Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions following the 18th annual session of the Valdai International Discussion Club, Sochi, October 19, 2021
Question: The day before yesterday, Moscow announced measures in response to NATO’s aggressive moves. Are these measures prompted by Russia’s belief that NATO has to take the first step towards improving relations with Moscow?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, this is our approach. We have never been the first to start aggravating our relations with NATO, or the European Union, or any other country in the West or elsewhere. Everyone knows the following story: when in August 2008, Mikheil Saakashvili issued the criminal order to bomb the city of Tskhinval and the peacekeeper’s positions, including Russian peacekeepers, Russia insisted that the Russia-NATO Council meet to consider the situation. US Secretary of State at the time, Condoleezza Rice, refused flatly, although, according to the Founding Act, which was signed by Russia and NATO when they established the Council, it must be effective in any “weather,” particularly in the case of a crisis. This was one example [in a series of events] that led to the status quo of today in relations between our country and NATO.
Question: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the UN Security Council had no right to decide the fate of the whole world, referring to the five countries that won WWII as a handful of victors. He added that he had a road map to drive the UN Security Council members into a corner. What do you think of this? Is it possible?
Sergey Lavrov: President Erdogan’s eloquence is well known. He feels free to air his views on different topics. I agree that the five countries which are the permanent members of the UN Security Council have no right to dictate the world’s fate. They do not, however, claim this role – they only have the authority provided for in the UN Charter, which reflects the collective will of all members of the world community. The five permanent member countries bear special responsibility for the situation in the world, primarily, for preventing a global conflict. Their efforts have proved successful in the course of more than 75 years. Hopefully, the situation will remain like this in the future.
But today, the UN and the Security Council need to adapt to a new reality. There are not 50 countries in the world, the way it was when the UN was established, and not 70 countries, like at the time the UN Security Council grew from 12 to 15 members, but many more: this world organisation has 193 member countries. The developing countries have every right to insist that their representation at the main UN body be increased. Today, of the 15 members on the UN Security Council, at least six are Western countries. When Japan is elected to the Security Council to represent Asia, it is counted as a seventh vote in favour of the policy that the West is pushing via the UN Security Council. No more seats at this body should be given to the West, while it is absolutely necessary to have more developing nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America represented in the UN Security Council.
Question: NATO officials said they regret Russia’s decision to suspend the NATO mission in Moscow. However, they were the ones that started this. Why do you think NATO continues to degrade our relations? Will the Russia-NATO Council continue?
President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky said again yesterday that he is ready to meet with President of Russia Vladimir Putin in any format. That said, the Press Secretary of the Russian President described such a meeting as unlikely. In what case will Ukraine succeed in “soliciting” a meeting with the Russian President? Is it true that Victoria Nuland came to Moscow to agree on US accession to the Normandy format (as reported by Kiev)?
Sergey Lavrov: As for NATO, I have talked about how this all began and how NATO itself has buried the main rules underlying the formation of the Russia-NATO Council – the need for urgent consultations in crises. This went on when the Americans provoked and supported the coup in Ukraine in February 2014, while the European Union swallowed the actions by the opposition even though on the eve of the coup Germany, France and Poland guaranteed by their signatures on an agreement between then president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition. On the following morning, the opposition trampled underfoot these EU guarantees and had its own way. In response, the EU imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation. This is not about logic.
The same applies to statements made in NATO capitals as regards our forced response to three steps by NATO. Our mission was reduced three times. The main point is that the mission is simply not allowed to do its work. To get into NATO headquarters, our representatives, as distinct from all other NATO partners, have to apply in advance for a permit to enter the building and use only designated corridors. There have been no information exchanges with NATO headquarters in a long time.
The main thing is that all contact between the military personnel was cut off, and this was officially announced. So, what loss of an opportunity or talks are we talking about? Two years ago, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov suggested coming to terms on withdrawing exercises to a certain distance from the Russia-NATO contact line and on the minimum distances not to be violated by combat aircraft and warships. There were many other proposals at that time as well. There was a wall of silence. The Foreign Minister of Germany said Russia’s actions showed that it was not ready for talks. I have just told you that we were fully ready for talks and NATO has simply been ignoring us for many years. Western officials understand that such statements are self-defeating. They want to put the blame at the wrong door and they lack diplomatic culture.
As for statements by President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, they attracted many comments. They were made by the chief of his office, some advisor (I don’t remember his name) and President Zelensky himself just recently. A number of days before that, someone from his office said that President Putin seemed to be ready but his entourage did not advise him to meet one-to-one because such a meeting might produce a surprise. I will not even comment on this stream of consciousness. It is impossible to react to all public statements made in Ukraine as regards possible meetings at various levels or developments in Donbass and around Ukraine. One’s imagination is too limited for that, but they fantasise everywhere and every day.
When John Kerry was US Secretary of State, he came to Moscow on a regular visit. We were received by the President of Russia. Vladimir Putin said we saw how the Americans exerted influence on Ukraine. He mentioned a special US envoy to whom Pyotr Poroshenko listened. Maybe it is worth talking with Germany and France so you can join the Normandy format? I was at this meeting. John Kerry said that if they were invited they would probably consider it. Later, we asked the Germans and French about this but they bluntly rejected the idea: no, we need to work in the format that was created and in which the Minsk agreements were signed. This is the only option. It is not necessary to turn the Four into the Five or into Seven to facilitate a settlement. The Americans have a dominant influence on Zelensky and his team. Our dialogue resumed. Victoria Nuland met with Dmitry Kozak who is in charge of supervising issues of Ukraine, other near-abroad and CIS countries. They agreed to stay in touch. If the Americans are indeed willing to support the implementation of the Minsk agreements, it would be possible to resolve the problem very quickly.
Question: Unfortunately, the KP newspaper reporter in Belarus, Gennady Mozheyko, is still in prison. KP is banned in Belarus. Can anything be done in this regard?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already commented on this. We have posed this question to our Belarusian colleagues. We are working on it.
Question: Is Russia ready to become the first country to recognise the Taliban as the official authority in Afghanistan, and what are the conditions for this?
The United States will not be participating in the Moscow format meeting on Afghanistan. Will this influence the significance of the meeting in any way?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia has already stated its position on the Taliban. Like most other countries that have an influence in that region, we maintain contact with them and urge them to deliver on the promises they made when they came to power to ensure inclusiveness in the government not only in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of political conviction so that the entire range of political allegiances in their society has a voice in the government. Official recognition has not yet been discussed; we have said this publicly.
The new US Representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, called our representative Zamir Kabulov yesterday and expressed regret with that turn of events. He was appointed right before the Moscow format meeting and said that he definitely wanted to contact us and come to Russia. We will be delighted to have him.