Sergey Lavrov: The Interview

Sergey Lavrov: The Interview

An “absolutely artificial hysterical situation was created” in U.S.-Russia relations—but not quite yet a Cold War.

And of course on cybercrimes the discussions in the United Nations are very telling. When we are leading the debate on negotiating an instrument which would be universal and which would be mandatory for everybody, the U.S. is not really very much eager, and is not very enthusiastic.

Speaking of meddling with others’ matters, there is no proof that Russia was in any way involved either in the United States, or in Germany, or in France, or in the United Kingdom—by the way, I read yesterday that the Swedish prime minister is becoming nervous that they also have elections very soon and that Russia would 100 percent be involved in them. Childish, frankly speaking. You either put some facts on the table or you try to avoid any statements which embarrass you, even if you don’t believe this is the case.

It’s embarrassing to see and to hear what we see and hear in the West, but if you speak of meddling with other countries’ matters, where facts are available—take a look at Iraq. It was a very blunt, illegal intervention, which is now recognized even by Tony Blair, and those who were pathetically saying that they cannot tolerate a dictator in Iraq. Take a look at Libya, which is ruined, and I hope still has a chance to become one piece. Take a look at Syria, take a look at Yemen: this is the result and the examples of what takes place when you intervene and interfere. Yes, I’m sure you can say about Ukraine, you can say about Crimea, but for this you have to really get into the substance of what transpired there.

When the European Union was insisting that President Yanukovych sign an association agreement, including a free-trade zone with zero tariffs on most of the goods and services crossing the border between Ukraine and the European Union, and at that point it was noted that Ukraine already had a free-trade area with Russia, with some different kind of structure, but also with zero tariffs. So if Russia has zero tariffs with Ukraine, Ukraine would have the same with European Union but we have some protection, under the WTO deal with the European Union, so the only thing we said: guys, if you want to do this, we would have to protect our market from the European goods which would certainly go through Ukraine to Russia, trying to use the zero-tariff arrangement. And the only thing suggested, and Yanukovych supported, is to sit down the three—Ukraine, EU and Russia—and to see how this could be handled. Absolutely pragmatic and practical thing. You know what the European Union said? “None of your business.”

Then-President of the European Commission Mr. Jose Manuel Barrosso (my favorite) stated publicly that we don’t meddle with Russia’s trade with China, so don’t meddle with our deal with Ukraine. While the situation is really very different and the free-trade area argument was absolutely ignored. And then Mr. Yanukovych asked for the signature of this deal to be postponed, for him to understand better what will be the consequences—for his industry, for his finances, for his agriculture—if we would have to protect ourselves from potential flow of cheap goods from Europe. That’s so, and then the coup was staged, in spite of the fact that there was a deal between Yanukovych and the opposition, witnessed by Germany, France and Poland.

Next morning, this deal was torn apart under the pretext that Yanukovych disappeared, and therefore all commitments were off. The problem is that he did not leave the country, he was in another city of the country. But my main point is that the deal which they signed with him was not about him; it was about his agreement to go to early elections – and he would have lost these elections – but the deal started by saying, “We agree to create a government of national unity.”

And next morning, when they just tore apart this deal, Mr. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, then a leader in Ukraine’s Batkivshchyna party, and others who signed the deal with the president, they went to this Maidan, to the protestors, and said, “Congratulations, we just created the government of the winners.” Feel the difference: “government of national unity” and “government of the winners.” Two days later, this parliament, which immediately changed their position, announced that the Russian language is no longer welcome.

A few days later, the so-called Right Sector, the group which was an instrument in the violence in Maidan, they said that Russians have nothing to do in Crimea, because Russians would never honor the heroes of Ukraine, like Bandera and Shukhevych, who were collaborating with Nazis. These kinds of statements led to the people in the east of Ukraine just to say: “guys, you did something unconstitutional, and we don’t believe this is good for us,” so leave us alone, let us understand what is going on in Kiev, but we don’t want any of your new ideas to be imposed on us. We want to use our language, we want to celebrate our holidays, to honor our heroes: these eastern republics never attacked anyone. The government announced the antiterrorist campaign in the east, and they moved the regular army and the so-called voluntary battalions in the east of Ukraine. This is not mentioned by anyone. They are called terrorists—well, they never attacked a person.

And investigations of what actually happened on that day of the coup is going nowhere; the investigation of the murder in Odessa on the second of May, 2014, when dozens of people were burned alive in a trade-union office building, is moving nowhere. Investigation of political murders of journalists and opposition politicians is not moving anywhere. And they basically passed amnesty for all those who were on the part of the opposition during the coup. And they prosecute all those who were on the part of the government.

But even now they want to prosecute Yanukovych in absentia, but one interesting thing maybe for your readers to compare: there was a deal on the twenty-first of February, next morning they said, Yanukovych is not in Kiev, so our conscience is clean and we do what we please, in spite of the commitment to national unity. About the same time there was a coup in Yemen. President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia. Not to some other city in Yemen, but he fled abroad.

More than two years passed, and the entire progressive international community, led by our Western friends, insists that he must be brought back to Yemen and that the deal which he signed with the opposition must be honored by the opposition. My question is why Ukraine’s situation is treated differently from the situation in Yemen. Is Yemen a more important country? Are the deals which you sign, and the need to respect your word and your deals, more sacred in Yemen than in Ukraine? No answer.

Sorry for getting into all these details, but people tend to forget, because they’re being brainwashed every day with very simple phrases like “Russia is aggressor in Ukraine,” “annexation of Crimea” and so on and so forth, instead of laboring your tongues, people should go there. Those who go to Crimea, see for themselves how the people live there, and they understand that all these hysterical voices about violation of human rights, about discrimination vis-à-vis Crimean Tatars, is a lie.

Question: Maybe coming back, just for a moment, to the U.S. election, and setting aside the question of evidence, because your government has its perspective, the U.S. intelligence community has its perspective—I don’t think those differences are likely to be reconciled. Setting that question aside, many Americans believe that Russia did interfere in the election; it’s contributed to a particular political climate in the United States. Do you view that as an obstacle to the U.S.-Russia relationship, and do you believe there is anything that Russia can or should do to try to address these widespread concerns?

Sergey Lavrov: You said a very interesting thing. You used the word “perspective.” You said, “Russia has its own perspective; the American intelligence community has its own perspective.” Perspective is something which many people have. We speak about facts, about proofs. And with all these perspectives, these hearings which sometimes are shown on CNN, on Russian TV, I haven’t heard any, any proof. Except the confirmation that the FBI and the NSA started watching what the Trump team is doing sometime in July. I heard this recently.

And I take this as acceptance by those who were doing this, for whatever reason, and they clearly said that this was not because of the suspicion that he had something to do with Russia but this was a routine process during which they find a trace leading to the Trump headquarters. Fine, this is a fact: they admitted that they started this. So what? If by admitting this they make their perspective regarding Russia a fact, I cannot buy this.

And then you said, they have their own perspective, and that the American people believe Russia had something to do with the American elections. Categories like perspective and belief are not very specific. And we speak about some very serious accusations. I understand that in the West, people who indeed profess Russophobic feelings, and unfortunately they are—they used to be very powerful, they are still very powerful even when they lost the elections, and Russophobic trends are obviously seen even in the Republican camp. You know, it’s very easy to find some external threat and then to put all the blame on this particular external threat.