Question: The sabotage attack on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines has been among the hottest topics in recent days. Former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski openly thanked the United States for what happened. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the incident was “in no one’s interest.” Who could benefit from it, in your opinion?
Sergey Lavrov: This is an unprecedented situation. A critical infrastructure facility has been affected, resulting in huge damage to Russia’s interests and the energy security of Europe. The important thing today is to carry out an objective, comprehensive investigation with Russia’s participation and reveal the true causes of the incident.
It is obvious that Russia and Germany are among the main victims. It is also a huge problem for Gazprom. Both strings of Nord Stream 2 were filled with gas and ready for service.
The answer to the question as to who benefits from these developments is obvious. The prime beneficiaries are the United States and its suppliers of expensive LNG from across the ocean, who have a vested interest in ousting rivals from the European gas market. I will refer to President Vladimir Putin, who exposed those to blame for this act of subversion in his speech on September 30. In effect, he directly pointed a finger at the Americans, saying: “It is clear to everyone who stands to gain. Those who benefit are responsible, of course.”
An indicative fact is also Sweden and Denmark’s refusal to allow Russia and the pipeline operator company to take part in the investigation, while there were no objections on their part to the Americans expressing readiness to “join the process.”
Question: The matter is settled regarding DPR and LPR, as well as the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions becoming part of Russia. However, Kiev and the West are not about to recognise the results of the referenda and are going to continue to fight to take these territories back. Experts are increasingly often mentioning the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against the Armed Forces of Ukraine if Ukrainian attacks cannot be stopped by conventional weapons. Is Russia really ready to take this unprecedented step? Also, what does Moscow think about Washington’s warnings about “catastrophic consequences?”
Sergey Lavrov: In the context of the Ukraine-related crisis, it is the Americans and their allies who are trying to introduce nuclear rhetoric into public circulation.
As a reminder, shortly before the special military operation, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Vladimir Zelensky was clear that Ukraine’s abdication of nuclear weapons that remained on its territory after the Soviet Union’s collapse was a mistake. After that, Western politicians picked up the nuclear rhetoric as well. Remember how easily the current Prime Minister of Great Britain promised to press the red button if needed during her election campaign?
Westerners turn everything upside down, alleging that Russia is vocalising nuclear threats and that it can use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, by using various manipulations and outright lies in the process. However, everyone has long become accustomed to this.
President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly made it clear that our nuclear deterrence policy is purely defensive in nature. The theoretical use of nuclear weapons is clearly limited to extraordinary circumstances within the scenarios outlined in the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation and the Fundamentals of State Policy in the Sphere of Nuclear Deterrence. These are open documents. Anyone can read them.
I would also like to emphasise that Russia remains committed to the statement made by the leaders of the five nuclear states of January 3, 2022, which reaffirmed the postulate of the unacceptability of a nuclear war. In accordance with this document, which was approved at the highest level, it is important to stave off any armed conflict between countries possessing nuclear weapons.
As for bold statements about consequences for Russia, this language of threats is absolutely unacceptable. We leave these statements entirely on the conscience of the respective Western politicians. We are not going to discuss this issue with them as doing so is clearly useless.
Question: Some of our allies, such as Kazakhstan and Serbia, have declared that they do not recognise the results of the referenda. Is it of much importance for Russia that these plebiscites are recognised by other countries? Can this be a subject for diplomatic talks?
Sergey Lavrov: The referenda took place and their results were announced just a short while ago. Our foreign partners will need time to realise these new geopolitical realities. We will not force anyone to make haste. Our priority is to implement the results of the free vote in the liberated territories in keeping with the fundamental norms of international law, primarily people’s right to self-determination.
It is important to understand the following: the issue concerning the relationship between the right to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity was solved, after years of debate, by the United Nations in its 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law, which reaffirms the inviolability of territorial integrity and political unity of states, provided they are “possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or colour.”
We know what harsh oppression the Russians and Russian speakers were subjected to by the Kiev regime after the 2014 coup. It is obvious that the authorities in Kiev do not represent the people of Donbass and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.
The issue of whether the referenda are consistent with Ukraine’s Constitution and legislation does not influence their qualification under international law. Let us recall the 2010 decision on Kosovo approved by the International Court of Justice. Under this ruling, a territory has no duty to apply to the central authorities of its country for permission to proclaim its sovereignty when implementing its right to self-determination. This created a precedent.
We must also take into account the fact that the DPR and the LPR held their first independence referenda immediately after both the coup in Kiev and the ensuing reprisals against their residents. Just recall that Ukraine stepped up its onslaught on the rights and freedoms of ethnic minorities and began squeezing Russian out from all spheres of life. They persecuted Russian activists, removed those who opposed authorities, and brought pressure to bear on the parishioners of the canonical Orthodox Church. After the Minsk Agreements were reached in 2015, international recognition of the republics’ independence was put on hold. Had Ukraine performed its obligations under the Package of Measures, it would have been possible to say that the conditions existed for the DPR and LPR to implement their right to self-determination within the state they were part of at that time.
But Kiev sabotaged the Minsk Agreements and set the course for the forcible suppression of Donbass. With the West’s connivance, the Kiev regime imposed a blockade on Donbass, stopped paying pensions and social allowances, made it impossible to conduct normal economic activities, and put obstacles in the path of humanitarian deliveries. All of this made people’s lives unbearable. And, of course, these conditions were incompatible with the DPR and LPR’s right to self-determination within Ukraine.
In the same way, the population in the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions was deprived of any prospects for self-determination within Ukraine as a result of Kiev’s military campaign, including indiscriminate missile attacks on residential areas, destruction of civilian infrastructure, etc.
We are absolutely sure that our cause is righteous and our steps justified. Our assessments and arguments, which we will continue to communicate to our international partners, are quite obvious, and many of our interlocutors share them.
Question: The EU and the US routinely pass anti-Russian sanctions packages. What is Moscow preparing to do in response? Do our Western “partners” have any sore spots left that we could apply pressure to?
Sergey Lavrov: We have grown accustomed to the West constantly preparing some anti-Russia sanctions. When there is no pretext, Washington will surely think of one and the rest will follow Washington’s guidance.
The referenda on the liberated territories are being used as another pretext to step up pressure on our country. We expected nothing less.
Of course, we have all we need to defend our national interests. We will use it fully if needed. Those using the language of sanctions to talk to Russia should understand that thus far we have shown restraint in our response to these acts of economic aggression, but that our patience has its limits.
They failed to tear our economy to shreds as Barack Obama passionately wished some time ago. And they will not be able to do so. All that they intended to provoke in Russia has now started to hit home. A number of European countries are seeing price spikes, drops in revenues and the exhaustion of energy resources. Political experts have spoken of the growing dangers of a social explosion. The usual blessings of civilisation are turning into a privilege for Europeans. This is the price that ordinary citizens must pay for the Russophobic attitudes of their politicians.
But this is what’s happening in the West. In Russia, we will build up our economic and technological sovereignty and chart alternative financial and logistic networks to service our international trade. We will continue to strengthen our cooperation with our partners in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America who, just like us, are in favour of equal cooperation and against the politicisation of trade.
Question: Recently Lithuania has decided to cut the Kaliningrad Region off from Russia by hindering the transit of goods. If there was such a concept as international rudeness in diplomacy, then would this instance be such a case? No bilateral documents provide for such restrictions on transit, but we tolerate it – why? Is there a way to put an end to this?
Sergey Lavrov: It is true that Vilnius is showing considerable zeal to create more and more obstacles for transit to the Kaliningrad region and back. You can choose various epithets to characterise such illegal actions, of course.
The main thing is that there has been a clear violation by the European Union and Lithuania of their political obligations to Russia, as well as the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement of 1994 and the Russia-EU joint statements of 2002 and 2004.
We are consistently trying to achieve the full normalisation of both freight and passenger transit. Some progress has been made in terms of resuming the delivery of goods by rail that are subject to EU anti-Russian sanctions. This has somewhat reduced the acuteness of the problem of sustaining life in the Kaliningrad Region, but nothing more. It is necessary to systematically address all emerging issues, such as bank payment for transport services on the territory of Lithuania, removal of obstacles for the transportation of perishable goods, and the restoration of the previous parameters of passenger transit by rail.
We do not support confrontation, we prefer dialogue. But we cannot ignore the restrictions they have imposed. Therefore, on September 29, a Presidential Executive Order was signed to ban international road transport across Russia by foreign operators from those countries that have imposed restrictions on our individuals and legal entities. Any new attacks will also not go unanswered. No one should have any illusions about this.
Question: Washington and its allies are threatening companies dealing with Russia with secondary sanctions. How serious is this problem now? What do you think about the current efforts to reorient Russia’s trade and economic interests to the East? Can Western threats limit trade with our partners? Shouldn’t we build more pragmatic relations with the countries that we consider friendly today? For instance, can we demand reciprocity in exchange for preferential conditions?
Sergey Lavrov: Naturally, we consider the threats of US secondary sanctions at all stages of dealing with constructive foreign partners. We are developing cooperation with them proceeding from reciprocal interests and mutual benefit. No restrictions will interfere with these objective processes that reflect modern realities.
For instance, our trade with China grew by almost a third in the first eight months of this year. It increased with India by 120 percent in the first six months of 2022. This growth is determined not only by the growing prices on our raw materials exports but also by the expansion of the range of our exports in general. This is only natural since many foreign economic operators from friendly countries are trying to fill the niches vacated after the departure of Western companies from the Russian market.
As for preferences in bilateral trade with friendly countries, each case is individual and requires thorough expert studies. We should analyse them not only with our related departments but also with our EAEU partners because such issues have been raised to the supranational Eurasian level. In addition, it is important to remember that economic cooperation with non-Western states follows WTO rules. They grant Russia a certain package of advantages in foreign trade.
Question: Obviously, the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) is of tremendous importance to Russia today. Who are our real partners there? The APR is not only China but also such states as Indonesia (with the world’s biggest Muslim population), Malaysia, the Philippines, and, finally, our good, long-standing ally Vietnam. We don’t hear practically anything about cooperation with them as if they don’t exist in Russia’s foreign policy agenda. Or is this wrong?
Sergey Lavrov: Today, the centre of global politics is shifting from the Euro-Atlantic to Eurasia and the APR. Relations with APR states, including Southeast Asian countries, have picked up markedly in many areas.
Vietnam is the best example in this respect. During my visit to Hanoi in early July, I personally saw how motivated the leaders of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam are to promote our comprehensive bilateral strategic partnership.
Russia supplies many types of domestic products to the Vietnamese market, including fertiliser, fuel and lubricants, metal and food products. We continue implementing large oil-and-gas projects in both Vietnam and Russia. The plant assembling domestic GAZ automobile equipment is expected to reach its full capacity before the end of the year. We are gradually restoring people-to-people exchanges. We are also discussing the holding of the Days of Russian Culture in Vietnam. The number of Vietnamese studying in our universities has not decreased. We have reinvigorated inter-regional ties after the pandemic.
Or take Indonesia, for example. In June, its President Joko Widodo paid a working visit to Russia. Our leaders talked by telephone in April and August. We have discussed in practical terms prospects of cooperation in fuel and energy and food security. Now our agenda includes infrastructure construction, building of nuclear power plants, non-energy applications of nuclear technology and cooperation in peaceful space exploration. In the first six months of the year, our trade increased by more than 1.5 times.
Our cooperation with other states of the region is gaining momentum as well. In September, President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister of Myanmar Min Aung Hlaing on the sidelines of the 7th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
During my working visits to Nay Pyi Taw and Phnom Penh in August, I had substantive conversations with the heads of governments and foreign ministers of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. In September, my counterpart from Thailand Don Pramudwinai visited Moscow.
Despite unprecedented Western pressure, Southeast Asian countries, with the exception of Singapore, did not start imposing any restrictions on cooperation with Russia after the start of the special military operation. I think this is convincing evidence our relationship is a partnership.
Journalists often ignore an important aspect of Russia’s cooperation with some Southeast Asian countries, such as dialogue between Muslim organisations, although many interesting events are taking place there. For example, the Malaysian Foundation of the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIFE) supported the initiative to organise a visiting session of the Russia-Islam Strategic Vision Group in Kuala Lumpur in 2023 to be timed to the 20th anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Malaysia. In June, Jakarta warmly received a delegation of Russian Muslims headed by Albir Krganov, member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and head of the Spiritual Assembly of the Muslims of Russia. We are optimistic about the prospects of supplying Russian halal products to the region’s countries.
Question: Major Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina support Russia in votes on Ukraine at the UN. Can this support be seen in practice? Are our ties with this region expanding? Can we offer things to them, and they to us?
Sergey Lavrov: Latin America is a friendly and a very promising region. Russia has multifaceted relations with the Latin American states that date back more than a century and a half. A political dialogue has been established, which continues to date despite pressure from the United States and the EU. For example, I met with the Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the ministers from Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly. We talk, and I’m sure we hear each other.
Understandably, not a single Latin American country joined the anti-Russia sanctions, now or in 2014. Our trade with that region has increased by 27 percent compared to the same period last year to almost $11 billion in the first six months.
Our trade with Brazil, our leading partner in the region, increased 50.6 percent in January-May compared to the same period in 2021. The other countries you mentioned – Argentina and Mexico – are our largest partners in Latin America as well. We are ready to expand relations with them and our other friends in Latin America to the extent that they are willing to. Our approach is absolutely sincere, and we do not force them to make the choice of “who you are with.” We have never had a Monroe Doctrine and never will. We are in favour of equal and mutually beneficial cooperation based on pragmatism and the avoidance of ideology-driven approaches. We are for building bridges, not walls.
We continue to help the Latin Americans ensure their food and energy security. Our fertiliser shipments continue with Russian company fertiliser exports of about $3.7 billion in January through June alone.
Question: Despite all its risks, the Cuban Missile Crisis ensured peace on the planet for a long time. The United States and the Soviet Union exacerbated tensions in bilateral relations to the limit and then went back to their “corners” and began to abide by certain rules. Can this scenario happen again?
Sergey Lavrov: The main problem is that the Americans have basically torn up international law and tacit diplomatic taboos that existed for decades. Contrary to geopolitical realities, the United States is trying to subdue other members of the international community and to push everyone into living by rules of their own making.
The Russophobic US elite think irrationally and they are pushing the White House to an open confrontation with Russia. In fact, we are seeing a reckless policy of stoking international tensions.
Is it possible to break out of this vicious cycle? Of course it is. In order to move forward, Washington needs to do some serious work to correct its mistakes and give up its claims to global domination. It would also be nice if they could learn from their failed attempts to interfere in our domestic affairs.
We realise that figuring out the new alignment of forces in the world is challenging and painful for the United States, but the sooner they start reckoning with geopolitical reality, the less they will mess things up and the better the objective process of forming a more just and democratic polycentric world order will be.