Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Italian Askanews agency, December 5, 2019
Question: Mr Lavrov, you have been Russia’s foreign minister for the past 15 years. Italy has seen ten top diplomats in this position during this time. Do you think there is continuity in our country's foreign policy towards Russia? Can Italy today act as a bridge between Europe and Russia, as it wanted to previously?
Sergey Lavrov: Frankly, I never noticed how many foreign ministers Italy had during my tenure as foreign minister. Now I know. Rest assured that I had constructive businesslike relations with all of them. I very much hope that we will develop good professional and personal contacts with Mr Di Maio as well.
I believe that traditional resistance to fluctuations in the political situation is the hallmark of the Russian-Italian dialogue. We have successfully interacted with the center-left and center-right governments. I am pleased to note that Italy, in turn, also adheres to a balanced and pragmatic approach to bilateral relations, including the economic component. All of that yields significant practical returns with about 500 Italian firms and banking institutions operating in our country, and the Government providing them with the necessary support.
Unfortunately, the dynamics of our interaction are being adversely affected by external factors, primarily, the sanctions spiral unwound by the Brussels bureaucrats at the behest of Washington, which runs counter to the interests of the European nations. We are aware that business and sociopolitical circles in Italy are increasingly supportive of returning to full-format cooperation in all areas. We believe that Italian diplomacy could use its clout and authority to help improve the situation in Europe and build relations between Russia and the EU on a pragmatic and non-confrontational basis.
Question: The Middle East is a good example of Russia’s growing authority in the international arena in recent years, starting with Syria. Now, some in the West are concerned with Russia being on the side of General Khalifa Haftar in Libya. What would you tell them, and how do you see the future for Libya?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is conducting exclusively responsible politics in Libya. It is devoid of a geopolitical dimension and puts Libyan interests at the forefront. We are not siding with anyone in this conflict. Our approaches to resolving crises – be it in the Middle East or other regions of the world - invariably rely on the principle of an all-encompassing national dialogue aimed at finding tradeoffs based on international law and corresponding UN Security Council resolutions.
We have more than once confirmed this position in public, including during international conferences on Libya. Our goal is to help the Libyans overcome the chaos into which their country was plunged eight years ago as a result of NATO’s illegitimate intervention, and to restore peace and security that are essential for sustainable development throughout its territory. I think this is how the future of Libya is seen not only by us, but the entire international community as well.
We presume that the uncompromising war on terrorism, which can only be eradicated through a collective effort based on the UN Charter, remains the most important component in stabilising the situation in this North African state and the entire Middle East.
Question: Do you share the growing optimism in Europe regarding Ukraine after Zelensky’s victory? Do you think a solution can be reached in the foreseeable future which will reboot the EU-Russia dialogue, including with regard to the sanctions?
Sergey Lavrov: The main question is whether Ukraine wants to normalise relations with our country. We have repeatedly stated that confrontation is not in the interests of either state. Moscow is ready for a constructive dialogue with Kiev. The ball is in Ukraine’s court now.
It is well known that our country has never been and is not a party to the conflict in Donbass. Russia has the same status in the Contact Group as the OSCE and the same status as France and Germany in the Normandy format. Compliance with the entire Minsk Package of Measures approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202 is needed if we want to overcome the intra-Ukraine crisis. Thus, the key to settlement is in Kiev, and it should finally establish a direct and sustainable dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.
With regard to Russia-EU relations, they continue to be affected to a large extent by a small group of Russophobes within the EU, who, with US support, are not hiding their interest in “containing” Russia. The inability to build positive consensus is a symptomatic problem of the European Union.
For our part, we remain open to pragmatic cooperation with the EU, which is our neighbour and important trade and economic partner. We believe that the existing problems can be resolved if we mutually respect each other’s interests.
Question: Do you expect Russian-US relations to become more complicated during Donald Trump’s second campaign in the US election cycle?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia is certainly not trying to create any new difficulties in relations with the United States. On the contrary, we have on many occasions offered our US partners the chance to build sustainable and predictable cooperation on all issues, regardless of electoral cycles and other domestic political factors.
Regrettably, in the past few years our dialogue has actually become hostage to the exacerbated differences found in the Washington establishment. Some of its representatives have tried hard to fuel Russophobia during the inter-party struggle in this period. There are even grounds to suggest that they placed their bets on it for self-serving purposes. Absolutely unfounded insinuations on Russia’s interference in US elections and collusion with Trump’s team were invented and spread with this goal.
A package of unfriendly steps has been taken towards Russia: sanctions, mass-scale expulsion of our diplomats and seizure of diplomatic property.
Apart from the inevitable heavy damage to bilateral ties, these steps have provoked a general escalation of tensions in international relations by creating additional risks for global security. Russia and the United States historically bear special responsibility for this as the holders of the world’s highest nuclear potential.
It seems that President Trump is generally aware of the consequences of a continuing course of confrontation between Moscow and Washington. However, the uneasy political situation inside the United States continues to complicate and even block positive impetuses. Being realists we understand that considering the approaching presidential elections in America our ill-wishers may again try to use the Russian card and try to resolve their own problems at Russia’s expense.
We will act pragmatically. We will respond to unfriendly moves, but we would also welcome the resumption of a constructive dialogue with Washington and a joint search for ways of improving bilateral relations.
Both us and the Americans, as well as the entire international community would stand to gain from bilateral stabilisation. It would open up opportunities to use the considerable potential of cooperation in different areas. Our priorities lie in ensuring strategic stability and countering international terrorism and other dangerous challenges.
Question: This is not the first time you visit to a MED conference. Do you have different expectations for it compared to the past year? What do you think about this dialogue platform?
Sergey Lavrov: I am pleased to take part in the conference, Rome MED 2019 – Mediterranean Dialogues, for the fifth time now. This forum has proven that it is needed as a useful dialogue venue for discussing a broad range of Mediterranean issues. This cooperation is especially topical now that the complicated processes unfolding in this part of the world require serious, comprehensive and depoliticised analysis. Naturally, I value the opportunity to meet with my foreign colleagues on the sidelines of the conference.
I am sure that by tradition our discussions will be constructive and oriented to a search for well-balanced solutions to the numerous problems faced by the Mediterranean nations.