Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with REN TV network

13 марта 2016 г.

Question: Russian diplomatic missions have been recently attacked in Ukraine, namely the Russian Embassy in Kiev and the consulates general in Lvov and Odessa. How has this affected our diplomatic staff? Is there any danger to their lives and health? How are they living in blockade-like conditions?

Sergey Lavrov: We are monitoring this situation and maintain contact with the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine and his subordinates. They go about their jobs well, as befits those who feel their homeland’s support and know that it will stand up for them. We are shocked by the actions of the thugs who attacked the Russian Embassy and consulates general, who broke into their [protected] territory and tore down Russian flags – if I’m not mistaken, this has been done [in Lvov] by a Ukrainian MP named Vladimir Parasyuk. Frankly, we’ve seen no reaction of anyone outraged by these events from the so-called international community.

When Iranian citizens broke into the territory of the Saudi consulate general, this provoked a loud outcry. We joined in those actions aimed at protecting diplomatic missions under the conventions that all countries have signed. But in this case we’ve seen no reaction from our Western colleagues. They are busy demanding that we stop the trial of and release Nadezhda Savchenko, which is a separate issue. Anyway, this is flagrant hypocrisy and double-dealing.

Our diplomatic employees have the necessary means to respond to such illegal actions and to protect themselves against them, but the main issue in this situation is for the Kiev government’s “curators” to preclude such actions. These “curators” exercise decisive influence on the current Kiev authorities. I will discuss this issue again today with US Secretary of State John Kerry. We’ve also sent relevant messages to European leaders.

Question: Do the Russian diplomatic staff have everything they need? Do they have enough foodstuffs and water? As far as I know, they cannot go outside because it’s rather dangerous.

Sergey Lavrov: They have means to replenish their supplies, which are quite considerable. We’ve dramatically reduced the employees’ ability to go outside, especially when there is no official need for this. I don’t think we should worry about our diplomats and their families. We are helping them and will prevent any unlawful actions against our citizens.

Question: Will you present claims to Ukraine for damages done to the exterior of the buildings and for other illegal actions?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, we’ll demand compensation.

Question: You mentioned the case of Nadezhda Savchenko. Is it true that you discussed it during a conversation with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin?

Sergey Lavrov: We have talked more than once. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister phoned me several days ago asking that Ukrainian doctors be allowed to again visit Savchenko. I’d like to remind you that they visited and examined her some time ago and that they were accompanied by Savchenko’s sister. After it was announced that Savchenko went on a hunger strike again, Mr Klimkin asked us to make one more exception and to allow the doctors to examine her, even though he understands that this is contrary to the Russian procedure and global penal practice.

After considering this request, we forwarded it to the court that is hearing Savchenko’s case and has the authority to decide this matter. After the hearing on March 9, the judge said she was willing to allow the doctors to examine Savchenko. But since Savchenko’s only goal was to express her contempt of the court – everyone who watched this on TV remembers well that her speech was often interrupted by bleeping, but EuroNews showed the uncensored version – the court has decided against doing any favours to Savchenko after she behaved so defiantly and openly expressed her contempt for the court.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin phoned me again yesterday to express his regret over this situation (by the way, he called from Turkey, where he accompanied President Pyotr Poroshenko on a visit). Not that Mr Klimkin apologised for Savchenko’s behaviour, but he clearly indicated that the defendant’s actions have decided the issue against her, if she needed medical attention at all. According to our information (Russian doctors regularly examine her and I maintain contact with the Federal Penitentiary Service), there are no ground to believe that Savchenko is terminally ill. Overall, she is well and does physical exercises. I told Mr Klimkin that we had granted their requests as an exception to the rules that are applied in such cases and for humanitarian reasons. However, Savchenko’s defiance at the hearing made the agreed visit impossible.

Question: We are witnessing a campaign to support Nadezhda Savchenko, which strangely overlaps with the anti-doping campaign against Russian athletes who allegedly use banned substances. Don’t you get the feeling that these campaigns are orchestrated and intended to deal a blow to Russia’s image?

Sergey Lavrov: Even though I’m not usually one to buy into conspiracy theories, it is striking that so many things have come together at once.

The charges Nadezhda Savchenko is facing are extremely severe: taking part in the premeditated killing of Russian journalists in the conflict zone. Kiev’s benefactors in the West have little concern for the fate of these journalists, as the Foreign Ministry has noted on numerous occasions, while the Savchenko case is being hyped up with her personal and perhaps unenviable situation used for overtly political ends. It appears that she likes it, and is willingly playing along. It is their choice.

You are absolutely right to say that the situation has been blown out of proportion, despite its complexity and severity of the charges. Some are even calling for sanctions against Russia and suggest drawing up a Savchenko list.

You know, sanctions are about to replace politics and diplomacy, especially for our US colleagues. There were calls in Washington to impose additional sanctions on Russia for the developments in Syria. It is happening as Russia and the US are promoting a settlement process based on arrangements reached by our presidents. A UN Security Council resolution has been adopted to this effect, and the ISSG was established with two groups holding regular meetings in Geneva to discuss ways to strengthen the truce and facilitate humanitarian access. Nevertheless, some in Washington (not in the Administration, but influential politicians are joining the chorus) are calling for “punishing” Russia for Syria as well. Let me just reiterate that Russia is operating in Syria at the request of its legitimate government. Before that, the country was shelled and torn apart by almost everybody else in grave violation of the UN Charter. Everyone found this state of affairs to be acceptable, and no one noticed the refugees that started to flow into Europe in numbers. But now Russia is said to be responsible for that as well. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has recently accused Russia, if you allow me, in an absolutely outrageous manner, of being the cause of the worsening of the migrant crisis in Europe.

The Savchenko case, Syria and any other pretexts can be used to impose sanctions against Russia. There are other topics that overlap with these issues. You’ve mentioned doping, which has become a very popular story. Judging by what we see in the media and public space of our Western partners, I won’t be surprised if someone accuses the Russian Aerospace Forces, Armed Forces in general and the Russian diplomats of using doping as a pretext for banning Russia from participating in any global processes.

Seriously speaking, leading Russian athletes have recently faced an unprecedented amount of bans and accusations, and this raises serious questions. After several decades of being viewed as a regular medication used by athletes as well as regular patients with heart problems, meldonium was all of a sudden included on the doping list. In recent days there was no shortage of comments coming from various experts, including the developers of this medication. They have been explaining in all honesty and very professionally that meldonium is not a performance enhancing drug, but a medication intended to help the body recover its basic functions by facilitating oxygen release and treating magnesium deficiency. Could it be that the problem with meldonium is due to the fact that it was created in Latvia back in Soviet times? Had it happened after Latvia became part of the so-called civilised world, maybe meldonium would have had a different fate? This is not an issue to sneer at. What I want to say is that the World Anti-Doping Agency has not responded to expert opinions on whether meldonium should have been included on the doping list. It is my understanding that if an expert raises an issue, a professional reply should follow. Maybe WADA management had very serious reasons to ban this drug that we, researchers and experts for some reason are not privy to. If that is the case, these reasons should be made public. For now, the only thing we’ve been hearing from WADA are statements by its Independent Commission Chair, Richard Pound. Instead of stating the reasons for the decision and addressing concerns raised by experts, he focused on saying that Russia will probably miss the Olympics after proving, as he put it, to be absolutely corrupt, including in sports. This is street talk, not a professional conversation between serious people. Russia respects WADA and wants to work with it professionally and honestly, without any slogans or attempts to hijack scientific data and medical knowledge. There are other experts, in Russia as well as in other countries.

Of course, there are coincidences that make one think, but I hope that this tide would soon recede, because people of sound judgment in Europe and America are beginning to grasp the absolute futility of such groundless attacks against Russia.

Question: Some argue that this situation is due to the fact the Mildronate is popular in Russia and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.

Sergey Lavrov: I’ve read a number of explanations. I read that this drug has been successfully used as a preventive medication for heart insufficiency and some mild conditions for several decades, but now a competing medication has been developed in the US. There was a story about unfair competition in the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t know about that. What I can say is that being a mechanism for ensuring that the sport is doping-free, WADA should justify its approaches in a professional manner. The latest decision by this organisation has raised misgivings among experts, questions which deserve a professional and honest response.

Question: Mr Lavrov, you’ve mentioned sanctions. The Americans say that new sanctions should be introduced on this or that issue, for example the case of Nadezhda Savchenko. How probable is this? You often speak over the phone with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Do you feel that the United States and its European allies are willing to aggravate the situation?

Sergey Lavrov: As you know, there are many towers in Washington which we must take into account. I have a very good personal relationship with Secretary of State Kerry; there’s personal rapport between us, and we discuss issues unrelated to our job such as sports and our attitudes to life. He often comes to Russia and has met with President Vladimir Putin several times, and he often talks with me, including by phone every two or three days. We recently had rather lengthy meetings on the sidelines of various events; in general, we talk regularly, including about Syria. I believe that Mr Kerry is a sincere person and a professional who knows the situation in the world and is aware of the real legitimate interests of his country free from the influence of ideology, a person who builds relations with US partners, including Russia, based on his personal feeling of the situation, and who is promoting US interests but in a way that aims to balance his country’s interests with those of its partners. This is an honest position. In fact, we are acting in the same manner.

Secretary of State Kerry has been to Moscow and Sochi for meetings with President Putin. The last time this happened was in December 2015, when he said at a news conference that he doesn’t seek to isolate Russia. A few days later, Washington announced new sanctions against Russia, saying that it was only a technical amendment while in fact it was a whole new package. So, it’s difficult to find any logic in a partner’s actions when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. And if this is a good cop, bad cop game, then the choice is rather primitive.

As I said, according to our principled approach, we are not working with the United States to make it like us and to treat us more kindly. No, we are working with it in the spheres where our cooperation is in our interests. We are cooperating with the Americans in Syria because we don’t need terrorist groups in the Middle East, as the terrorists who are fighting there now can eventually pose a threat to our country and our neighbours. We likewise cooperated with our American partners on Iran’s nuclear programme, because we don’t need new nuclear powers, but we also need to protect the universal right of nations to peaceful nuclear energy, which is why our cooperation eventually resulted in an agreement on Iran. We don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons, let alone nuclear ambitions and threats. We will be working to influence it and to convince it to resume talks and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Likewise, we don’t need the crisis in Ukraine. We know that Kiev is heavily influenced by the United States, which actually controls everyday life in Ukraine. Being pragmatists, we are cooperating not only with our French and German partners within the framework of the so-called Normandy format, but also with our American partners through a special bilateral channel. I hope that the Americans are aware of the need to search for compromise solutions to ensure the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

Acting contrary to his surname, Gen. Philip Breedlove, who is the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has made absolutely incongruous statements, saying that they must prepare to fight and win a war against Russia, which he meant literally. So, there is a war party and a sanctions party in Washington. It’s probably very difficult to change attitude when you grew up believing that your country doesn’t have to listen to anyone and everyone must do what it says.

But times change and I take it in stride. When you have power that no one can control, this changes your focus and even corrupts you, to a degree. Americans now feel that they cannot address serious issues single-handedly, that they cannot even influence their long-time allies, for example, Turkey, which is disregarding their demands regarding the Syrian settlement. Americans are cooperating with the Kurds in Syria, whereas Ankara has declared the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, a US partner and ally, a terrorist organisation and is shelling its positions from its territory. We have told the Americans several times that this is a violation of our agreements and resolutions, but they revert their eyes in embarrassment, saying that they fully agree but they need time to allay someone’s concerns somehow.

Washington cannot control everything and everyone. This super trooper attitude will eventually be laid to rest. It is a painful process that will take time. We will wait patiently for this to happen, for Washington politicians to accept this new reality. In the meantime, we will cooperate with Washington whenever this suits our interests and will rebuff any unfriendly actions.