Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Channel One’s Vremya weekly news and analysis programme

October 9, 2016

Question: Is it possible to make a deal with the US? You went through very complex and lengthy negotiations with US Secretary of State John Kerry, and agreements were reached. The Pentagon is now bombing the Syrian army and several dozen people were killed. How can an agreement be reached against this backdrop?

Sergey Lavrov: Reaching agreement is not easy, and making sure that an agreement that had been reached is actually implemented is even harder. Regarding Syria, this is like a chronic disease. For example, back in June 2012, just over one year after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was asked to try and find a way out of the crisis. He devised a plan, called the Kofi Annan six-point peace plan. Russia supported this plan, while the West made a wry face and refused to review it. We had to go to great lengths to convene a meeting in Geneva, bringing together the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the key Arab countries and Turkey as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in an attempt to make progress on the issue. We succeeded in adopting the so-called Geneva Communique, which is attributable for the most part to our direct contact with then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We adopted the communique on June 30, 2012 after negotiations that lasted for many hours. It took us two days to fulfil Russia’s commitment under the document to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad approve the document. Days and weeks went by and neither the US nor the other Western or Arab countries were able to convince the opposition to do the same.

Russia wanted the UN Security Council to approve the Russia-US arrangement and a broader understanding that was reached by adopting a resolution to this effect, but the US refused to do so, saying that the agreement would not be enough, and that it fails to mention the demand for Bashar al-Assad to step down or threaten sanctions in case he does not. We replied that this was not part of the deal, as the text we had adopted was quite clear and concise. We did not receive any intelligible answer back then. However, more than a year later, in the fall of 2013, when the effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons got underway at the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russia persuaded Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, only then were we able to have the UN Security Council approve the Geneva Communique by referring to it in a resolution regarding the Russia-US arrangement on the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons.

This drama continued with the recent agreements drafted by Russia and the US as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). The first obligation envisaged by this deal was to separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition with whom the US coalition works. This provision has yet to be fulfilled despite the fact that back in February 2016 they said they could do it in two weeks or so. The obligation to unblock Castello Road to provide safe humanitarian access to Eastern Aleppo was set forth in great detail in the Russia-US agreement, including specific distances for withdrawing government troops and opposition forces. Again, the US said that it was unable to honour this obligation because the opposition was not listening to them. And there are many other examples like this. It seems that it is for the very reason that the US was unable to fulfil its commitments regarding the withdrawal of forces along Castello Road that they decided to withdraw from these agreements or suspend them, if not slam the door on them. They chose to present the situation differently. In fact, there was a specific reason behind this failure: they undertook an obligation to make the opposition retreat by fifteen hundred metres. The government troops were withdrawing, but the opposition tried to take over the vacated territory immediately. However, instead of admitting the specific cause that resulted in the failure of the agreements, the US opted for an abstract explanation. They argued that Russia was unwilling to put an end to hostilities that inflict suffering on civilians. We are used to this kind of rhetoric, so we keep working at it.

Question: Is the US unable to live up to its commitments, especially with regards to working with the moderate opposition and the opposition as such, or does it have some other objectives? Is it perhaps that the Americans have nothing to gain from stabilising Syria?

Sergey Lavrov: I think all of this is present in the US position. This position is “patchy” all over: there are many different groups pursuing different agendas.

Question: Do you mean they have no strategy?

Sergey Lavrov: There are some who favour a return to the Russian-American agreements. Let me mention parenthetically that this group managed to have its way on not dissolving the ISSG established by Russia and the United States. Moreover, its subgroups met in Geneva yesterday. As is common knowledge, the Russian-American ISSG has two task subgroups: one on humanitarian issues and the other on monitoring the cessation of hostilities and investigating violations.

There is a group in Washington that favours not only diplomatic methods but also use-of-force options. It was leaked [to the media] that a cruise missile attack on Syrian airfields could well ground the Syrian air force. The Russian General Staff has reacted promptly to this. These are very dangerous schemes, given that Russia, being in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government and having two bases there – an air base in Khmeimim and a naval facility in Tartus – has also air defence weapons to protect these facilities. We can clearly see that the majority of the US military understand the need to be guided by reason rather than by emotion or passing fits of aggressiveness.

In other words, we do not see an overall strategy. This is clear in many ways, including the US and the US-led coalition’s attitude to Jabhat al-Nusra. They attack ISIS, but this only became more common after the Russian Aerospace Forces started operating in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government. The frequency and effectiveness of sorties are incomparable. US bombers often return to the Incirlik Air Base or some other base they use with their bomb load intact. Thus the frequency of sorties is maintained but their efficiency is very low, being no higher than 15 to 20 per cent, by some estimates. We turned the spotlight on the fact that even this “sparing” treatment of ISIS seemed fairly intense by comparison with how they approached Jabhat al-Nusra that was not attacked at all. I asked Secretary of State John Kerry if they had an ulterior motive to keep this terrorist group alive and take the heat off it in order to make it the main force tasked with toppling President Bashar Assad at some later stage. He swore adamantly that this was not so and that they were fighting against it. I think that it was these conversations that compelled the Americans to declare that they had, pardon me, “knocked off” a Jabhat al-Nusra leader the other day. This was an absolutely isolated action. We don’t see any actual evidence implying a serious fight against Jabhat al-Nusra. They make us suspicious by their calls for Russian aircraft and the Syrian air force to stop overflying Aleppo because there were many members of the moderate opposition on the ground aside from Jabhat al-Nusra, the main force, and these people allegedly had no one to “lean towards” but this terrorist group. We shouldn’t hurt Nusra, they say, because this would be inhumane towards the “normal guys” from the opposition; we will combat Nusra later. But this “later” never comes. They promised to separate the “normal guys” from Jabhat al-Nusra back in February. This is a vicious circle that can’t be broken.

Question: The goal of separating the “good guys” from Jabhat al-Nusra is clear. But who thought of the idea of bombing the Syrian armed forces’ airfields?

Sergey Lavrov: I heard the idea was proposed in Washington. Some anonymous sources have leaked information to the effect that the White House is planning to discuss different options, and that one of them allegedly concerned the bombing plans. I hope these hot heads will calm down and consider the problem seriously. It’s a consolation that, according to these leaks and highly reliable information, many leading US officials understand that any attack on Syrian armed forces ground targets will be a gross violation of international law.

I believe that any new strikes similar to those delivered in mid-September at the Syrian government forces surrounded by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor cannot be explained by a mistake. This cannot be a mistake. As I’ve said, the situation was static there; the city has been surrounded by ISIS for almost two years, and so everyone knows where the ISIS and the Syrian Government forces are deployed. The frontline did not change, and besides, several days after the attack a Pentagon official said they took a couple of days to develop the target, and the decision was made after looking at all the intelligence. So, it was a signal sent by the part of the US administration that wanted to intimidate President al-Assad. I am convinced that US Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom we discussed this situation, does not support these kinds of plans, just as President Barack Obama, who has told President Vladimir Putin more than once that he stands firmly for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

Question: How soon can stability be restored in Syria, meaning the cessation of violent hostilities, if the UNSC resolution is implemented?

Sergey Lavrov: Not very soon. We must act simultaneously in several directions. Some preconditions have been put forward – first a week of silence, then free humanitarian access everywhere, and only then will the West-sponsored opposition agree to join the negotiations. The same is happening in Ukraine, where the government supported by the West wants a month of complete silence, control of the border, OSCE access, complete security and total disarmament – but not for the Ukrainian armed forces – before it will launch the political reforms. This will not work. It has never worked in any other conflict.

The conflicting parties must see the perspective – that the level of violence will go down, humanitarian aid will be delivered, the terrorists will not avoid responsibility and the political process will take the opinion of Syrian society into account in keeping with the UN Security Council resolution. For the past four months, an opposition group has been blocking the resumption of the talks and blackmailing the other parties. Nobody can do anything to influence it, and I even think that they have not tried to influence it but are only doing their best to placate it.

A few days ago we held talks with our French colleagues who are drafting a new UN Security Council resolution because they believe that something must be done immediately since the Russian-US efforts have not succeeded. We told them that we are willing to work at the UN Security Council, but we do not think that adopting more resolutions is a solution. We must not give up the principles and mechanisms that have been created jointly with the United States and approved by the ISSG members and the entire international community. These principles and mechanisms took months to create and are based on contributions from our military, intelligence agencies and diplomats. I believe that it would be a big mistake if we gave them up in favour of emotional texts that will urge sympathy for the Aleppo residents and demand an early end to the hostilities without providing any mechanism for attaining this goal, something which Jabhat al-Nusra will immediately use to its advantage. We have many intercepts – we have the capability – that indicate this possibility. When a three-day ceasefire in Aleppo was discussed that did not include the separation of “good guys” from the terrorists, the air was full of optimistic communications according to which “the Americans will convince the Russians to announce a ceasefire any day now, and so we [the terrorists] will get more weapons and munitions, and everything will be great.” No UN Security Council decision will be effective without settling the separation problem and without ordering all those who are blocking the intra-Syrian political dialogue to stop doing this. This is what we have told our French colleagues.

And lastly, humanitarian access – there is no alternative to doing what we coordinated with the Americans, that is, unblocking Castello Road. I hope our French colleagues will take this into account in their text, otherwise the Security Council will be unable to contribute to a settlement in Syria at this point.

Question: There is an initiative by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura regarding the withdrawal of rebel fighters from Aleppo. How can their withdrawal be ensured, if overtaking Aleppo is what they are after?

Sergey Lavrov: We are willing to discuss this. I can even tell you that this has already happened in two communities. In one of them, the arrangements between the Syrian government and the rebels were carried out. There were about fifteen hundred rebels there who made life very hard for some fifty thousand local residents. The government reached an agreement with the rebels whereby they were to leave the area with their relatives, friends and weapons, and go anywhere they like, while the government was to refrain from attacking or pursuing them. It all went as planned. The city got back to normal: it was no longer under siege with no need to smoke out the rebels anymore. Similar negotiations are underway regarding another Damascus suburb.

By the way, our Western partners and some zealous UN officials, such as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien, condemned this practice as forced migration. This has nothing to do with what is actually happening. Staffan de Mistura’s current proposal is an attempt to use this practice and the experience we have in this respect. Russia is ready to review this idea. What matters most for us is to understand what is actually going on, since even according to UN estimates, there are six to eight thousand rebel fighters there. Of this total, up to one half are Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, as Staffan de Mistura said at a UN Security Council meeting. I heard only what he said regarding Jabhat al-Nusra. If Jabhat al-Nusra fighters move in the direction of Idlib, where their main forces are located, for the sake of saving Aleppo, Russia will support this approach and call on the Syrian government to accept it.

But what will happen with the other half of the rebel fighters who have blended into Jabhat al-Nusra? If they want to leave with their weapons, there are no questions. But should they want to stay in the city, we would need to reach a separate agreement on how to deal with this specific issue.

Staffan de Mistura has already proposed, as part of his initiative, keeping the municipal entities that currently govern Eastern Aleppo in place. It is clear that these bodies have little sympathy for the government. We view this as a viable option and are ready to work with the Syrian government on it. That said, at least some kind of order should be maintained in this part of the city, so it needs some kind of police force. First, those who do not leave with Jabhat al-Nusra should officially dissociate themselves from this group by signing an official declaration to this effect. This could pave the way for government law enforcement bodies, the police and these armed opposition groups to form joint law enforcement bodies so as to ensure normal living conditions and make live safer for the people.

The devil is in the details. Staffan de Mistura is thinking in the right direction, but there are specific issues that must be agreed upon in a very clear and unambiguous manner. If this works out (and we are ready to do it quickly), I think that it could be the core of a UN Security Council resolution on Aleppo.

Question: This week, Russia presented very harsh requirements for recycling weapons-grade plutonium, which concern not only plutonium but also the sanctions against Russia and the losses it has sustained in this context. What is the reason for including sanctions in these requests? What reaction do you expect from the United States?

Sergey Lavrov: I am glad you have asked this question because there has been some confusion in the coverage and interpretation of this Russian decision. The agreement on the disposition of plutonium in a manner that will preclude the use of plutonium stockpiles for weapons allows either party to withdraw from it in case of a fundamental change in the situation. This possibility is stipulated in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which says that a fundamental change of circumstances may be invoked as grounds for terminating or withdrawing from a treaty. We have pointed to a fundamental change of circumstances, or more precisely, aggressive anti-Russia tendencies at the basis of the US policy on Russia.

These anti-Russia tendencies are not limited to statements but also include aggressive steps that have a direct bearing on our national interests and can affect our national security. This includes the deployment of NATO and its infrastructure, including heavy US weaponry, NATO aircraft, and ballistic missile defence systems closer to our borders and the borders of our allies in Europe and Asia. Of course, sanctions are a manifestation of an unfriendly and I would even say hostile attitude.

We signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) when our relations were normal and civilised, when neither party acted rudely, tried to present the other party as an outcast, humiliated it or interfered in its internal affairs. This is the fundamental change of circumstances that has taken place, which we invoked in keeping with the law.

As for the disposition of the surplus amounts of weapons-grade plutonium, this was to be achieved through the irradiation of plutonium as fuel in nuclear reactors, in keeping with the PMDA. These facilities are very expensive. We have built our facilities, but our American partners announced suddenly, halfway to the deadline, that it costs too much and so they have considered mixing it with radioactive waste and burying it underground. But this is not an irreversible reduction. This plutonium can be changed to the weapons-grade state. Our US partners have not consulted us on this. They only said publicly that the PMDA implementation would be too expensive and they are considering a different approach. The disposition option they have decided to use was discussed during the drafting of the PMDA and was discarded as not irreversible. In other words, the agreement was ineffective. We have decided to withdraw from it, but the law clearly says, and our President has reaffirmed, that we will not use the disposition plutonium for military purposes under any circumstances. This is our obligation. But it would be useless to continue our cooperation when the other party is playing a one-sided game and is not honouring its obligations. This concerns negotiability, or the ability to comply with agreements.

Here is another example of this issue. The next day after we withdrew from the PMDA we also suspended the Agreement on Cooperation in Nuclear- and Energy-Related Scientific Research and Development. This is interesting, too. I know that officials from the US Department of Energy and its Office of Science have said they regret our decision. The situation is very simple. We maintained contact in this area under this agreement. This contact was mutually beneficial. Russian and American researchers visited each other’s laboratories, shared ideas and development results, and by and large, it was a mutually advantageous process that benefited both parties. But in April 2014 we received an official letter from the US Department of Energy, which said that they had to terminate all contact with the Russian Ministry of Energy and Rosatom under this agreement. I asked Mr Kerry if it was because of Ukraine and Crimea and whether the US political leadership was aware of this decision by the US Department of Energy. Mr Kerry said he never heard about it and that it was a silly decision, that one must avoid going to extremes and taking steps that would be clearly excessive. He assured me that he would look into the matter and talk with the Secretary of Energy and even the US President, if necessary, and that our cooperation in this area would resume. A year passed, but cooperation did not resume. Our researchers were denied access to the conferences on this issue that were held in the United States. We were told that the agreement had been suspended. I again told Mr Kerry about this. He again expressed indignation, but things were not moving. The problem is stuck in first gear. And so it is no use pretending that the agreement is effective.

Question: US Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the actions by the US Department were excessive. However, you just mentioned a ‘fundamental change of circumstances,’ which raises concerns. When statements on a fundamental change in Russia-US relations emerge, doesn’t it mean that the situation has become serious?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, but I think that this was already obvious.

Question: Does this mean that Russia was simply telling the truth by showing the actual state of affairs?

Sergey Lavrov: To be honest, Russia has long adopted what the US calls a ‘strategic patience’ approach, since the US has been working on worsening relations with Russia long before the Ukraine issue emerged. We have been saying this all along.

Question: The ABM issue has been discussed since the last decade.

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we did everything to localise the conflicts we had. Take, for example, the Magnitsky Act. Yes, we had to respond. For this reason, any offence taken by the US in the Snowden case is hard to understand (I think adults should not feel slighted in situations like this). Russia was accused of recruiting Snowden and forcing him to stay here. This is complete nonsense. Everybody knows it. This was adding up for quite a while. We have long been unable to persuade US officials to adopt a polite, civilised approach to a number of issues that have been accumulating in our relations. Child adoption is one of them. Russian officials are still being denied access, including to some ranches that serve as private orphanages.

Question: In order to see how the children live?

Sergey Lavrov: Sometimes Americans who adopt Russian children later give up on the whole idea and send these kids to this orphanage. We have been trying to get access to this facility for ten years. They refuse, arguing that this is a private institution. For this reason, when this issue becomes a matter of heated and emotional debate in Russia, it has to be taken into account that we have been hard at work on this issue for a long time. It was simply impossible to leave it as it was without taking any action in order to shake up the Americans a little bit.

Another issue of this kind is the long-standing question regarding actions by the US to detain and arrest Russian citizens in third countries, which is akin to kidnapping. The examples of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko are quite telling. Viktor Bout was arrested in Thailand on an allegation of attempted criminal conspiracy that was actually staged by FBI agents, who wanted him to agree to an exchange whereby he would provide some kind of air transport services for delivering something somewhere. But when the Thai court refused to extradite Bout to the US, the US made a second attempt and took Viktor Bout from Thailand in violation of Thai law and without getting permission. Viktor Bout was simply kidnapped.

As for Konstantin Yaroshenko, there was no trial in Liberia where it all happened. The US treated Liberia, an independent state, as a colony, which it is not. Roman Seleznyov was simply thrown in an airplane in the Maldives and taken to the US. There were dozens of similar cases. It has to be said that there is some kind of decency in Europe, and court hearings are actually held. In 99 per cent of the cases, when the US finally cares to state its reasons for these kidnappings, they tell us that Russian citizens are suspected of cybercrimes.

The last time I raised this issue with US Secretary of State John Kerry, I proposed that we hold consultations on this issue. In fact, Russia is also interested in preventing cybercrime, since offences committed by Russian nationals can backfire. We do not want harm to come to any other country either. It is quite amusing to follow the US election campaign hysteria over allegations that Russia hacked into the websites of the Democratic Party, the Pentagon, etc. It is interesting to pinpoint a single fact in this respect. A little less than a year ago, in November 2015, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office responded to the constant accusations against Russian citizens in cybercrimes by sending an official letter to the relevant authorities in Washington with a proposal to launch consultations on cooperation in combatting cybercrime as soon as possible. The response did not come for a long time. When I reminded John Kerry of the letter in May 2016, he said that it was a wonderful idea and that he would work on it. During his July trip to Moscow, I enquired about the progress on the proposal by the Russian Prosecutor General’s office, suggesting that at least arranging for a response by the US Department of Justice was a matter of common courtesy. Once again, he lamented that nobody did anything and that his aides failed to remind him about the issue. At the end of the day, the US Department of Justice did not send us any written reply, but instead replied orally to all our enquiries saying that it is not interested. This is a telling example. All they do is create a bogeyman story, and then evade any discussion of concrete facts.

Question: You mentioned US complaints. What stands behind them, if the United States is the only superpower, even if a declining one as some say, with huge economic and military might. Why the complaints then?

Sergey Lavrov: This could be personal. Some officials may have the feeling that the United States is not doing what it should, or has been trying but failing to do something. This may be the feeling of a gradual dilution of its omnipotence. I understand this feeling. This is a painful process. The West in general has ruled the world for centuries. Of course, there was the Soviet Union, but it was an isolated, though a historically relatively long period. Although the Soviet Union had considerable influence in Europe and in several parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, it was closed to the global process spread. It was to a great degree a world unto itself. When this anomaly disappeared – and being a closed society is an anomaly – everyone [in the West] thought that Russia had shrunk to its true size and everything would be fine. They thought that they would be able to impose their rules and values as they did in the 16th and 17th centuries, and that all the other countries would obey them. They were wrong, as you can see. Their unreasonable belief that Russia was theirs for the taking after and possibly even before 1992 has not materialised not because we wanted to do them a bad turn, but because we wanted our country to be independent with good living standards, a country we could be proud of. President Vladimir Putin said the other day in his address to the State Duma that Russia has a right to be strong, but we must always assume that any nation and any country has exactly the same right and must not force our formulas on others.

Question: Believing that someone is yours for the taking is a very dangerous view of the world. They have not even taken Iran, and Russia is much more powerful than Iran, no offence intended. It is a risky strategy that is destabilising the world. Don’t you agree?

Sergey Lavrov: There is a personal element in all of this. I do not recall a single case when President Putin showed contempt for any of his colleagues, no matter what the colleague in question did or said about Russia. However, it has almost become good manners in some Western capitals to show disrespect for President Putin, the more the better.

Question: Is this hysterics or something else? After all, they are not teenagers but serious politicians.

Sergey Lavrov: Exactly. As for teenagers, when we met after Mr Kerry’s appointment as US Secretary of State, we agreed that we should develop adult-like relations between our countries – that was the word we used – without childish offences. Not everyone is succeeding with this.

We have been accused of nearly directing the presidential race in the United States and determining the frontrunners. A few years ago Russia was humiliatingly described as a regional power that should know its place. It is very important for a politician to keep the door open. Shutting the door is very risky. It means that you have snapped, and this should not be done in politics, where you must calibrate your actions and consider several scenarios that can meet your interests, but you should never believe entirely that you will definitely implement a scenario where your interests will be served while all others will stand at attention. This has not happened before, and this will certainly not happen now.

Question: You are a career diplomat. When was the situation more dangerous in terms of risk and instability, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Soviet Union was one of the two superpowers, or now?

Sergey Lavrov: These are two different eras and it is very difficult to compare them. We lived in the Soviet Union then. You probably remember the Berlin crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis, when one of the parties could push the nuclear button. Thankfully, people on this side and in the Kennedy administration kept their temper, which is a necessary quality in a responsible politician. In terms of global stability, the situation is less comfortable and tranquil now, because back then we lived in a bipolar world with two confronting sides, but there was stability in the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Warsaw Treaty Organisation and NATO.

Question: Do you mean there was more clarity?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, more clarity. The stability was negative then, but it was stability nonetheless. The conflicts we had at that time, even the one over Eastern Europe, when Soviet troops were sent into Hungary and Czechoslovakia, were peripheral conflicts – no offence meant. They happened on the line of contact between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation. Likewise, the conflicts in Mozambique and Angola, where we supported independence fighters while the West supported the other side, were peripheral too. The same is true in Vietnam and Korea. Although bloody and violent, those were peripheral conflicts in which the Soviet Union and the United States did not stand directly against each other. They knew that global stability was maintained through covert and sometimes open arrangements.

Today, there are many more than two players in the world. There are more nuclear powers too – in addition to the official five nuclear countries, there are at least four unofficial nuclear countries or those that have claimed this status. The situation around the world has become much more volatile, including in the regions where the unofficial nuclear countries are situated. Moreover, you know the horrible thing that happened to Muammar Gaddafi after he stopped Libya’s nuclear programme. Many leaders, including in neighbouring countries, started thinking and talking about the connection. If this terrible thing happened to Muammar Gaddafi after he voluntarily cooperated, while North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, is not recognised by anyone as a nuclear power but is left alone, maybe they should get nuclear weapons too?

Question: Here is what I heard for the first time immediately after the Iraq war: “Every fool knows now that the best protection from the Americans is the bomb.” This is a very dangerous response.

Sergey Lavrov: I see this as the United States’ most negative and dangerous effect on global stability. The cycle is not over yet. When the Soviet Union was fighting a war in Afghanistan, the Reagan administration supported, armed and inspired the mujahedin who subsequently evolved into al-Qaeda. On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda bit the hand that fed it, using not fanatics but the people who had become part of Western society to deliver a crushing blow to the US. Washington started finger pointing. Of course, there were the Taliban in Afghanistan, who openly admitted their connection with al-Qaeda, but Washington also wanted to take on Iraq. The US decided to move against Iraq too, even though it did not have a UN Security Council mandate. But it went straight ahead, illegally and illegitimately. Washington declared victory in Iraq in 2003. The Sunnis were fired from the positions of even the least importance at the security agencies and the armed forces. All Sunni generals were fired. These people – the former generals and the staff of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence services – now form the core of the Islamic State.

ISIS is proliferating in Iraq and Syria and is very active in Libya, which has been ruined and has become a country without a state. ISIS has also moved into Afghanistan, where it is competing against the Taliban. In Syria, ISIS was joined by a fighting group called Jabhat al-Nusra, which UN Security Council resolutions describe as a terrorist branch of al-Qaeda. As we said at the beginning of this conversation, our Western colleagues are not fighting al-Nusra. We are acting under UN decisions, which say that the ceasefire does not include al-Nusra and the groups that have refused to join the ceasefire but are consolidating instead with al-Nusra. Our American partners act strangely. The Reagan administration created al-Qaeda and the Bush administration created ISIS, and now we do not want the Obama administration to be remembered as the government that strengthened and ensured the success of a terrorist organisation called Jabhat al-Nusra.

Question: I hope Russian diplomacy will make a considerable contribution to blocking the spread of terrorism.

Sergey Lavrov: Diplomacy has several allies in this endeavour – Russia’s Aerospace Forces, Army and Navy.

Source: Foreign Ministry of Russia