Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the New Knowledge Educational Marathon, Moscow, May 21, 2021

Good afternoon,

Knowledge is always a great thing. If by speaking to you, we are helping you receive additional knowledge, it’s already important. This is all the more important since you will soon lead the country no matter where you go – government service, business, journalism or a creative occupation. Knowledge is never excessive. It always helps to be erudite and well versed in any situation, any career or employment related problem.

I would like to say a few words before we go to interactive communication. The main goal of diplomacy, as written in the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, is to do everything we can to ensure favourable external conditions for promoting national development, raising living standards and supporting our economic operators in the world arena. In his recent Address to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin emphasised that we primarily orient our interests towards ensuring peace and security for the wellbeing of our citizens. We will reach these goals exclusively along the lines of international law. We will always be ready for an open, free and, most importantly, equitable dialogue with any country that is willing to cooperate with us under the same honest conditions. The overwhelming majority of foreign countries in Eurasia, Latin America and Africa hold the same position, realising the need for justice and equality in international affairs, and the search for a balance of interests. It is in this vein that we build our relations in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and BRICS, to name a few.

Mathematically speaking, the countries with which we are building relations on the same principle (those that reciprocate and are guided by international law) account for about 80 percent of the world’s population. But we are not dismissing the remaining 20 percent either. We are ready to speak with them as well, but only on the same conditions as I mentioned – mutual respect, equality in rights and consideration for each other’s concerns and interests. That is, not a one-way street, as we say in Russia.

I think you are active on social media, where you read how our Western partners see their relations with Russia. Many in the West and in our country too are beginning to promote the idea that Russian leaders prioritise so-called great-power ambitions on the international stage, not their citizens’ interests. This is the reason that Russia allegedly finds itself ‘in isolation,’ ‘is losing friends, allies,’ and all of that is ‘damaging’ our economy, ‘hurting people’s welfare’ and ‘narrowing the opportunities’ for various exchanges, contacts, etc., including for young people, they emphasise. The subtext here is that the most important thing is to be full, and any other great-power ambitions interfere with this. They suggest things would be right for us if we were friends with the West. Well, we are willing to be friends with the West, but, I will stress this again, only if we keep our own dignity, something we inherited from our ancestors over the centuries and millennia of our country’s history. The welfare of our citizens is the main goal of Russia’s foreign policy. But we cannot move towards that goal while completely dismissing our history, the traditions laid down by our predecessors, our history, which is valuable and precious for every Russian.

We have always relied on our national pride (this is a very important attribute; not all nations have it), on our patriotism, including the defence of justice and a willingness to help the weak. These are the greatest human qualities. If we admire them in our everyday life, then, undoubtedly, they should be manifested in our position on the international stage, where it is not about human relationships, but about interstate contacts.

Those that say, “if we were friends with the West, everything would be alright,” miss several important points. First, the world has already stopped being West-oriented. The 500-year era of Western domination has ended. The centre of world policy and economic development has moved from the Euro-Atlantic region to Eurasia, our enormous continent. New geopolitical players are protecting their right to be part of addressing key issues of international life; they are growing and have become strong based on their unique civilisational and cultural identity and their historical experience. This means the multilateralism we protect is a fait accompli. The world is multilateral. There is no single pole or two poles that decide everything like during the Soviet era, when the USSR and the US decided almost everything between themselves. Today, there are many poles, and all of them should find agreement with each other. This is more complicated then dealing with everything alone or in a narrow circle of those who never argue with you.

The West likes to address all the issues in its own circle and call it real multilateralism saying that these are true democratic unions. They invite everyone else to join in the definitions made in the circle of these “democratic” countries. Frankly, this shows disrespect to everyone else and a superiority complex, like “we know what to do and how to do it.”

The European Union declared an “effective multilateralism.” We asked them why multilateralism should be limited to the European Union. After all, we have the UN with its Charter, many conventions, and resolutions, which are all the result of discussions, compromises, and consensus. They answer simply: “Well, you know, we are still much more developed democratically and in terms of promoting values.” Indelicate, to put it mildly. However, decisions developed by all states, primarily within the UN, are more difficult to achieve, and it is more difficult to agree on them. More participants means more opinions and more difficulty in reaching compromise. But when you agree universally about something that suits everyone, these decisions are much more sustainable and reliable and last longer.

Those who urge us to do things according to Western standards (besides the fact that the West is far from omnipotent) forget one more thing. You probably don’t remember, but you must have read about it. In the 1990s, Russia tended to be unprecedentedly open to dialogue with the West: “Let’s be friends. Now our recent history is over and everything in the world will be sunny, without any difficulties and crises.” There was no answer. The West regarded this as a weakness: the former Soviet Union (now Russia) and all other former Soviet republics lost the Cold War and now can be consolidated into the concepts the West needs, which it does not discuss with anyone else. The awareness that this is a destructive path has come. Since 2000, when we set ourselves up to cooperate with everyone, we have never lost our self-esteem.

Today, we occupy positions that are recognised by everyone in the world. All countries respect them, but some fear the emergence of an important sustainable international player (as was the case with the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union). They feel it is necessary to “pester” it, to irritate it, to prevent it from feeling calm, and to let the West go on creating processes aimed at artificially keeping its lead in the world, primarily in the economy, rather than doing it naturally like it has been for over the past 500 years. Illegal sanctions are used for this purpose. They have already become common for the West (the culture of diplomacy has been largely lost). Ultimatums are given in virtually any area of human endeavour, whether it’s the economy or military-technical cooperation. The Americans are openly compelling countries that have agreements on purchasing combat hardware with us to give them up and buy their weapons. Look what is happening in sports. The Americans are no longer content with WADA. They have adopted their own Rodchenkov Act, according to which anyone who defeats an American athlete at international competitions must be checked for doping. Anyone found guilty will be arrested by US law-enforcement bodies. The feeling of reality is obviously lost. I am hoping this will pass.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and I discussed many things in Iceland yesterday. I was very open and he was, too. He listened to me attentively and set forth his positions that continuously included grievances against Russia over “interference in “the election” or hackers’ attacks on some important systems. I reminded him that for all the years that we have been hearing these accusations, we have been asking the Americans to provide just one piece of evidence, any proof of “our misdeeds.” Unfortunately, his answers were strange. He told me that we already know everything and that they cannot tell us anything because it’s classified. So what are we talking about then?

To sum up, we live in a difficult world, my dear friends. You must be tempered before you start to function fully in this life. I would be very happy if we can help you with this.

I am happy to answer any questions.

Question: Before asking my question, I would like to sincerely thank you for years of selfless service upholding our country’s national interests.

My question concerns the prevailing world order system. You did cover this in great detail in your speech. Will the Yalta-Potsdam system continue into the future? You and our President are saying that the UN, as the main institution ensuring the current world order, must remain in place. What prospects do you see in your post over the next 30 years? How might the balance of power in the international arena change, and what role will Russia play in it?

Sergey Lavrov: I’m not a clairvoyant. I don’t think any serious politician would agree to proffer a detailed outline of the international relations system 20 to 30 years from now. But you have pointed out the goals that we will strive to uphold. The outcomes of WWII are incontrovertible. One outcome was the rejection of any whitewashing of the Nazis and their henchmen, which is what some states are now trying to do. Another important outcome was the creation of the UN in its current form, including the Security Council, where the five great powers have the right of veto. The Americans insisted on the right to veto when the UN was created, because the League of Nations, which existed before the UN and before WWII, fell apart precisely because the Americans were not interested in it. They were unable to stop the processes they found to be “harmful” for them.

Efforts are underway to repeal or to limit the right of veto. The veto is not a privilege, but an enormous responsibility. This provision was introduced into the UN Charter precisely because everyone realised that if any great power considers a particular proposal unacceptable, it is better not to push it forward. Our French colleagues are now saying: “Let’s voluntarily limit the use of the right of veto when it comes to widespread violation of human rights, genocide, or war crimes.” This is a very slippery slope. We asked them: “What is the cut-off line for this voluntary restriction? If 100 people die, we give up the right of veto, but if 99, then we don’t?” This is a dogmatic approach, and it’s wrong. And politics is much more complicated than such a straightforward approach.

Second, in fact, the Security Council no longer reflects the global balance of power. Talks to expand it have been underway for a couple of decades. Our position is very simple: the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America should receive additional seats in this body. The West and those who share positions with it – allies of the United States – cannot claim additional seats in the UN Security Council. Already, out of 15 members, six are from the Western world. Probably, that’s enough. We need to straighten these imbalances, not exacerbate injustice.

Finally, the third achievement is international law, which builds on the principles that underlie the UN Charter, primarily the sovereignty of the state, non-interference in domestic affairs, and peaceful settlement of disputes. The sovereign equality of states as per the Charter is a standard of life that cannot be sacrificed. But our Western colleagues don’t like this. So, they haven’t even used the term “international law” over the past several years. They say everyone must respect a rules-based world order. When we ask them how this is different from international law, they tend to provide varying explanations. Their point is that these “democratic” countries will establish the rules themselves. They will be the ones to determine the circle of “democracy” of their own accord. US President Joseph Biden announced that he wants to convene a Summit for Democracy this summer, or early autumn. They themselves will decide who will be invited. So, here’s our answer to this: indeed, there must be rules, but the entire UN is based on the rules enshrined in the Charter, and these are universal rules. Rules formed by a small group of allies will only lead to a breakup and more dividing lines.

So, yes, this system must be respected, maintained and strengthened. Just like any other organization, the UN is a living organism, not some kind of abstract notion. These are 193 member nations. It must be adapted to changes, but in a way where changes are based on consensus. In this way, it would convey the opinion of the entire international community. The permanent members’ responsibilities will not go anywhere. Russia and the United States are the largest nuclear powers. The other three nuclear powers – China, France and Great Britain – also enjoy great presence on the international stage. Because these five nations have a special responsibility, President Vladimir Putin proposed convening a summit of the leaders of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members. Unfortunately, the pandemic has postponed any such plan. We are now holding consultations on this matter. We will try to convene it, the epidemiological situation permitting.

Question: Mr Lavrov, what have we learned from the pandemic? Is it true that in the face of danger every man is for himself? 

Sergey Lavrov: Regrettably, many countries are guided by that logic. Our position is different. From the first days of the pandemic, from the moment we realised what approach we should take in our domestic policy in these conditions, and then later, when in August (last year) President Vladimir Putin announced that work on our first vaccine was complete, he invited everyone to cooperate.

Incidentally, the cooperation President Putin was talking about became real last December when the Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology signed a memorandum with AstraZeneca to try to combine their two vaccines to jointly produce something more effective. I do not know what has come of that. You might know that AstraZeneca ran into serious problems and lost their contract with the European Union. The EU pulled out of it.   

French President Emmanuel Macron said early in the year that Russia and China were waging a new type of war – a war of vaccines. These were unseemly words, frankly. Whatever we do, we hear the following: “You are discrediting Western achievements in healthcare, so your media are full of criticisms of these jabs.” When a piece of news about the pandemic is reported in the West, including about the faults of this vaccine-engendered situation, our media are just reproducing the news that was printed and publicised in the West. We never said anything insulting and only argued that everyone had to understand the importance of treating the various vaccines equally. International or national agencies would hardly benefit from preferring one vaccine and discriminating against another. We continue to stick to this approach and we talked about it at the G20 Summit on vaccines, in which President Putin took part. The World Health Organisation (WHO) holds regular events and Russia participates in them. However, if the world community is to develop a uniform policy it still has to put in more effort. Not everyone is ready for this. Many are grabbing vaccines for themselves, stocking up on them for the future to later be able to make a profit by offering them to their partners.

President Putin supported the initiative, the day it was announced, to waive patent protection for [coronavirus] vaccines during the decisive phase of fighting the virus. The EU has its doubts about this. There are plenty of considerations involved. As they say, you can never see into another’s heart. However, I wish everything to be transparent and honest with this.

Question:  What are the qualities of a good diplomat?

Sergey Lavrov:  It’s the same as any other person with a modern occupation that is linked with the awareness of international processes and the homeland’s place in them. Now the world has become so globalised that any field of human endeavour is trans-border.

A diplomat primarily needs erudition and foreign languages. Our Foreign Ministry accepts all university graduates with at least two languages. As was always the case, MGIMO University still provides us with the majority of new recruits but we also have graduates from the Far Eastern Federal University, St Petersburg State University and Novosibirsk State University. 

I have already mentioned that diplomacy is the oldest profession, not something else. Any contact between people requires their agreement. When people realised that they are thinking creatures, these processes began to develop. It is necessary to listen to your dialogue partner and to understand him or her, and to be able to justify your viewpoint and never lose self-control. That said, sometimes it seems in place to say something piquant.

It is possible and necessary to teach students. This is done by the faculties of international relations in many universities. The main thing is to establish practical contacts with your foreign colleagues. To do this you must learn how to communicate in a team.

I am delighted to see you in this line-up. This is a very good initiative. I think this will be enjoyable and useful.

Question: Some scholars say that Russia’s role in international politics is not commensurate with its role in the world economy. Do you think that is true? What are your thoughts on this?

Sergey Lavrov: In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), our percentage isn’t very high (about 2-2.5 percent). Obviously, our potential is much greater than that. It is clear that we are still feeling the aftermath of the USSR’s collapse and the destruction of the economic complex we once had.

In the last few years, Russia has tried to foster growth. The EAEU has already produced a tangible result. The aggregate trade of its five members is growing. Observers are joining the EAEU. It has already signed five free trade zone agreements with foreign partners. Now it is reviewing about fifty similar applications from different countries and international trade associations. The development of Siberia and buildup of non-carbon exports – everything President of Russia Vladimir Putin spoke about and that is part of the Government’s plans – should increase our share in the global economy.

As for comparing our share here to our role in world politics, and security issues, I agree if this role is considered substantial. But if we are told to simmer down, that our two percent as an economy means we have to stay within two percent in world politics, this is simply not serious, is it? Everything is how it is for a reason. Russia plays the role it can play and does so fairly well.

In Syria, we prevented scenarios modelled after Yugoslavia in 1999, Libya in 2011 or Iraq in 2003. Yugoslavia was bombed and destroyed as a state; they are trying to pick up the pieces in Libya but without much success; Iraq was bombed under a completely false pretext (everyone recognises this now). It was accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction. Democracy was proclaimed there. Hundreds of thousands of people died in these conflicts. But nothing got better in any of the countries I mentioned. We prevented this scenario in Syria and eradicated the main den of terrorists there. Some of them have survived but the struggle against them continues.

I think we did a good job on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in the South Caucasus. Now we are helping normalise relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the situation in the South Caucasus in general. There appeared an opportunity, in part, owing to our mediation, to unblock economic and transport lines that were shut since the early 1990s due to the Karabakh conflict.

We don’t chase after rankings but objective observers should judge for themselves who is getting results. When I hear that the Americans do everything with noble intentions, I want to ask for a single example of an international undertaking based not only on the authority but also the armed forces of the United States that has improved the situation. I cited examples of US interference and can cite more.

I don’t mean to say that we are better and they are worse. We must work together. This is why President of Russia Vladimir Putin suggests convening a summit of the UN Security Council permanent members with a view to reaching agreement. This is exactly why we are generally positive on US President Joseph Biden’s proposal to meet with President Putin. We discussed what global problems might be resolved for the common good with the proactive involvement of Russia and the US. The situation is complicated. You see how many problems have piled up during the Obama and Trump administrations. Despite all Trump’s statements about the need to get along with Russia, his administration and all other government bodies prevented him from doing this and persistently undermined our relations. There is so much backlog that it will not be easy to clear everything. However, if people want to talk we are always open to it.

Question: What lesson from international relations is the most important for the world today?

Sergey Lavrov: If we take one event, the main lesson is from World War II. I have talked about this. I am confident that this is a common asset. We must not lose or erode it in any way.

Question: My question is probably similar to the one the previous speaker was asked, but I would still like to hear your opinion as a person with close professional links to interpreters. What contribution do interpreters make to improving international relations? Could this occupation become extinct when artificial intelligence replaces professionals?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t think it would come to that. A machine cannot replace a person in creativity. Diplomacy and interpretation are creative endeavours.

I started my career as an interpreter. I worked for four years in Sri Lanka, interpreting for the ambassador. By the way, I learned to interpret there without stopping to eat. Many events took place during lunch or dinner. The ambassador would invite his colleagues, and I was young and hungry. I tried not to reduce my calorie intake and did pretty well. I hope I wasn’t too immodest.

Speaking at the UN in 1960, First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Nikita Khrushchev said literally we would “show Kuzka’s mom” to the Western countries (the US and NATO), meaning to threaten them. A machine would just freeze up with this line. I don’t remember what his interpreter said but I’m sure he did a good job.

We have great interpreters. Unfortunately, not all of them are still with us. We have their memoirs with examples. The great interpreter Viktor Sukhodrev worked at the highest level as well as Pavel Palazhchenko who now works at the Gorbachev Foundation. I must mention Andrey Vavilov. I’m sure you will find their books online. They have many interesting stories.

An interpreter, if he or she is also a good diplomat (and only those work at the highest level) can remove some of a speaker’s mistakes. There were many examples to this effect in the last Soviet years. I won’t mention them. But even the tone is important! It is possible to interpret aggressively or, make an interpretation sound simpler and calmer. In this case it can play a role. There is no advice for every case. Read these books. This would be useful.

Question: If a person studies a foreign language, he has a mess in his head. He can confuse what language he is speaking. What did you do to prevent this? What can you advise?

Sergey Lavrov: I didn’t have that problem. I studied Singhalese that is spoken only in Sri Lanka. About 70 percent of its population speak this language but it doesn’t exist anywhere else. It consists of round diphthongs that are somewhat similar to the Armenian or Georgian alphabet. It is impossible to mix it up with anything else. I studied it for four years and then worked for four years there and haven’t used it since. If you think in a foreign language when you fall asleep or just think about something, that’s good; this means a foreign language comes naturally and it won’t be a strain to switch to it.

Question: Do you agree with the theory of historical cyclism, according to which history moves in a circle and the birth, blossom, decline or, probably, death of human societies repeat themselves?

Sergey Lavrov: It would be necessary to see how history started from the time it began to be recorded. Many smart people have considered this. “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce.” Vladimir Vysotsky wrote: “Things develop not in a spiral but in all directions, haphazardly and across.”

There is a theory that cycles are manifest in climate, that the Earth warms up every 80-100 years. Many people who debate the methods for countering climate change say it’s really useless, that it’s simply the way things are and it’s impossible to change it.

The main thing is to derive lessons from tragedies. I will again recall World War II and the results. The memory of events must be preserved because for the first time humanity not only agreed to stop the war (this happened before, for instance, the Treaty of Versailles), but it decided how to live into the future – based on justice, equality and reliable instruments to prevent a world war. Humanity can live a calm life as long as the following generations are alive: a generation that remembers that war and the generation that hears the truth about it from fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers. If at some stage this knowledge is lost, if people do not try to keep it in the genetic code of humanity, we will be in for a cycle that nobody needs: neither we, nor our grandsons, great grandsons or posterity.

Question: I am head of the international section at the Synodal Department for Youth Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). In the year of the 800th anniversary of the Faithful Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky, which lesson taught by that great figure you would choose for us, today’s youth in the 21st century?

Sergey Lavrov: Above all, wisdom and, strange as it may sound, pragmatism. Until they gathered strength, he had to negotiate with the Mongols, but without losing his dignity. He was a great diplomat. By the way, Alexander Nevsky is a patron of diplomats. He was a great military leader and a great statesman. We must be proud that we have such a figure in our history who put his people’s honour ahead of everything else. This concerns the talk about “being friends with everyone and taking orders from everyone, and then we will have cheese and sausage from different countries, not only from this one.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry works closely with the ROC, primarily with its Department for External Church Relations. We have many projects. It is especially important at a time when not only the ROC but the Orthodoxy in general is under a real attack. During Donald Trump’s presidency, our US colleagues established the position of special representative on the freedom of religion. What he is doing is trying to destroy the unity of the Orthodox nations and churches. Ukraine uses the Patriarch of Constantinople, an absolutely dependent person, for this purpose. It is already clear that this is a tool in the hands of those who want to undermine the Orthodoxy’s positions. They are destroying the Serbian Orthodox Church, its canonical territory, and they are trying to take Lebanon from the Patriarchate of Antioch. All of this is highly regrettable.

In Russia the state does not interfere in church affairs. However, when other countries interfere in the ROC’s or its Orthodox sisters’ affairs, the state must protect the interests of its brothers in faith and likeminded people.

Question: My name is Ruslan. I’m from Lipetsk, and I’m studying Finance and Lending at Financial University, which is directly related to international relations.

I was recently speaking with a good friend of mine. We talked about unity, and not just the unity of individual states but the unity of Planet Earth and the human race, and about the erosion of political borders. However hard we may be trying, humanity’s breakthrough progress will be impossible until people come to see each other as a single race rather than a multitude of nations and nationalities.

What should each state and every individual do towards this goal? Will Russia be ready to sacrifice itself and its borders in the name of a greater objective, for a united Earth without political borders? What do we have to do to achieve this goal? Are we ready for this?

Sergey Lavrov: It would be premature to erase the borders, even though all modern-day challenges can be described as cross-border, including in the field of finance and lending, which is having its impact on global processes.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Americans declared “the end of history” and even stopped training experts on Russia. We can see the impact of that decision on Washington’s current assessment of developments in Russia, our interests and the way it should deal with us.

It has been said that transnational corporations are replacing governments, which will wither away. The most vivid example of this is how IT giants were functioning, which banned discussions on many subjects and people, including former US President Donald Trump, among many others. They closed access to our resources as well. We told the Americans that this matter is in their jurisdiction and that they have certain, very clear obligations in the OSCE, which prohibit blocking access to information. Our American colleagues answered that they are not responsible for what private companies do.  It was a signal showing that governments may soon be pushed to the outskirts in that and many other spheres.

The pandemic has shown that we do need the state, and that the state must be strong. Countries with a stable vertical of power controlling domestic developments are more effectively dealing with health issues than countries without a strong central government.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think that humanity must turn into a single race. Fascists tried doing just this by pursuing a policy of genocide against the Jews and, deep down, against all the ethnicities of the Soviet Union. A horrible fate lay in store for us. Therefore, the cultural, civilisational and language diversity of the world is our wealth. It would be wrong to impoverish humanity in this sense.

You were right in saying that we would like humanity to be united. But this does not mean we must forget our roots, our history, culture and traditions. What we do need to erase is not national borders but arrogant behaviour in international relations. I have already spoken about this.

Western countries believe that they have a right to force their views on others. They are saying openly that Russia and China must change their behaviour. Why? What is the reason behind the current difficulties in our relations with the West? They supported the anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine in February 2014, although they had signed the agreement reached between then President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. Less than a day later, the opposition trampled underfoot the signatures of the EU representatives and seized the government buildings. The first dangerous sign was the demand that the legislative guarantees of the Russian language be cancelled. It was clear what kind of people had come to power. The next day they started saying that the Russians must be ousted from Crimea and sent the so-called “friendship trains” to the peninsula. Young people with firearms and bats stormed the building of the Crimean Supreme Soviet.

No wonder the Crimean people reacted accordingly. Those who are defending their land in Donbass in southeastern Ukraine are called “terrorists.” But they never attacked anyone, they just said that they would not take part in the developments and asked to be left alone, so that they could understand what was going on and decide what they would do. This is why they have been denounced as “terrorists.” The new regime attacked them. And this process has been ongoing since then.

The West slapped sanctions on us for doing what we did, simply because it itself could not do anything. Maybe some people even liked it that those who came to power in Ukraine, even though their sentiments and mentality were clearly neo-Nazi, claimed that they wanted to be friends with the West. For them, friendship means blindly following their advice. If the West is so promiscuous and is willing to take care and protect anyone regardless of their unacceptable convictions, this is bad. However, arrangements must be made all the same. There is no other way.

Some people have suggested that we should “apologise” to the West and wonder what we need Crimea for. Everyone has a right to have an opinion. I, personally, categorically reject this view. I recall the nationwide joy after the referendum in Crimea. This is very difficult to forget, especially when history is being made right in front of us.

Yes, humanity should be united. But as the motto on a one-dollar bill says, E pluribus unum, which boils down to “unity in diversity.”

Question: You have repeatedly said that our main goal is peace and an agreement. But Western countries interpret our desire to come to an agreement as weakness.  In the past, there were thugs, who saw any reluctance to pick a fight as a weakness and upped the pressure. Western politicians’ behaviour is something like this. In this connection, did you ever consider changing your rhetoric in contacts with them?

Sergey Lavrov: The first thing is that I changed my rhetoric many times. And this was on record. Second, have these “thugs” disappeared? They are still with us. This is part of our life. And they will always be there, I believe. Third, our main goal is not in achieving peace or an agreement, but in ensuring the interests of this country and its citizens. As for an agreement, it is just a tool and it can only be equitable.

Yes, we are always in favour of peace, but we never said that we would turn the other cheek Tolstoy-style, no matter how we love him.

Compared with everyday life, do you know what else this reminds me of? When the Alliance [NATO] was expanding, we asked the small countries along our perimeter, why they were doing this, why they were shifting the NATO borders right up to the borders of the Russian Federation?  The Baltic states said they were having phobias after our “occupation,” and in general they had been “oppressed.” How were they “oppressed,” if all of them kept their languages, and the industry in the Baltic area grew by several orders of magnitude in the Soviet period? Generally speaking, they were dragged into NATO. We were told: please don’t worry, they will calm down after getting rid of their phobias; everything will be all right and there will be peace on your borders.  Nothing of the kind!

In NATO today, the tail is wagging the dog, as the saying goes. The Russophobic minority in the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union (the Baltic Trio is its leader) is constantly clamouring for new “punishments” for the Russian Federation. They hope that the Americans will shield them.  

Let me give you another example. When I was growing up, boys – some of them bigger, some smaller – came out into our yard. But there was always someone who was bigger than the others. The chief bully. He sat husking sunflower seeds and smoking a cigarette, while swarming around him, the shark, were his clingfish. They used to run to a new boy and urge him to give them 10-15 kopeks (a lot of money at that time). If the answer was “no,” the mucho guy rose to his feet and secured the “sovereignty of his territory.” This is life.

But I don’t agree that we always “let them go unpunished.” This era is over and done with. After the disintegration of the USSR, we were seeking to join the Western structures on their terms. But we were still too large for them to “digest”. So, no one accepted us anywhere. And this was perceived as weakness. This period was assessed a long time ago. Lessons have been drawn and it has sunk into the past never to return again.

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