Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine and an open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question,” New York, January 24, 2024

24 January 2024 22:57


105-24-01-2024

I would like to welcome everyone who continues to show interest in Russia’s foreign policy and our work at the United Nations. We would like to start the question-and-answer session right away, but I am compelled to begin by stating yet another fact of the Kiev regime’s use of terrorist methods.

A terrorist attack was perpetrated on January 24, at 11:15 am Moscow time, resulting in the downing of a Russian Il-76 cargo plane in the Belgorod Region. The aircraft was en route from the Moscow Region to Belgorod, carrying 65 prisoners from the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Three Russian officers and a crew of six people accompanied them. All of them died. The Ukrainian prisoners of war were being taken to the Belgorod Region for a prisoner exchange agreed between Moscow and Kiev. Instead, Ukraine targeted this aircraft from the Kharkov Region using surface-to-air missiles, causing a fatal strike.

We have already requested that an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council be convened at 3 pm New York time. We expect the French Presidency to fulfil its obligations in good faith by scheduling the meeting as quickly as possible. We would like to avoid a situation we have already seen in April 2022, when the UK, as the UN Security Council President at the time, refused to convene a meeting for three days after the staged incident in Bucha, where they showed us human corpses, although we have yet to receive a list with their names. I hope that our French colleagues will not follow the same path and will convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council today at 3 pm.

Question: Most of the world agrees that the two-state solution is the only way for the peace between Israel and Palestine. In your conversations here in New York, did you have an idea that there is a chance for a concerted effort between all parties, Israel included, on the two-state solution? In what timeframe could these discussions be started? Which options are on the table if Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu continues to oppose this possibility?

Sergey Lavrov: We have discussed this issue at length at the UN Security Council meeting for which over 70 delegations registered to take the floor. In fact, this meeting is still underway. Fulfilling the decisions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly to establish a Palestinian state based on the principles agreed upon at the time is the only possible way forward. This includes the 1967 borders, a capital in East Jerusalem and ensuring the viability of the Palestinian state so that it can coexist with Israel and all other countries within the region in peace and security.

This objective was first articulated in late 1940s, but for many long decades there was nothing but tinkering designed to drag out these obligations in endless talks and water them down in all kinds of half-hearted initiatives. If we see this scenario play out this time as well, we will sow the seeds of yet another conflict and violence will explode once again.

The majority of UN members understand this. I have met with many Arab countries. Only yesterday, there was a big meeting with all the ambassadors representing the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. Everyone is firm in their determination to officially adopt a decision creating a Palestinian state as well as starting talks with the involvement of neutral and effective mediators.

The Quartet of international mediators no longer exists. The United States has done everything to undermine its work by saying that it would engage in the mediating effort on its own. We all know what came out of this. We will strongly advocate for countries from the region, primarily the Arab League member states, to take ownership of the initiative to establish a mediation mechanism. Ideally, its task would be to convene an international conference on the Palestinian issue.

However, as I said yesterday and today during the OIC meeting, every effort must be made to restore Palestinian unity so that all the existing factions and those working with them from abroad come together and declare that the Palestinian people have reunited to create a solid foundation for the future state. Otherwise, all the possible approaches floated during informal conversations would not be viable. All they seek is to give the impression that something is changing in Gaza without reuniting it with the West Bank as part of a single state while keeping Palestine divided and lacking unity in order to buy more time. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that the creation of the Palestinian state is not on the agenda is a cause for concern for us.

In any case, the negotiating process remains the only way forward to achieve a settlement. We hope that those who have influence over Israel, perhaps more than we do, will play their part by ensuring that Tel Aviv takes part in the negotiating process in good faith. This is our objective.

Question: Regarding the tragic incident involving the Il-76 plane, do you think that Kiev caused it deliberately? What is the motive behind these actions by Ukraine and the terrorist attacks?

Is it possible or credible that the United States was unaware of Hamas’s preparations for an attack, considering that the preparations lasted more than a year and involved heavy weaponry? What are your thoughts on this? How does the situation in the Middle East relate to the political situation in the United States and the upcoming elections?

Sergey Lavrov: Speaking about the downed Il-76 military transport plane and Ukraine’s motivations for the terrorist attack, we are establishing the facts now. The first reports that appeared after the news of a plane being shot down by an air defence missile mentioned Ukraine’s statements on the latest success of the “heroic” Ukrainian armed forces. But when it transpired that the plane was carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war for exchange (which Ukrainian defence officials should have been aware of), Ukrainian propaganda quickly changed course and came up with new explanations.

As I said, we have received this information just now, and we are in the process of verifying it. This is also why we propose holding a UN Security Council meeting today so that Ukrainian delegates can explain what happened.

As for the developments and crisis in Gaza, we have held in-depth discussions on the underlying causes of that “explosion” with all our colleagues, including in Moscow during a visit by a combined delegation from the Arab League and the OIC. You may recall that two weeks before October 7, 2023, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview that the Middle East region was experiencing a period of relative calm, unlike any observed in the past two decades. This is what he said. So much for whether Washington knew or had any inkling about the attack.

There have been various conspiracy theories. Immediately after the terrorist attack, which we strongly condemned, many in Israel said that the country’s security services must have been aware of Hamas’s plans. They argued that the United States, with its satellite surveillance encompassing every inch of the globe, especially the Middle East, would have surely noticed the movement of large groups of people, equipment and drones prior to the terrorist attack.

I hear the same discussions that you do. Such speculations are brought up publicly. But no evidence has been provided, so I will refrain from speculating on the veracity of these claims.

Question: What is Russia’s position with regard to South Africa’s case of the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of acts of genocide in this war in Gaza?

Sergey Lavrov: The International Court will do what it is obliged to do. As you know, Ukraine has accused Russia of violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and has appealed to the ICJ. About 40 Western countries have joined the case as third parties supporting Ukraine. Therefore, there is no doubt that this process will be highly politicised.

We understand that judges are supposed to be objective, but this does not apply to the ICC judges, who have their own “rules.” The UN’s International Court has always been highly respected. We hope that its actions will be guided by international law, including international humanitarian law and the judicial system. We do not wish to interfere.

I recalled in this connection that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has recently visited the Middle East, where he was asked the same question. He replied that South Africa’s charges of genocide filed against Israel at the International Court distracted the world from efforts to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict filed, meaning that attention is being given to this issue, but the world is being distracted.

We do not see that Washington is giving any attention apart from trying to talk around the issue and prevent the UN Security Council from adopting a clear and unambiguous ceasefire decision. They are using formulas that enable the continuation of collective punishment of Palestinians.

We will wait and see. The court has certain obligations and a statute that establishes its powers.

Question: You have moved tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. Do you intend to use them in Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: Well, it takes a long time for information to reach you. It happened six months ago, and it was all explained by President Putin and the President of Belarus.

The United States and its allies are taking steps to modernise nuclear weapons stationed in five NATO countries, which is a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The military personnel in these five countries receive training on the use of tactical nuclear weapons. When the Americans attempted to make tactical nuclear weapons the central point of our strategic stability discussions, we spent many years advocating for the return of all their tactical weapons to US territory, primarily due to their strategic proximity to our borders in Europe. However, they firmly refused.

Then we said that since we cannot fully comprehend the reasons behind their modernisation of tactical nuclear weapons, considering that Washington refuses to relocate these weapons to their own territory, Russia, upon the request of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, will transfer part of its tactical nuclear weapons for deployment on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. This information was widely known.

Naturally, the West made much noise about it, claiming that they can do it, but we cannot. Every opportunity to prevent escalation was consistently ignored by the Americans. All of the treaties were dismantled. They refused to bring their tactical nuclear weapons in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which they have not yet violated.

Question: Excuse me, there is no evidence that the United States has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine or Belarus. It’s only Russia doing this at this point because it wants to defend its territory.

Sergey Lavrov: I did not say that the Americans are situating their weapons in Ukraine. They have been keeping their nuclear weapons on the territory of five NATO member countries for many years, and the citizens of these countries are being taught how to use these nuclear weapons. That’s what I said.

I have already mentioned the mindset of our American, Anglo-Saxon and other Western colleagues, who believe that they can do anything. They question why Russia and Belarus need to agree on something, as they are not “democratic” countries. This is a regrettable mindset. It will soon hinder the development of humanity. One cannot always rely on a neo-colonial approach and employ neo-colonial practices with the mentality of “I can do whatever I want, but you can’t.”

Question: What evidence is Russia planning to present that there were indeed prisoners of war on that plane that was downed? And do you worry that the international community may not believe you?

Sergey Lavrov: I am not worried at all that it may not believe us. As I have already said, the international community, represented by Western officials and media, has already demonstrated its discredited stance.

Bucha has already been mentioned today. In early April 2022, your colleagues from the BBC showed footage of Bucha’s main street three days after the Russian personnel left the town. The mayor was reinstated in and made a proud statement to this effect. But three days later, the BBC suddenly showed dead bodies in the main street. We were blamed for that, and more sanctions were imposed against Russia. It will soon be two years since we requested at least the names of the people whose bodies were shown in that BBC report and in others. As the creator of the report, the BBC could have made an effort to establish the truth.

We are not too worried about whether the international community (by which you mean the West and primarily the Anglo-Saxons) believes us. Nothing stings like the truth. This is why they have tried every means to avoid having an honest conversation or providing direct answers.

Speaking of the BBC and its point of reference, the same is true about the poisoning in Salisbury. We are yet to receive at least one answer to more than 40 official requests from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, to which the British authorities must respond according to international treaties and the bilateral convention.

Ask your Ukrainian colleagues. They must have already found out something from their sources. I cannot promise you that the Ukrainians will admit it. But they certainly know that there were military personnel on board.

Whether you believe that or not, I do not particularly care, with all due respect for the BBC.

Question: You have mentioned what US colleagues said and did with regard to the Middle East. Given that the Israeli authorities are rejecting the two-state solution, as they reiterated last week, do you think the United States still has any influence on Israel as regards a ceasefire or the two-state solution? How, in your opinion, is the US Middle East policy affecting current developments?

Sergey Lavrov: I can’t speculate on how the United States and Israel are building up their relationship. This is a matter of their bilateral contacts.

I can only confirm that we, like the majority of people in this room, read US media reports about [Biden] administration members debating how to make Israel more compliant and constructive. I do not know what this dispute will lead to.

There is the President, there are his national security advisers, the Secretary of State, and a great many of their deputies. I don’t know how much truth there is in the various speculations. I will not plunge into this either.

As for the present crisis, everyone seems to have a similar understanding of the consequences of US policy in the region. None of the reckless attempts Washington has engaged in over the last few decades to defend its “core security interests” ten thousand miles across the Atlantic (threats to its security emerging there) led to a situation where people’s lives improved in a country that the US attacked. Some countries no longer exist.

A case in point is Libya. Its statehood was totally destroyed. Iraq: everyone knows how disgracefully US diplomacy attempted to justify [America’s] aggression [against Iraq] and how its “evidence” was a total failure.

The Islamic State came into being after the US invasion of Iraq. The United States dissolved all Baath organisations, including the Army, and Saddam Hussein’s officers joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant en masse, forming its nucleus, as a means of earning some money to feed their families.

Al-Qaeda also emerged shortly before that as a result of the US invasion of Afghanistan, while the US aggression against Syria led to the creation of Jabhat al-Nusra, now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

We are aware that the Americans are attempting to establish a quasi-state of the Kurds at their bases illegally set up in eastern Syria, thereby creating an explosive regional problem. At their bases, they are still in contact with certain Islamic State militants, who are rehabilitated and trained there to participate in a number of US-sponsored operations and terrorist attacks far away from the Middle East.

The United States tells everyone that it will deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on its own. It has discontinued the work of the Quartet of international intermediaries and assumed total responsibility. We see what this has led to. Here we have yet another case of US leadership culminating in a tragedy.

Question: How do you assess the normalisation process between Azerbaijan and Armenia? Will Russian peacekeepers leave the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in 2025, as defined in the trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020?

Sergey Lavrov: President Vladimir Putin personally played a crucial role in halting the war in November 2020 and coordinating several trilateral (Armenia-Azerbaijan-Russia) documents at the top level. They stipulate the key parameters of the settlement, including the delimitation of the borders, the unblocking of trade and transport links and the signing of a peace treaty. Relevant structures have been created at the level of the three countries’ deputy prime ministers to deal with the economic side of the matter.

It has recently transpired that after these agreements had been reached our Western colleagues decided that it is not right that Russia had achieved progress in that sphere. They invited Armenians and Azerbaijanis to Brussels, Paris, Washington and Prague. It was in the Czech Republic in 2022 that Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan signed a document recognising the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan within the 1991 borders. It means that the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Area, as Karabakh was called at the time, is an integral part of Azerbaijan. This came as a surprise to us. Before that, we discussed various scenarios for a final settlement on the status of Karabakh, but then the Prime Minister of Armenia announced his independent decision. This has closed the issue of the status of Karabakh, as it is.

Our peacekeepers remained there even after everyone recognised Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. This issue no longer concerns Armenia. It is an issue of bilateral relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. Our presidents discussed this issue and agreed that at this stage the presence of Russian peacekeepers was a positive factor in strengthening stability and trust in the region and assisting the return of those Karabakh residents who want to do this.

Question: Israel has recently proposed a two-month ceasefire in exchange for the release of all hostages, but Hamas has flatly rejected this proposal.

Moreover, you mentioned and criticised Prime Minister Netanyahu for his negative comments and apparent rejection of the two-state solution. But just yesterday, the Hamas leader also flatly rejected the two-state solution with what they called a Zionist entity. In their charter, they call for the destruction of the Jewish state. So, I’d like your comments on that.

Sergey Lavrov: Proposals have been advanced to pause [military action] for two weeks or two months and to return the hostages, with the “other” side saying that it would not return all hostages, just some of them. They are bargaining, and it is distracting attention from the essence of the issue, which should be an immediate ceasefire.

A great deal can be said about Hamas’s refusal to recognise the Jewish state, which can be used to justify the continued slaughter in Gaza. If we only look at the outer layer of the developments and individual elements and refuse to look at the horizon, where a Palestinian state must appear, such incidents will continue to happen now and again.

We are interested in a lasting solution. This is why we insist that the sides not only promise to start talks on the establishment of a Palestinian state but also take practical steps towards this and coordinate a strict timeframe for when they will conclude with the result set out by the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

The first step towards this goal, as I said yesterday and mentioned at a meeting with Muslim countries today, must be the restoration of Palestinian unity. They themselves must decide on the principles that will restore their unity. Without the unity of the Palestinian people there will be no foundation for a Palestinian state but only pretexts for keeping Gaza as a separate entity with a special status, where somebody will ensure a security belt and buffer zones, and with the West Bank as another separate entity, where more illegal settlements will be established, thereby casting doubt on the concept of a united Palestinian state. These details must be given close attention.

As for Hamas’s statements, did you see the statements made by IDF commanders that the Palestinians are animals who cannot be regarded as civilised human beings? Some commanders even said that all Gaza residents become extremists by the age of three because of the cultivation of hatred of Israel. There are different ways to describe the process, but when people have been waiting for 70 years to have a state they were promised… What do you think three generations of children in Gaza schools and kindergartens have been told? They are probably told that this is injustice.

Many years ago, I told my Israeli colleagues that the unsettled issue of the Palestinian state is the single most important factor enabling the recruitment of extremists to various organisations. They looked offended, but I am still convinced of this.

If we do not use the current situation, when everyone is showing their concern, and fail to adopt a decision that will guarantee the Palestinians’ interests in having a viable and effective state and at the same time guarantee Israel’s security, which is a key part of the objective, we will lose a chance that rarely occurs in history.

Question: Does the international community remember how organisations like Hamas came to be, and how do they emerge in general?

Sergey Lavrov: Today, we discussed this with representatives of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. They remember well how it all happened. Hamas was tasked with countering Fatah in Ramallah and serving as its counterweight. I would not like to go into too much detail on this matter right now.

In 2006, with preparations for holding elections in Palestine underway, I had a conversation with then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Russia’s assessment of the situation was to advise the Palestinians to postpone their elections. Polls carried out in Gaza and in the West Bank demonstrated that radical forces, including Hamas, were rapidly gaining ground. But Condoleezza Rice did not agree with us, saying that this is how democracy works: just let the river flow its way.

Only recently, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about her memories of this period. She said that the Americans should have refrained from giving the green light to holding this election that brought victory to Hamas. But since they did agree to this election, it was incumbent on the US that those it needed to win carry the vote. This also touches upon how democracy works around the world and in countries where the United States has any interest.

Question: What is your assessment of Russia-US relations? What point have they reached? Are there any prospects for a total freeze in these relations? What are the factors which could define whether this happens?

Sergey Lavrov: The relations have reached a rather low point in their development. There are virtually no contacts, except for discussing the way our diplomatic missions operate in the United States and the work of their diplomats in the Russian Federation. Here too, there were multiple attempts to secure unilateral advantages and blame us for initiating certain steps. However, they know well that all this tinkering with our respective diplomatic presence started with Barack Obama’s decision in December 2016.

With three weeks to go before Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Democratic administration made a present to its successors by expelling a total of 120 people from Washington, including diplomats and their family members. They did it the American way, i.e., in all dignity, by setting the date when they had to leave for Russia when there was no direct flight from Washington to Moscow. What a humane approach. Our staff members, some of them with small children, had to take a six-hour bus ride to New York in order to board a plane to Moscow. What an unbecoming thing to do for adults.

We refrained from retaliating for quite some time. When President Donald Trump came to the White House, his administration asked us to hold back our response, They were appalled by this move by the Democrats. We told them we would wait and see if they made things right. Unfortunately, they failed. The reciprocity principle remains in place. Without it, no one would respect you as a country. In the summer of 2017, we politely asked the same number of diplomats to leave Russia as a tit-for-tat response.

The Americans are second to none when it comes to cancel culture, so they cancelled what Barack Obama did by sweeping it under the carpet. They start all the talks we have today by saying that we were the ones who expelled their people in 2017. But we did it in response to their actions. They have been acting in bad faith.

Question: Can there be a freeze in Russia-US relations?

Sergey Lavrov: There are virtually no relations. There is an ongoing meticulous conversation regarding the operation of Russian and US diplomatic missions, including the size of the security detail for the US Ambassador. Interestingly, the Americans believe that our ambassador needs fewer security officers. The fact that we must discuss these matters is incredible.

The Treaty Between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms is another recurrent topic. The US reminded us that this treaty exists, while Russia has suspended its performance. They suggest that this performance should resume.

We have told them many times that this treaty is based on the principles of indivisible security, equality and mutual respect. All the other provisions, including inspections of nuclear facilities the Americans need, arise from these principles. But the Americans were the ones who trampled upon these very principles. The US simply tells us that this is a different thing – this is what they always do.

The United States does not care about the fact that it is fighting us in Ukraine and has designated Russia as an enemy. Their doctrines refer to our country as an enemy. It does not matter to them that they set almost all of Europe against us. Similarly, Napoleon gathered all of Europe under his banners against Russia, while Hitler sent most European countries to fight the Soviet Union as part of the Wehrmacht. By the same token, the United States has gathered all of Europe under Vladimir Zelensky’s Nazi banners and keeps a close eye on everyone to make sure that no one diverts from this path.

During my annual news conference on Russia’s diplomatic performance in 2023 (January 18, 2024), I received a question about whether we responded to an unofficial American paper on strategic dialogue. We sent our response in early January 2024, stating our position on this matter. Today, there is not much for us to discuss with them. We are committed to respecting the caps in terms of weapons as stipulated in the New START, but there can be no inspections. Moreover, there have been instances of Ukrainians using long-range weapons to target our strategic sites. Let me put it in somewhat vague terms, but there is no way these strikes could have reached these facilities without the Americans helping Ukraine upgrade these weapons.

Question: Are you concerned that North Korea will no longer seek unification with South Korea and are increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula a concern for Moscow? And can you confirm that Russian President Putin will visit the DPRK?

Sergey Lavrov: Russian-North Korean ties are growing vigorously and steadily. We see that North Korea is striving to be independent rather than dancing to anyone’s tune. We also see the United States, Japan and South Korea cobbling together a new military bloc, which is building up military activity, and conducting unprecedented large-scale exercises with the openly declared objective of preparing for war with North Korea.

For many years, we have been promoting the idea of establishing a peace and security zone on the Korean Peninsula. This idea was stated as one of the goals of the Six-Party Talks. But the idea was ignored. Every time it came up, the Americans had some excuse: it is premature to discuss this kind of agreement, we need some more time to think. The group that was to discuss mutually acceptable security guarantees and confidence-building measures never really got off the ground.

Having said that, the rhetoric we are hearing from South Korea has suddenly become even more hostile towards Pyongyang. Rather aggressive rhetoric is also on the rise in Japan. They are seriously talking about first establishing a NATO mission in that country, and then, most probably, NATO infrastructure. The Americans are actively relocating their own and North Atlantic Alliance military infrastructure to the region. It is rumoured that the US-Japan-South Korea triangle will also extend cooperation to nuclear-related issues.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said in a statement that unification with South Korea was no longer possible. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there would be no Palestinian state. It is terrible when, instead of unifying trends, we have divisive ones dominating and prevailing. But this process, already system-wide, across many regions, is being spurred on primarily by those who consider themselves to be the masters of the universe. They believe that for 500 years they have ruled the world as they wish, living at the expense of others, and they think this should continue. This logic completely ignores the objective reality, in particular the fact that the vast majority of former colonies have gained independence, become aware of their national interests, want to strengthen their national, cultural and religious identity and are growing so fast that they have left the West behind – at least the BRICS members are.

The ex-colonial powers need to respect the realities of the modern world. They should not assume that just because they are strong, because they have the dollar, they can use it to “strangle” others: disconnect them from the SWIFT system or deny them access to the IMF and World Bank loans at whim. The US actually invented the system and made the world accept it; now the Americans have begun to grossly abuse their influence on these global mechanisms.

Let me give you an analogy from my childhood: when we spent time outside after school, all the kids from the same area, some a bit older, some younger, the older ones sometimes tried to abuse the younger ones. It was frustrating, but then the younger ones grew up quickly enough, and the matter was resolved.

Question: A Bloomberg headline says that Europe should arm against the barbarians at its gate, meaning Russia. A number of Western leaders claim that Russia will attack NATO countries within the next five years. Do you think that the leaders of Western countries are trying to put their people in the mood for a possible “total” war against Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: We hear this rhetoric all the time. I think that this is wrong. There are still clever people there, who both know history and possess an instinct for self-preservation. I hear that US President Joe Biden also said something of the kind and warned that Russia would immediately “assault” the Baltic states, Finland and other NATO countries, if Ukraine was defeated. Some lower-level leaders, and not only in the United States, made similar statements as well.

I am inclined to trust the reason of the US leadership. I regard this as an attempt to solve the current problem related to allocating funds for Ukraine. They believe that Congress can be easily intimidated with this tale and will eventually compromise and approve $60 billion for Ukraine in a package also including aid for Israel and certain sums for equipping the US border. I am certain that those who say these things are well aware that this is nonsense. President of Russia Vladimir Putin commented on this story quite recently. I recommend that you go over his interview once again.

We have neither the desire nor any military, political, or economic need to attack anyone. We would have had no need to start the special military operation were it not for the West that gave the green light to the bloody coup in Ukraine in February 2014 and later – a free hand to the coup-makers, who immediately declared that they were cancelling the status of the Russian language in Ukraine and branded residents of Crimea and Donbass as terrorists (that is people who simply refused to accept the results of the bloody anti-constitutional coup). All of this took place with the West’s support.

It proved possible to stop the war that was unleashed against Donbass and to sign the Minsk Agreements (the Germans and the French were pleading with us, and the Americans also begged for it). The agreements were approved in the room next door, the UN Security Council, in a unanimous vote. It all worked well at that time. But later it became clear that none of the signatories, with the exception of President of Russia Vladimir Putin, were going to implement them. Later they admitted this themselves.

What I am saying is that the special military operation became inevitable after years of attempts to convince the West that it was highly dangerous to turn Ukraine into a direct threat to Russia right on its border. This threat was not 10 thousand miles away (the Americans were saying that Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yugoslavia posed a threat to their interests), not across the ocean, but right on Russia’s border and, what is more, on the lands that Russians harnessed, developed and cultivated for several centuries, and where their descendants live now. And these people were prohibited from speaking Russian, which is a totally different situation.

It’s a pity that some people are attempting to follow this path in Europe by cancelling the Russian language and culture. This is unbecoming of those who pride themselves on being members of the European Union.

Question: In Europe, there will be elections soon. Does Russia expect that this could change the relationship, that something could change in favour of Russia?

Former President Trump said that if he is back in the White House, he would resolve the wars in a matter of days. Do you believe him that he will be able to do that?

Sergey Lavrov: There have been a lot of events and public statements every day that leave us questioning if we should believe them or not. I don’t want to speculate. I can’t believe things that have not materialised. Let’s wait and see what happens first.

I doubt that Ukraine will be ready for any settlement. President Zelensky has made very impolite comments about these statements by Trump. He is quite obnoxious, just as all Ukrainian leaders. You may remember that Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrey Melnik called Chancellor Olaf Scholz a “sulky liver sausage.” What was Scholz’s reaction to that? It’s nothing to worry about. Obnoxiousness is part of their DNA.

As for the elections to the European Parliament, I know little about that “political body.” They sometimes make Russophobic statements and adopt Russophobic resolutions. No, I am not interested, and I am not keeping track of these elections. I think it is much more useful to look at which European countries are trying to prevent every European nation from being dissolved in the Brussels’ faceless bureaucratic apparatus. This is more interesting than looking at what kind of deals will be made by whom in order for them to get elected to the European Parliament.

Question: In a world where diplomatic channels between Russia and the US have been cut off like that, how much damage and suffering do you think this can do to the rest of the world? What in your opinion it would take for Russia and the US relationship to get back on some sort of a normal track?

Sergey Lavrov: Am I worried that the rest of the world is suffering from the current state of Russia-US relation?

Before I answer this question, I would like you to tell me if the rest of the world was pleased when we had more or less normal relations with America. What pleased it, just in the abstract sense? Was it pleased that Russia and the US were on speaking terms? Can you tell me more specifically about what is taking place now and how the rest of the world is suffering from this?

It appears that many are raising the alarm because of increasing escalation and militant rhetoric. Nobody wants a “big war,” including Russia. We have had many big wars in our history.

But it is the Unted States that is doing this. US and NATO doctrines say that Russia is the most significant and direct threat. And China is their main challenge at the next stage. They are carefully crafting these narratives.

Moreover, they are drawing neutral states in. Finland has already joined NATO. It’s unclear how this can benefit it. The process has gained momentum with Sweden as well. Yesterday, I met with head of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Ignazio Cassis. He assured me that they could serve as intermediaries in any matter, just as they did in the past. I told him that intermediaries must have a neutral status. Switzerland used to be neutral not just in military matters but in a broader sense of the word. This is why Geneva could successfully act as a UN capital in Europe, host various negotiations and thereby contribute to the peaceful development of the planet and its various regions. Ignazio Cassis replied that they remained ready to do this and were at our service.

I pointed out that they had coordinated a national security strategy for 2024-2028, which says that Switzerland is ready and interested in developing European security against rather than with Russia. There are other examples, even though on a smaller scale than Russia-US relations. But these examples, like the one I mentioned just now, show that the “main guarantor of Western unity” is working systemically to convince even neutral countries that they must adopt an anti-Russia stance. This is regrettable.

Question: Did you have a chance in the last couple of days to meet with former President Donald Trum or members of his campaign team?

Sergey Lavrov: Have you written about it?

Question: Not yet.

Sergey Lavrov: Thank God, because I haven’t met with him.

Question: My question is regarding Indo-Russian relationships. Just recently we heard that there has been an Eastern Maritime Corridor between the two sides. I wanted to get your opinion on how Russia has used the potential and impact of the Eastern Maritime corridor on the country’s trade relations with India and also its broader economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region as well.

Sergey Lavrov: A question of this kind calls for a lengthy answer. To put it briefly, just like most countries on the Eurasian continent, Russia needs new corridors as a way of cutting logistics costs and ensuring faster deliveries compared to using the Suez Canal or sending ships around Africa. Everyone is interested in creating these transport and logistics chains and ensuring that they are independent from the West and those who regularly abuse their standing in global trade and along the shipping routes.

There is the North-South corridor that ensures quick, effective and reliable shipments from the Baltic Sea to the Persian Gulf. There are plans to link Russian ports in the Far East with India. There is also an initiative called Europe-Middle East-India, backed by Western Europeans. For us, the North-South corridor remains a priority and India stands to directly benefit from it. This route will cross Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran and go all the way to India. Pakistan is also interested.

There has been much talk about this lately. India is looking at the Northern Sea Route with a lot of interest. The same goes for China. Considering global warming and the fact that it is expected to become operational year-around, the Northern Sea Route can directly compete against all other routes since it cuts shipping time by a third compared to the Suez Canal, to give you one example. We have been discussing it with our Indian colleagues but, of course, not at the Foreign Ministry level. The ministers of economy, finance, transport and our prime ministers are working on this matter. This is one of the most promising tasks in terms of our regional development.

Question: My question is regarding Afghanistan. Recently you have mentioned the importance of Taliban engaging with the National Resistance Front and also establishing an inclusive government. I was wondering if you can elaborate on that statement that you made and also clarify the part about engaging with the National Resistance Front? Also you met with Foreign Minister of Iran Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Did you talk about what is going on in the Red Sea and the Houthis, if you can also give us something on that?

Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the Red Sea, there is a direct and illegal aggression there in violation of all international norms. Those taking part in it and who are behind this aggression are lying when they claim that this is an act of self-defence in accordance with the UN Charter. Our mission in New York has circulated a real document that reviews all the arguments put forward by the UK and the US and exposes their actions as outright robbery rather than self-defence.

As for Afghanistan, we have never moved our embassy from Kabul. It has been working there and remains operational. We maintain contacts with the Taliban since they are the ones who have real power in the country. That said, we have not officially recognised the Taliban, just like all other UN members, since the Taliban committed itself to fulfilling several requirements, including in terms of respecting human rights, primarily the rights of women and girls, and the promise to create an inclusive government. It must be inclusive not only in terms of ethnic representation, since there are already Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hazara people there, but in political terms they all belong to the Taliban. We are talking about ensuring inclusivity not only on ethnic and religious grounds, but also in political terms. There are former President Hamid Karzai, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and other secular leaders who want to stay in their country and help put it back on track.

As you know, the Americans have been refusing to release funds that do not belong to them. Afghanistan could have used these $9 billion to address urgent social and economic challenges it faces, but the United States has pocketed these funds without explaining why or for what purposes.

As for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, it operates in the country’s north. Judging by their position, they cannot be expected to engage in dialogue with the Taliban any time soon. But this must be something we can all aspire to. They are all Afghans. This is something we actively support. But for that we need those who can influence the National Resistance Front to encourage a peaceful transition instead of taking the sporadic use of force as a given.

Question: Do you think the Quartet on the Middle East is dead and is Russia now making an active effort to fix what happened recently?

There are multiple reports saying that the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon are in discussion to withdraw the US forces from Syria. What is your comment on that?

Sergey Lavrov: About the Quartet, I have commented on this in detail in recent days, including here, in New York. For many years, possibly since the adoption of the Road Map for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, which was many years ago, we have been advocating for a fully-fledged membership of the Arab League in the Quartet. Otherwise, it seemed a “half-colonial” entity: the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN, with no representation from the Arab countries, even though it had to with the Middle East settlement.

Unfortunately, all we achieved was that the rest of the Quartet members agreed to invite, from time to time, the representatives of the Arab League – when the main discussion would have been over, to simply inform them on what their “senior partners” had discussed and whether they had reached an agreement. Today, when I mentioned our interest in a new effective mediation mechanism, I also noted that the leading role should be played by the regional countries. What I have taken from my multiple discussions with those countries (Jordan, Qatar, UAE, and other nations), is that they are prepared to take a proactive role. It will not be easy, as old habits die hard. And the US has a habit of making all decisions on its own and telling everyone what to do – for example, who Mahmoud Abbas should appoint as the “protector” of Gaza – and these habits have not gone anywhere.

We are not currently in discussions with the US regarding the Middle East, even though a collective effort in support of the regional states would be appropriate here. But it has all been scrapped.

I think that the new mechanism should be led by and consist of core from the regional countries. If they find it appropriate to involve Russia, China, or other countries from outside, that decision will be up to them. In that case, everyone will have to find common ground, to work in lockstep, without launching any distracting parallel schemes.

The US pullout from Syria has already happened once. When President Donald Trump announced that they were leaving Syria, the leaders of Syrian Democratic Forces immediately asked us, the Russian military, to help them establish connections with Damascus. A few days later, the US reconsidered, and the representatives of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurds stopped asking for our assistance in establishing contacts with Damascus. They returned under the US wing immediately. The issue here is not whether they will withdraw or not. Their presence there is illegal. And those political forces among the Syrian Kurds who rely on the American umbrella and protection are making a morally and politically flawed choice.

Question: The Pentagon has indicated a willingness to work with Türkiye to move away from the state of conflict, and it is referring to Türkiye invoking the Montreux Convention. This is widely being understood as a desire to repeal the convention. What are your thoughts on this? And another question is, are there plans for President Putin to visit Türkiye in the near future?

Sergey Lavrov: Regarding the Pentagon’s statement, from what I understand (since I have not seen it), it seems that they mentioned putting pressure on Türkiye to relax the strait regime as compared to the current requirements. Currently, war ships of non-coastal countries are not allowed to enter the Black Sea during hostilities. They want these changes to be implemented. If that is the case, our Turkish colleagues have repeatedly assured us that, as the custodians of the Montreux Convention legacy, they will strictly adhere to its provisions. From what I gather, Pentagon head Lloyd Austin has returned to work, which may explain why they are so active now. I doubt they will achieve their goal.

As for the visit to Türkiye, and I was also asked about a visit to North Korea, I can confirm that President Vladimir Putin has received invitations from the leaders of both countries, as well as from many other foreign partners. His schedule is determined by his Administration in the Kremlin.

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John Pike