When in 2014 the Malaysian plane was shot down over Ukraine, two days later I think, in the UN Security Council, when we insisted on adopting a resolution demanding further investigation, the American officials said yes, we believe investigation must be held, but we already know the result.
What about the presumption of innocence? The same happened with Litvinenko, the poor guy who was poisoned in London, when from the very beginning they said, we will have an investigation but we know who did it, and they never made this trial public. And they never accepted the offer of assistance which we were ready to provide. And so on and so forth.
Now, yesterday, this terrible murder of the Russian and Ukrainian citizen, who used to be an MP in Russia, and did not stay in the current parliament, and President Poroshenko two hours after the guy was murdered says that this was a terrorist attack from Russia—who also blew up the munition depot near Kharkov. It was said a few hours later by the president of a democratic country, whom our American and European friends call a beacon of democracy. I thought democracy was about establishing facts when you have suspicions.
And democracy is about division of power, and if the chief executive takes upon himself the functions of the legal system, of the judicial system, that does not fit with my understanding of how Western democracy works. We’re ready to discuss anything—any facts, I mean. We’re ready to assist in investigations of whatever issues our partners anywhere might have. Whether this is going to be an obstacle to normal relations, I don’t think so. I believe the Russian people, at least if we are asked, I would say no, if it depends on us. I understand that there are some people in the United States who want this to become an obstacle, and who want to tie up the team of President Trump on the Russian issue, and I believe this is very mean policy, but we see that this is taking place.
What can Russia do to help? Unfortunately, not much. We cannot accept the situation, but some absolutely artificial hysterical situation was created by those who severed all of the relationship—who dropped the deal on the Bilateral Presidential Commission between Moscow and Washington with some twenty-plus working groups, a very elaborate mechanism of cooperation—and then after they have done this, after they prevent the new administration from doing away with this absolute stupid situation, to ask us to do something? I don’t think it’s fair.
We said what we did, that we are ready to work with any administration, any president who would be elected by the American people. This was our line throughout the electoral campaign, unlike the acting leaders of most European countries who were saying absolutely biased things, supporting one candidate, unlike those who even bluntly warned against the choice in favor of the Republican candidate, and this somehow is considered normal. But I leave this on the conscience of those who said this and then immediately chickened out and then started praising the wisdom of the U.S. electorate.
We said that we would be ready to come back to the relationship and to develop the relationship with the United States to the extent, and to the depths, to which the administration is ready to go. Whatever is comfortable for our partners, we will support and provide it. We talk on the basis of mutual respect and equality, trying to understand the legitimate interest of each other and to see whether we can find the balance between those interests. We will be ready to cover our part of the way, as President Putin said, but we will not be making any unilateral steps. We offered cooperation on very fair terms, and we will judge by the deeds of course.
Question: Perhaps we can pivot to international affairs. In the United States there’s been discussion of a new Cold War; you, for your part, recently talked about a post-West international order, which as you may imagine is not something that many in the United States and other Western countries would readily embrace. In fact, some may even be strongly inclined to resist the emergence of a post-West order. What do you think a post-West order is, and do you think that it makes confrontation between Russia and the United States, or Russia and the West, inevitable?
Sergey Lavrov: Well first, I don't believe that we are having another Cold War. Ideologically, we’re not different, we’re not apart. Yes, there are nuances in how the countries in the West and Russia and its neighbors are run. But all in all the basis is democracy, which is elections, basically, and organizing the system, the way you respect the opposition and it’s also market economy. Again with “give and take”: you know in some countries the state is much more involved in economy than in others, but this happened in France some time ago, in the UK some time ago, so this is all secondary details, I would say. There’s no ideological differences as far as democratic principles and market economy are concerned. Second, these days, unlike the days of the Cold War, we have much clearer common threats, like terrorism, like chaos in the Middle East, like the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This was never the case during the Cold War days, which was a very negative balance with sporadic conflicts in periphery. This time we have global universal threats, not sparing anyone, and this is what we witness almost daily, with these terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Europe, there was one in the United States, and so on and so forth.
So this absolutely makes it necessary to reassess where we are and what kind of cooperative structure we need. Post-West system, post-West order: I mentioned this term in Munich at the Munich Security Conference, and I was really surprised that people immediately made me the author, the coiner of this term, because the title of the conference contained “post-West order”—with a question mark, yes. I put the question mark aside for one very simple reason: if we all agree that we cannot defeat terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, climate change without a universal coalition, if we all agree that this is the case, and I believe we do, then it would certainly be necessary to recognize that the world is different, compared to the many centuries when the West was leading with culture, philosophy, military might, economic systems, and so on and so forth.
We all have, China, the whole Asia-Pacific region, which President Obama, by the way, said is the place where the U.S. would be shifting, which in itself means that he was not thinking of the West order but post-West order. And, of course, Latin America; Africa, which is hugely underdeveloped but has the potential with resources and labor, young and vigorous, still untapped. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just a few days ago in Washington convened a coalition to fight terrorism—sixty-eight countries, if I am not wrong, double the number of the countries in the West. This meeting was post-West order, or a manifestation of post-West order. So I don’t believe the Western countries should be really offended or should feel that their contribution to the world civilization has been underestimated—not at all. It’s just the time when no one can do it alone, and that’s how we feel. It’s a polycentric world. Call it multipolar, call it polycentric, call it more democratic—but this is happening. And economic might, financial might and the political influence associated with all this, they’re much more evenly spread.
Question: Let’s zero in on Syria. You mentioned the terrorism issue and certainly the struggle with ISIS is an important focus for the U.S., for Russia. There has been, as I’m sure you’re aware, some skepticism in the United States about Russia’s role in Syria. President Donald Trump, when he was a presidential candidate, certainly referred many times to a desire to work with Russia in Syria. How do you envision the opportunities and constraints on the U.S. and Russia in working together in Syria, and do you have any specific new ideas about how to do that?
Sergey Lavrov: First, when this coalition was created by the Barack Obama administration (the coalition which was convened in Washington just a few days ago) it was understood that out of sixty-some countries, only a few would be actually flying air force and hitting the ground. Others were mostly political and moral support, if you wish, a solidarity show—which is fine, it’s important these days as well to mobilize public opinion in as many countries as you can. We were not invited. The Iranians were not invited. Some others were not invited, who I believe should be important partners in this endeavor. But this was motivated by some ideological considerations on the part of the Barack Obama administration. I just don’t want to go into the reason for why they assembled this particular bunch of people.