Question: The sanctions that are currently imposed on Russia are of course unprecedented. And they are really negatively affecting the lives of ordinary Russians, even though Washington is saying that it’s not targeting Russians. What can you say about what the goals of these sanctions are and who the target really is?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe the goal of the sanctions is much more strategic than just Ukraine. I think what we witness in Ukraine is the quintessence of the western course, strategic course to marginalise Russia, to contain Russia, to stop Russia’s development and to reduce Russia to a zero role in world politics and world economy, world trade, world sports, art, science, education. And we observe unprecedented steps our Western colleagues are taking. One of the underlying trends is the United States’ desire – which has been much more manifested by the Biden administration – to come back to a unipolar world. And, if you wish, they are trying to take the melting pot concept from the United States soil and make a melting pot from the entire world, and they would be the smelters. The European Union already, I think 99 percent, stopped trying to be independent. President Macron, of course, keeps repeating that strategic autonomy for the European Union is his goal and he would be fighting for it, but my guess is that he would not succeed. Germany is already absolutely ready to obey instructions from the United State. The situation with North Stream 2 clearly indicated what exact place in world politics Germany occupies now, when the Americans in fact have “persuaded” the Germans and others that they, the Americans, know much better what Europe needs for its energy security than Europeans themselves. And there are many examples like this. So the sanctions drive is going to continue, they are threatening the fifth wave, maybe there would be another wave, but we’re used to it. I will recall that, long before the Ukrainian crisis erupted because of the illegal anti-constitutional coup d’etat, the sanctions were already imposed on us. It was, you know, when the Jackson–Vanik amendment was repealed, the Magnitsky Act was immediately introduced and the sanctions, in one way or another, stayed. And then there was a series of sanctions, as you mentioned, to punish us, basically, for supporting the legitimate cause of Russians in Ukraine, Russians in Crimea, you know this story, I wouldn’t rehearse the events and the sequence of events.
The latest sanctions wave was really unprecedented and, as President Putin recalled, we are now champions in the number of sanctions introduced against the Russian Federation – more than 5,000 individual acts, almost twice as many as was introduced against Iran and North Korea. But sanctions, or all of this, made us stronger. After the sanctions were announced in 2014, when the West could not accept the free vote of Crimeans to rejoin the Russian Federation, when the West basically supported the illegitimate and unconstitutional coup d’etat. You know what was very interesting to me when I talked about those events to my Western colleagues? They very often use the tactic of cutting off an unwanted historical period. The situation in Ukraine they start discussing only with what they call annexation of Crimea. If you remind them that it all started with the European Union being unable to insist on the implementation of the deal, which they guaranteed, by the opposition, and then the opposition just threw away the deal signed and guaranteed by the European Union, and then the leaders of the opposition and of the so-called Maidan, the radicals, like Dmitry Yarosh were saying “We stand for a Ukraine without Russkis and katsaps” (which means Muscovites), and he publicly stated that if the Russians – well, he said the Russians in Crimea would never think Ukrainian, would never speak Ukrainian, would never glorify the heroes, meaning Bandera and Shukhevich and other collaborators of Hitler – and that’s why Russians must be swiped out of Crimea. Actually, this was said a couple of weeks before the Crimeans eventually decided to go to referendum. And these words were accompanied by deeds. They sent armed groups to take control of the Crimean parliament, and that’s how it all started. Not to mention the initiative – immediately, on the first day of this coup d’etat, the putschists introduced an initiative to do away with the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, which was in the Ukrainian Constitution. So all these instincts were immediately translated into very Russophobic policies.
The idea that Russians should get out of Ukraine is still very much on the minds of politicians in this country. Oleg Tyagnibok, the leader of the ultra-radical party, Svoboda (“Freedom”), has repeatedly said that “we must have de-Russification”, as he calls it. And de-Russification means that ethnic Russians must not have their own language, history and identity in Ukraine and so many similar things. But what is more important for us to understand in the current state of play are these statements by Zelensky himself. So I said that the ultra-radicals called for Russians to be wiped out of Crimea, and President Zelensky, in September last year, said, if you believe you’re a Russian, if you believe you want to be a Russian and if you want to be friendly with Russia, go to Russia. He said this just a few months ago.
So, coming back to sanctions: sanctions we will survive. The measures which the president and the government are developing, elaborating, are being announced. This is only the beginning of our economy getting adjusted to the new situation. After 2014, as I started to say, we did gain experience to rely upon ourselves. And the biggest lesson from this particular historical period is, unlike what we saw after 2014, that now, if there was any illusion that we can one day rely on our Western partners, this illusion is no longer there. We will have to rely only on ourselves and on our allies who would stay with us. This is the main conclusion for Russia in the context of geopolitics.
Question: I think it’s safe to say that Russian culture specifically has become accustomed to being part of, you might say, a global village of countries that share deep economic ties and enjoy travelling between each other. How do you think these sanctions are going to influence the everyday life of Russians in the long term in relation to that?
Sergey Lavrov: Well, as I said, the assessment of what is going on, in my view, clearly indicates that what America wants is a unipolar world, which would be not like a global village, which would be like an American village and maybe American saloon where who is strongest is calling the shots. And they said they are succeeding to mobilize behind themselves and, on the basis of their own interests, the entire Western world, which is indicative of how independent NATO members and European Union members are and which is indicative of what place the European Union, as I said, would have in the future configuration of the world situation and the world system.
There are players who would never accept the global village under the American sheriff, and China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico – I am sure these countries do not want to be just in the position where Uncle Sam orders them something and they say “Yes, sir.” And of course, Russia is not in the category of countries who would be ready to do so. Actually, when people say – when the Americans and Western Europeans and others say that Russia was defeated in the General Assembly because the vast majority of countries voted against the Russian action in Ukraine, it’s misleading because, if you take the population represented by the countries who were not voting against Russia, and especially if you take the number of countries who introduce sanctions against Russia, a majority of those who voted against us did so under huge pressure, under blackmail, including – I know this for sure – including threats to individual delegates regarding their assets in the United States, bank accounts, children studying in universities and so on and so forth. It’s absolutely unprecedented blackmail and pressure without any scruples. So a majority of those countries who voted with the West, they did not and they would not introduce sanctions against Russia. They believe that it’s, you know, not a very big price to pay for their own practical cooperation with Russia, just to vote on something which is needed for the West for entirely propagandistic purposes. So we will be, as always, open to cooperation with anyone who is ready to do so on the equal basis, on the basis of mutual respect and searching for balance of interests, and the countries to the east of Russia are much more disposed to act on this basis, and we will certainly reciprocate for the benefit of both us and our partners. We are not closing the door on the West. They are doing so. But when they come back to their senses and when this door is reopened, we will be looking at proposed projects of cooperation with a very important thing in mind to which I alluded to already – that we will be going into cooperation with them knowing very well that we cannot be sure that they are reliable and that they are credible as long-term partners.
Question: Well, I’d like to take the discussion now to a sort of different topic: these US-sponsored biolabs in Ukraine. I mean, for years already, Russia has been trying to bring the world’s attention to them. And the latest piece of evidence connected to them the Russian military just put forward not too long ago, with documents signed by US officials in connection to them. Why do you think is the world not paying so much attention to these biolabs? And will Washington and its allies be held accountable for what they’re doing there?
Sergey Lavrov: Actually, it’s interesting that the special military operation launched by the president of the Russian Federation helped discover many things which are very important for understanding what is going on. Recently, the military of Russia, together with Donetsk and Lugansk forces, discovered documents of the Ukrainian general staff indicating clearly that they were preparing a massive attack against the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. So the operation, which was launched by Russia, in fact, preempted this threat and did not allow them to implement what they wanted to do, and they wanted to do exactly what they failed to do implementing the Minsk agreements. They were trying to use what they called Plan B and to take these territories by force with bloodshed on an unbelievable scale, in addition to what they have been doing to civilians for the last eight years.
But another set of documents which was discovered – as you said, documents related to military biological activity of the United States in Ukraine – documents with signatures of Ukrainian officials, US military. Those laboratories have been created by the United States all over the world. More than 300 laboratories in various countries, many of them on the perimeter of the Russian Federation – in the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. Ukraine is probably the biggest project for the Pentagon, who is running this show. The special Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the Pentagon is in charge of this biological activity, and they are developing very dangerous pathogens, including plague, brucellosis, anthrax and many others, which are really very dangerous. And we know that they were experimenting on potential infections, which could be related to the ethnic groups living in the east of Ukraine and in neighboring regions of Russia.
We have been raising this issue in international organizations for a while, I would say almost more than 20 years. In 2001, we suggested that the countries participating in the Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons should develop a verification mechanism which would be transparent, which would be understood by everybody and applied to everybody because the convention itself provides for consultations if any participating state has some suspicions or some information which the state would like to clarify. And if these consultations indicate that there is a good reason for some kind of investigation, then an investigation is supposed to be launched. But there is no mechanism to investigate, and there is no mechanism which would require each and every country, in response to an address, to provide information and to guarantee transparency of its biological activity anywhere, be it on your own territory or abroad.
By the way, the Americans some years ago decided that it is too dangerous to do these things on their own soil. So they moved all these threatening and dangerous activities to other countries, and more and more they concentrate their research and experiments around the borders of the Russian Federation and China. So we will be insisting on this issue to be picked up by the Biological Weapons Convention, but also by the Security Council, because it’s a clear threat to international peace and security. We will be again emphasising the importance of negotiating a legally binding protocol to the Convention on Biological Weapons, which would require obligatory transparency measures by any participating state. The Americans, I have no slightest doubt, would be against it, but this position of theirs is not defendable. I am convinced that more and more countries understand how dangerous these plans are, and we will continue to fight them.
Question: What can you say on the topic of Washington’s role in all of this? President Zelensky called for weapons to come to his country from the West. He’s talked about a demand for establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and this is something that Joe Biden just recently again said is not going to happen because that would lead, no doubt, to outright war between Russia and NATO and the United States. Why do you think is Ukraine so desperately trying to make some sort of scenario like that happen?
Sergey Lavrov: Whatever you think of some of Joe Biden’s statements, he is a very experienced politician and he understands that it is absolutely inadmissible to establish something like a no-fly zone, to provide planes to Ukraine and to do other things which will bring the risk of direct confrontation between NATO and Russia just, you know, immediately. But Zelensky also understands that there are much less responsible politicians in the United States who are being agitated by the Ukrainian lobby and just driven by Russophobic feelings, and many of them are in Congress. They adopt every now and then resolutions condemning Russia, threatening Russia. I believe Zelensky is counting on them pushing the president in the direction of a more confrontational approach.
We clearly said that any cargo moving into Ukrainian territory which we would believe is carrying weapons would be fair game. This is clear because we are implementing the operation the goal of which is to remove any threat to the Russian Federation coming from Ukrainian soil. This was part of our proposal in December last year when we suggested that we negotiate with NATO security guarantees – the way which would be codifying the old agreement reached at the highest level that no one, no country should increase its security at the expense of the security of others. So they know what it is all about.
They also speak about missile defense. Kiev authorities think of asking NATO members who possess Soviet air defense systems to share this with them.
I would like to remind the countries who might be playing with this idea that the Soviet and Russian-made systems of missile defense or of any other purpose are there on the basis of intergovernmental agreements and contracts, which includes an end user certificate. The end user certificate does not allow them to send these weapons to any third country without our consent. This is a legal obligation. I understand that legality and legal obligations is not something which our Western colleagues respect these days. They’ve already thrown away the presumption of innocence, private property being sacred and many other “pillars” on which the “liberal values” have been resting for so many centuries and decades.
But this is a serious matter, and I can assure you that we would not allow these risks to be materialised. The purpose of our operation is to protect civilians, who have been bombed and shelled and murdered for eight years, and to demilitarise Ukraine so that it does not pose a serious threat to the Russian territory, and to find security guarantees, which would be based on this equal, indivisible security principle for Ukraine, for Russia, for all European countries. We have been proposing this for many years. Denazification is an absolute must. And that includes not only canceling laws encouraging Nazist ideology and practices, but it also includes withdrawing any legislation which discriminates the Russian language and other national minority languages and, in general, national minority rights in Ukraine which have been hugely discriminated and offended.
Question: Well, we’ve talked a lot about the kinetic war, but I wanted to ask another question about the information war actually. A few days ago, the White House had a briefing with several popular TikTokers in the United States, and they were basically briefed on a new anti-Russian narrative that Washington wants to put forward. What do you think about such sort of underhanded propaganda technique when it’s usually Russia that they’re accusing of misinformation and underhanded tactics?
Sergay Lavrov: Well, we are a very, very small player in the international information war. It’s the information… World information is dominated by media belonging to the Americans, the Brits, and also the Germans, the French and others. It’s another matter, what the quality of those information outlets is. If you take CNN, they prefer to avoid analytical materials and they more and more concentrate on some reports which would be made of slogans “Russia is an aggressor,” “Russia is murdering civilians,” “Russia is abusing sports” and so on and so forth.
When they concentrate on TikTok and other resources like this and other platforms and when they target kids because TikTok is about young boys and girls, I believe this is an attempt to brainwash them for the rest of their lives. And this is indecent and not fair.
If you want information and competition, if you want competition among media outlets, then there at must be some rules.
I would remind you and your viewers that in 1990, when the Soviet Union was living under this “new thinking” concept and the human values, common values for humankind, the Western colleagues in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were pushing very actively, and finding support on the Soviet side, a series of documents of the OSCE on freedom of speech and on access to information. Such documents were endorsed by consensus in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. These days, when your channel and Sputnik many years ago were banned from attending, for example, press conferences and briefings in Élysée in Paris, and when we were drawing the attention of the French colleagues that this was against the commitment in the OSCE, they were saying, “No, no, no, no, no. Access to information is applicable only to mass media and RT and Sputnik are not mass media, they are propaganda tools.”
Another example of abusing the commitments and obligations – when a couple of years ago in London there was a conference on freedom of media in the modern world, no Russian media were invited.
So we know the manners and the tricks which are being used by the Western countries to manipulate media. We understood long ago that there was no such thing as an independent Western media. If you take the United States, only Fox News is trying to present some alternative points of view. But when you watch other channels and when you read social networks and internet platforms, when the acting president was blocked, as you know, and this censorship continues in a very big way and the substitution of notions. Whenever something is happening by the way of mass protest, mass demonstrations, which they don’t like, they immediately call it domestic terrorism. So it’s a war, and it’s a war which involves the methods of information terrorism. There is no doubt about this.
A very interesting example was yesterday, when the Bild newspaper in Germany published a piece saying that myself on the evening of March 16 left Moscow by plane to go to China, but in the area of Novosibirsk, the plane turned back because either Putin told me to come back or the Chinese said, “We don’t want to talk to you.” It was published by, yes, a tabloid, but with millions of copies. And it’s a shame that we have these habits being introduced into the information world by our “friends.” It is not by incident that President Putin said about the existence of the Empire of Lies.
Question: Well, just one more question for you, Mr. Lavrov. Of course, this conflict in Ukraine is not going to go on forever. When it does come to an end, what do you foresee as the main challenges in future Russia–Ukraine relations?
Sergay Lavrov: Well, we never had any issues with the Ukrainian people. I have many Ukrainian friends, the two peoples are very close culturally. Practically all of them speak, and those who don’t, they understand the Russian language. Culture, common history, way of life, attitude to life, traditions of families and communities. So I hope that when this anomaly is over, this will gradually come back. It will have to be gradual.
It cannot come back fast because the efforts of our Western colleagues to make Ukraine a Russophobic and anti-Russian instrument – anti-Russia, as President Putin called it – they started long ago, and they are already rather deeply rooted in Ukrainian mentality, especially the young generation which was born after the demise of the Soviet Union. They have been indoctrinated in a very, very heavy way.
The efforts were taken systemically to train military officers on the basis of radical Bandera and Shukhevich-style methodology. The purpose being – to make sure that they would not become friendly to Russia again and that they would build their nationalism, nationalistic feelings as the means to strengthen the statehood of their country.
The purpose was always to make sure that Russia does not have Ukraine as a friend. It’s like Zbigniew Brzezinski in the late 1990s said, “Russia with Ukraine, a friendly Ukraine next to it, is a superpower. Russia with Ukraine which is not friendly to Russia, is just a regional player.” This concept is very deeply rooted in the minds of American policymakers, and it will take time to get rid of these negative legacies.
Even now, when the armed forces of Ukraine are fighting, trying to procrastinate the crisis. The leaders of Ukraine with the help of American and other Western advisors have reformed the army in the way which puts these radicals, Bandera-like trained officers, to lead all more or less meaningful units in the Ukrainian army. And these people radicalise and terrorise others, especially those who don’t believe that this should be the fate of their country.
Their actions in Mariupol is an example of that. The refugees coming from Mariupol to Russia in dozens of thousands tell such stories. It’s really threatening how this kind of people command armed men and women.
But I am sure, at the end of the day, the historic closeness of two fraternal nations will certainly prevail.