that, basically, they are supporting terrorists, regardless of the motives.
We remain unconvinced by the permanent incantations that Russia is supposedly hitting the wrong targets in Syria. We do need to reach a consensus on specific terrorist organisations. We have our own list based on UN lists and on Russian intelligence lists. Those using terrorist tactics cannot but be viewed as terrorists, and we need to fight them.
Referring to the first question about the lineup of the coalition, I’d like to say that, first of all, it should comprise ground forces with air support. By pooling the potential of the US-led coalition and the Russian Federation, we would have enough air power. I’m confident that the ISIS problem can be solved rather quickly by establishing effective cooperation with ground forces. ISIS lacks virtually any modern weapons. Ground forces would include the Syrian army, first of all. Even the US admits this. But for some reason, they are telling us that they are ready to cooperate with the Syrian army, but that Bashar al-Assad and all the main commanders should resign. I’m at a loss to say how, in their opinion, this can be accomplished. This is an ideologised, rather than a professional military approach to the task: They are ready to cooperate with another commander-in-chief. And what if the army of another commander-in-chief scatters in all directions? The Kurdish militias being supported, armed and trained by the United States are also ground forces. Turkey sees the very same Kurdish militias and the Syrian-based Democratic Union as enemies. So we need to sort things out. We need to find out how Turkey, a member of the US-led coalition, is accomplishing coalition objectives, why is it bombing the Kurds, rather than the terrorists (provided that it is bombing the terrorists at all). Again, the US views the Kurds as potential allies at least and probably as real allies in the fight against the terrorists.
Our evaluation of the November 24 incident remains unchanged. We see no other explanations but a desire to either disrupt anti-terrorist efforts and make them less effective or force Russia to stop operating in Syrian air space, or perhaps to even derail the political process that’s based on the Vienna agreements.
Question: Will you attend the Rome MED: Mediterranean Dialogues? What can Russia and Italy as Egypt’s major partners do to help Egypt fight terrorism, because Egypt is an important country for regional stability?
Sergey Lavrov: I think that we can do a great deal to support the efforts of the current Egyptian authorities to stabilise the country and to prevent the growth of extremist and terrorist forces. In my opinion, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been working steadily to strengthen the efficiency of the governance systems and to create conditions for settling economic issues and, of course, improving social conditions in the country.
Italy, Russia and Egypt are members of the International Syria Support Group in Vienna. The problems facing regional countries are closely intertwined, and we will be able to root out the terrorist threat in the region only if we act in concert, considering that ISIS has stated its intention to create a caliphate, which is a state controlled by terrorists, in Syria and Iraq. The groups of ISIS terrorists have been reported in Libya, Afghanistan and other countries. I believe that ISIS has also established its cells in Egypt. It has assumed responsibility for the crash of the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai. We are working in close cooperation with the Egyptian intelligence services to find out how the ISIS terrorists did it and what we must do to prevent such risks.
I believe that Russia and Italy will continue working at international organisations to assist the Egyptian authorities within the strategic framework of our comprehensive and common fight against terrorism.
During its UN Security Council Presidency in September 2015, Russia proposed holding debates on comprehensive approaches to risks and threats in the Middle East and North Africa, which were subsequently held.
I’ve mentioned that following the “triumph of democracy” in Libya, which was supported with foreign-provided weapons, the people who staged the “democratic revolution” there turned out to be terrorists in Mali, as our European partners have said. We should streamline our ideas and perceptions; we must stop dividing terrorists into good and bad; and we must develop a common strategy. By the way, the list of terrorist organisations, which we have agreed to prepare within the framework of the Vienna process, is important not only for fighting terrorism in Syria, because these organisations also have established groups in many other countries. I firmly believe that cooperation between Russia, Italy and Egypt as part of the general effort to mobilise the international community against ISIS will also help reduce the terrorist threat in the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Question: Historically, Russian-Italian relations have been based on strategic partnership and high-level dialogue, and this has been reaffirmed by recent meetings between President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. How would you assess the current status of bilateral relations? What prospects for their development do you see in this complicated economic and diplomatic situation amid Western sanctions, the Russian embargo, the devaluation of the rouble and stagnation in the Russian economy? What is Italy’s role in alleviating tensions between the EU and Moscow? Could you share with us what you would like to tell entrepreneurs from the Italian-Russian Chamber of Trade today?
Sergey Lavrov: Indeed, we value our relations. They are of a special strategic character. This is not simply written on paper. This lies deep in the Russian people’s good feelings towards the Italians, in the reciprocity that we feel in our attitude towards life, our view of global issues and the way integration and other processes should be organised in Europe. We are very close. This is confirmed by the fact that over the past 15 years, we have enjoyed trusting relations with each winning party, regardless of its political affiliation. This also holds true for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President Vladimir Putin who, as I mentioned earlier today, have met five times since last October, including just recently at the G-20 summit. I am in regular contact with Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and this dialogue is continuous, including at the level of our deputies and experts.
The crisis broke out in Ukraine following the seizure of power by ultranationalist forces in an armed anti-constitutional coup, as a result of which ultra-radicals started publicly threatening all those who disagreed with them, primarily regions populated by Russian and Russian-speaking people in eastern or southern Ukraine. Russia stood up to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and its Constitution and responded to the plea from the Crimean people who faced the threat of annihilation. Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh, one of the driving forces of the so-called Maidan Revolution, stated that “Russians will never respect Stepan Bandera, so all Russians should be driven out of Crimea.” When we reacted, supporting the Crimeans’ appeal following an absolutely free poll, sanctions were imposed on us and we began to be blamed for all sins in the book. I will not go in the genesis of this problem now. The coup was supported and the peace agreement that was signed between the president and the opposition 12 hours before the coup and that was attested to by representatives of Germany, France and Poland, was trampled upon. It was never mentioned again. They only shrugged their shoulders, as if as to say, “Well, this is the way it has turned out.”
This is a very sad story in terms of double standards and generally, the behaviour of responsible politicians. So I will not go into the genesis but will say briefly that this is not the reason for the cooling of our relations with the EU, but a symptom. A systemic crisis broke out into the open. It had been building up in relations between Russia and the West after the end of the “cold war”, when, instead of building new security architecture, they only paid lip service to the principle of equal and undivided security, but did not put it into practice. Instead, under the cover of this fine slogan, NATO continued its eastward expansion. The fundamental principles of relations between Russia and NATO on the non-deployment of substantial combat forces in the territory of new NATO members, etc. were violated. Most importantly, they arrogantly stated that there can be no equal security for those who are not part of NATO. This was expressly stated when we proposed that a political declaration on undivided security be translated into the language of a legally binding treaty.
Our Western partners have decided to pursue their own line at dividing Europe and making our neighbours face a choice – you are with the West or you are with Russia. When this line in Ukraine revealed that a large part of the Ukrainian people reject ultra-nationalist, undemocratic methods of changing power, a search for a scapegoat began and blame was placed, of course, on Russia as we have never concealed that we do not accept coups and double standards. Naturally, this was bound to affect relations between Russia and Italy. Trade dropped for various reasons, including a sharp fall in hydrocarbon prices and the rouble exchange rate. The freezing of many cooperation mechanisms was part of the reaction to the events in Ukraine that were evoked in Europe as a result of fairly serious debates. Thus, the mechanism of interstate consultations (meetings between President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attended by key government ministers from both countries) was suspended. Such meetings have not been held for over two years, although earlier they convened every year. The same applies to the 2+2 mechanism (defence and foreign minister meetings). We also met over two years ago or so. This also applied to our joint bilateral group on countering new challenges and threats, where we discussed ways to counter terror and drug trafficking. Incidentally, we had a similar group with our French partners and after a long period of inaction we convened a month or a month and a half ago upon the proposal of the French side.
That said, a number of agencies have resumed work. Thus, the Grand Russian-Italian Inter-Parliamentary Commission, the systemic mechanism of our cooperation, held another meeting in Moscow in September. Different ministries and departments are resuming contacts. Representatives of our economic, industrial and trade ministries held meetings in the past few months; law enforcement departments and agencies dealing with cooperation in space, civil protection and emergencies also maintain fairly regular contacts. I think we should proceed from what meets the interests of Russia and Italy. Of course, pragmatism should prevail.
By the way, after our interview I’m going to meet with representatives of Italian companies operating in Russia. I haven’t heard that any would like to exit our market. Of course, there is the devaluation of the rouble and many other factors but additional opportunities always arise under such circumstances. Despite a decline in trade (incidentally, in volume it has not decreased so much as in value terms), the implementation of priority economic projects is making steady headway. I’m referring to the joint production and promotion in world markets of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliner, the manufacturing of Augusta Westland helicopters in Russia, the upgrading of Pirelli tyre production and many other promising projects.
I believe – and I will talk about this with our colleagues from the business community – that the following type of joint work would be promising. It is possible to describe it as a switch from the supply of our market with made-in-Italy products to made-with-Italy goods. I’m referring to joint production. There are many successful examples of this, including in Russian regions. Such partnership requires reciprocity at the adequate level. I know that you find partners that meet these tasks according to all professional parameters. God himself wants us to cooperate in this respect. In principle, we should of course resume as soon as possible the operation of the key economic cooperation mechanism – the Russian-Italian Council on Economic, Industrial and Currency-Financial Cooperation, which has not convened since December 2012.
Humanitarian exchanges have never been suspended. We have the Russian-Italian Forum for Dialogue on Civil Society that conducts useful meetings, thereby preserving these contacts between the people and elites of our two countries. We’d like to facilitate human contacts. The issue of easing visa restrictions was again mentioned on the sidelines of the G20 summit during the meeting of President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. We know that Italy is a member of the European Union and Schengen Area. Incidentally, the Russia-EU talks on a transition to visa-free travel produced basic agreements on the biometrical protection of documents, border security, and the operation of customs and other agencies long ago – everything was agreed upon. This work is now suspended. Brussels initiated the suspension of the signing and entry into force of this agreement long before the events in Ukraine. The reasons were mentioned but not officially. The media explained these reasons, which were very simple – the so-called anti-Russian minority in the EU declared that Russia should not be granted visa-free travel before Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova received it. This approach is absolutely politicised although we were assured that the only issues to be resolved were linked to the practical implementation of visa-free exchanges.
We have a philosophical attitude towards this issue and appreciate Italy’s desire to liberalise visa rules. This can be done in the Schengen framework. I’m referring to a reduction in the time for processing documents for issuing visas and to using to the utmost the Schengen potential, as France has done by switching to issuing multiple entry visas for five years for Russian citizens in most cases.
Question: Do you think the election campaign over the next year in the United States could cause a shift in foreign policy by President Obama and his European allies? What do you think about Donald Trump’s statement?
Sergey Lavrov: I’m not in the business of predicting what the US Administration will do over its remaining 14 months. Recently, President Obama met at the White House with the ambassadors to the United Nations of the 15 current Security Council members to discuss the terrorist threat, among other things. Our permanent representative reported to us the matters that were covered during the meeting. President Obama said it is imperative to defeat ISIS and spoke about the need to address issues that have arisen in connection with inconsistent efforts to fight terrorism. He also said it’s important to prevent any contact with Al-Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups.
We agree with these statements. Importantly, they should be seen to fruition. He also said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unlikely to be settled within the remaining 14 months. This is not news. This is not the first time the Americans have said this. This is unfortunate, though, because Russian and international experts believe that the failure to resolve the Palestinian problem for more than 60 years now is perhaps the most important single factor used by extremists to recruit new members among Arab youth, "in the Arab street", so to say. They say there’s no justice. In the late 1940s two states were promised, but the Palestinian state has yet to be created.
We understand that resolving this problem calls for ensuring the security of all the countries in the region, including Israel, but something must actually be done because more than one generation has been raised and educated in the spirit of extremism, pointing to Palestine as proof that there’s no justice in the world, and that the Arabs will never get it. All the attempts to hold peace talks in Oslo, Madrid, or Annapolis, and all kinds of the quartets have failed to produce any results. So, armed fighting is the only way to protect their interests. This brain washing works; and it’s hard to fight it.
I hope that in their remaining time in office, the US Administration will make every effort to address the many problems that will be difficult to resolve without US participation, if not impossible. I hope they won’t give up, including the Middle East settlement and the Palestinian issue. We are willing to do our part.
The illegitimate unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States aren’t good for our joint efforts. By the way, Europe imposed sanctions on us mostly at the request of the United States. Joe Biden once bragged about it being an American initiative, and that the Americans had the European Union bend over, if you’ll excuse the expression. We also know that the Americans are now going from capital to capital in Europe calling for an unconditional renewal of the sanctions by the European Council, which will meet for a session in a few days. We will not comment on this decision. We deeply regret it. We couldn’t help but respond.
Primarily, our response wasn’t about doing something to hurt the European Union. We had a simple explanation to offer: businesses and entities affected by unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and some other countries, included our financial institutions which issued loans to our agricultural producers. When their financing was cut, their ability to issue loans to our agricultural producers was sharply curtailed, which created unfair competitive advantages for food exporters from Western countries, whose ability to take out loans was not affected in any way. That is the reason.
We hope that common sense will prevail in the United States. They keep repeating like a mantra that they will cooperate with Russia, that without Russia it’s impossible to resolve the Syrian conflict, and that Iran's nuclear programme finally reached a phase of practical implementation. However, they also say they will put pressure on Russia in all other issues to force us to comply with the Minsk agreements on Ukraine. Go ahead and read what the Minsk agreements say: 99 percent of it concerns something that must be done by Kiev in cooperation with Donetsk and Lugansk.
Our partners from the European Union and the United States are saying that they have found a good approach and will lift the sanctions as soon as Russia complies with the Minsk agreements in full. The Paris summit was held on October 2. The Normandy four participants also had a meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko coordinated practical steps towards implementing the Minsk accords. Primarily, these steps include the Ukrainian government enacting a law on the special status of Donbass without any reservations (this law was passed but left hanging until the elections).
With regard to the elections in Donbass, the Minsk agreements say and the Paris meeting confirmed that the Ukrainian government must agree on the election law provisions with Donbass. President Poroshenko must sign off on the amnesty law, which was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada over a year ago, and that the Ukrainian Parliament must confirm Donbass’ special status – not for three years as in the approved law, which hasn’t yet come into force – but permanently, as stated in the Minsk accords, and do so in compliance with the constitution. Where does Russia come in here? I don’t see it. These were the only things that were discussed in Paris over several hours, and we agreed on what I just said.
When Joe Biden comes to Ukraine and in a fit of frenzied propaganda turns on the audience by telling everyone that the United States will stick to its policy and see to it that Russia complies with its requirements, everyone there claps vigorously, but I don’t think this contributes to resolving the Ukraine crisis in any way. This shows that the United States is interested in keeping Ukraine on its toes not for the sake of Ukraine but in order to be able to put pressure on Russia. Perhaps the post-Soviet countries need to understand what goals the Americans are pursuing in these cases.
In 2013, US President Barack Obama was expected to visit Moscow ahead of the G20 Summit in St Petersburg. However, and this was even before anything happened in Ukraine, Edward Snowden happened to be in Russia, so the United States cancelled this visit, telling us that, if I’m not mistaken, Mr Obama would travel to Estonia instead in order to show Russia that Tallinn can count on Washington as a partner. The only point of getting Estonia involved was to take an anti-Russian stance. When foreign policy is guided by objectives of this kind, positive results are hard to imagine.
I hope that, at the end of the day, every US President wants to leave something behind. When Mr Obama ran for office, he undertook a plethora of commitments. He promised to withdraw American troops from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and to close Guantanamo Bay detention camp. But the camp is still there, while new problems emerged such as the CIA’s “Incarceration Flights”, which are now an issue.
As any other adequate country, Russia is seeking to establish normal relations with the US. There are many areas where we could work together bilaterally, primarily on economic and investment initiatives, as well as in finding solutions to global issues. I strongly believe that we can resolve many of them if we really start working together on an equal footing. We need to engage in a collective effort to devise approaches to serious global issues in order to avoid situations like the one with the missile defence shield. When Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to then-US President George W. Bush that they sit down together and develop a system that would secure all of Europe, including Russia and the Euro-Atlantic in general, from any outside missile threat, the proposal was rejected. We were told that the US had already decided on the global missile defence system it wanted to deploy and offered Russia to join in. This has nothing to do with cooperation, since cooperation signifies joint efforts. The very meaning of the word implies something you do together with a partner. Russia is ready to engage in such efforts on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. Once the US is also ready, we won’t be the ones trailing behind.
As for Mr Trump’s statements regarding Muslims, of course, we can’t support any kind of discrimination whatsoever, on any grounds, be it national, ethnic or religious. There’s a different aspect I would like to emphasise. The White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, suggested that after saying that Muslims should not be allowed to enter the US, Mr Trump should withdraw from the presidential race, since the US Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion. While I respect the US Constitution, here’s an example when US officials interpreted it in a different manner. Year after year the US votes against the resolution on measures against the glorification of Nazism in the UN General Assembly, and in doing so they also refer to the US Constitution. They are referring to the freedom of expression. Following this logic, when someone protects the freedom of religion (and rightly so), while arguing that the glorification of Nazism cannot be banned due to the freedom of expression principle, despite the fact that it was stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights back in 1965 that the freedom of expression should not be used to promote hateful theories, offend religious feelings or undermine national security or public order, this is called relying on double standards.
Question: Submarines were reportedly used to fight ISIS for the first time. Do you think that nuclear weapons can be used against ISIS?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course not. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said that there is no need to use nuclear weapons against terrorists, because they can be defeated using conventional weapons. This is fully in line with Russia’s military doctrine.