Question: I would like to start with Ukraine. What is Russia’s vision of a path forward towards a settlement? What about the talks? Is it fair to say that, for different reasons, neither Kiev nor Russia needs these talks?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia sees a path forward to a settlement in a way that President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made clear. We are defending Donbass. We had to recognise the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. Over the past eight years that followed the coup in Ukraine, after we put an end to the bloody conflict, signed the Minsk agreements and had them approved by the UN Security Council, all these long years the Kiev regime and the West that has taken it under its wing vehemently refused to comply with these agreements, and we were left with the only option, to recognise independence of the DPR and LPR.
We will uphold their independence within the borders where they held the referendum in 2014. This process is underway, but not without difficulties. The resistance by neo-Nazis, who came of age in Kiev over time with the help of Western instructors, is fierce. Many of them are using narcotics that make them completely fearless. However, I’m convinced that the operation is unfolding at a pace that is necessary to save lives and to minimise risks for the local civilian population. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly noted this in his speeches, and I have said it many times.
Soon after the special military operation started, Vladimir Zelensky came up with a proposal of holding talks. We responded immediately. At some point, in late March, these talks (when there was a meeting in Istanbul) led to an outcome that made us all hopeful. For the first time, the Ukrainian side put on paper a position that suited us as a basis for further work. Several days later, they said No to it. In between these events, they staged a provocation in Bucha, which the West is vehemently refusing to discuss, although numerous facts have come to light proving that it was a flat-out hypocritical and cynical staged performance. Since mid-April, the Ukrainian side has not been responding to our proposals that are based on their own initiatives. Absolute silence.
We are now discussing ways to return life to normal in the liberated territories. You see the people’s response in the DPR, the LPR, the Kherson region and Zaporozhye region, and a number of other Ukrainian regions. They want to build a peaceful life without constantly experiencing fear of the neo-Nazis who have been abusing them all these long years. They will be the ones to determine their future. If the Ukrainian side comes to realise that it is time to conclude agreements, we are ready to meet them halfway. But so far they haven’t showed any signs of being willing to do so.
Question: The Russian Security Council has stated many times that Poland had engaged in cultivating Ukrainian territory. What evidence do we have? Can Hungary and Romania partake in this division?
Sergey Lavrov: Polish passports have been passed out for many years now, including in Ukraine and a number of other former Soviet republics. Poland has announced that it is ready to form a peacekeeping operation in western Ukraine. During President Duda’s visit, Ukraine made a big deal out of the Verkhovna Rada adopting a resolution to make Poles equal with Ukrainians in all rights, except the right to vote. No one thinks this is a shameful thing to do. All these years, the West has been throwing tantrums over our decision to issue Russian passports to the residents of Donbass who wanted one. The West was throwing tantrums and not once mentioned the fact that Poland and Romania have long been doing the same. More than half of Ukraine’s Chernovtsy region residents have Romanian citizenship. Bucharest-financed programmes to expand cross-border links are being carried out there. This is about the same thing that we were doing when we still had hopes that the Minsk agreements would be acted upon and were developing economic ties with Donbass at a time when Kiev had imposed a total economic, transport and other blockade on these two republics. Romania has been doing this for a long time now. It is expanding people-to-people contacts. No one is talking about this in a negative manner. This is considered routine, because they are NATO members and respectable people. They can do anything. They follow their own rules.
In Transcarpathia regions populated by Hungarians, they use their own language and teach it. Hungary sees these people as its compatriots, supports them and helps conduct education in the Hungarian language.
Had the Ukrainian regime not launched a frontal attack on Russians and had it not used it to try to also ban the Hungarian language and the Romanian language (when the Ukrainians adopted the law On the State Language, which stipulated that only the Ukrainian language could be used not only in official business between the citizens and the states, but in everyday life as well), but simply proceeded to fulfill the Minsk agreements instead, the main message of which is special status based on the right to speak the native language, then nothing would have happened. We would be willing to develop our relations under the Minsk agreements. They refused to do so. So, I cannot imagine the future of Ukraine given the policy pursued by this openly neo-Nazi regime.
Question: When will an international tribunal to hear the case of the participants in Ukrainian armed formations be held and where? Statements have already been made in Donbass about the likely participation of the EU and the United States [in the legal proceedings]. What is your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: This is the initiative of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. As I understand, they are preparing for these legal proceedings and are gathering information. They sent their proposals for cooperation to relevant agencies in the Russian Federation and other countries. They have invited both the European Union and the United States to cooperate. I believe neither we, nor our friends in Donbass have anything to hide. Let us see how they will respond. I have no doubt that foreign experts will certainly attend.
We are ready to make all our political actions to explain certain events fully transparent. Horrendous facts came to light about the military-biological activities of the Americans in Ukraine – and not only Americans were involved, there were also Germans, among others, there. Thirty laboratories in 15 cities across Ukraine have reached an advanced phase in developing extremely hazardous pathogens and were preparing to carry out experiments on people. Our State Duma and the Federation Council have set up an ad hoc commission to investigate these facts. We have invited Americans to take part in the hearings, especially because Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, testifying at a US Senate hearing, said these laboratories possessed information that should not fall into the hands of Russian forces. We believe an honest talk is required. We will be just as open as we prepare for the legal proceedings, that is, a special tribunal for war crimes in Ukraine.
Question: You are well aware of the Doomsday Clock project. My question is simple and difficult at the same time: What time is it now in Moscow and in Washington?
Sergey Lavrov: You know, I am not keeping an eye on the project now. Some time ago, I followed the developments. At one time, it was seven minutes to midnight. I do not know where this hand is now.
But if we are talking about Moscow, we are key initiators of the statements that were made at the Russian-US summits, as well as those made on behalf of the leaders of the five UN Security Council permanent member countries, saying that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and so it must never be unleashed. That is our position. We are strongly committed to it.