Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions at a news conference following talks on security guarantees with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Geneva, January 21, 2022
Question: The meeting lasted for only an hour and a half as it had been planned. Is that a bad sign? Does this mean you had nothing to discuss?
Sergey Lavrov: Punctuality cannot be a bad sign in principle. We had planned this meeting to last an hour and a half. We knew, more or less, what we were going to discuss. There was no need to repeat what was said at the Russian-US talks in Geneva on January 10 of this year and at the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on January 12 of this year.
We heard the first US response (verbal so far) to what our deputies discussed in these two formats. As US representatives requested when they suggested holding this meeting, the response was preliminary. We were told about this beforehand. It was accompanied by follow-up questions for us, answers to which would help Washington (as Antony Blinken told me over the phone) to prepare a written response to our written drafts of a treaty with the US and an agreement with NATO. All this happened today.
Question: The talks took three years when we had the Helsinki agreements in the 1970s. We offered a European security treaty in 2009 but it ran aground. Do you get the sense, as mentioned immediately after the announcement of our plan on red lines, that the US will be just taking round and just drag it out.
Sergey Lavrov: Our experience of working with our Western colleagues on European security issues contains abundant examples when promises were made but not kept. I have already quoted the words said by the then US President Gerald Ford immediately after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. Celebrating the occasion, he said: “History will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow – not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” Our American and West European colleagues and NATO members are not very good at this. Today, we heard some of the same arguments about the freedom to choose alliances and military unions. We quoted some documents in which this freedom was defined by the need to avoid any steps that could strengthen the security of one state at the expense of another. We asked Antony Blinken and his team to explain how they interpret this part of the commitments that the OSCE adopted at the political level and repeatedly affirmed.
This was an interim meeting. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he was satisfied with the exchange of views, which would help them next week (it was emphasised several times) to present a written response to us.
Question: Yesterday the US Department of State released information to the effect that Ukraine poses no threats to Russia. It says RT is responsible for the propaganda of neo-Nazi and right-wing groups in Ukraine. Human Rights Watch also wrote about that. What is the Russian Foreign Ministry’s response to the US State Department’s statement? In what way did increased weapons supplies to Ukraine from the US and the UK impact the talks?
Sergey Lavrov: You have already said everything for me. The papers the State Department prepared specially for today’s meeting are unreadable. We have a special unit headed by the Ministry’s official which is supposed to study all that. The response has already been made. I don’t think any more comments are needed. It will suffice to look it through, open to any page and realise that nothing written withstands critical scrutiny. In most cases they are pure lies.
Regarding threats. We discussed Ukraine. Our US colleagues once again wanted to give top priority to the issues on the Russia-Ukraine border. They tried to make everything depend on the need for “de-escalation.” This has already become a mantra. We finished by agreeing that next week we will be given written answers to all our proposals.
You mentioned the statement that Ukraine poses no threat to Russia. I will remind those who analyse our public statements and positions: Russia has never, nowhere, not once threatened the Ukrainian people through its official representatives. Meanwhile President Zelensky who has been taken under wing by our Western colleagues who encourage all his shenanigans, said publicly that if some Ukrainian citizens feel they are Russian, they should go back to Russia. He called those in Donbass, who are standing up to the state terrorism of the Kiev regime, species, not people. This shows who is threatening whom, and it is hard to say what these threats might lead to.
We do not exclude that all that hysteria whipped up by our Western colleagues is intended to at least distract from the Kiev regime’s determination to totally sabotage the Minsk agreements, if not to provoke Ukraine to undertake some military actions in Donbass. I cannot think of any other explanation.
We have answered all the questions asked. Our Western colleagues admit that this is Russian territory, however, “we have assembled too many troops.” Whereas in the same breath they say that whatever the Americans do with their troops in Europe is none of our business. Antony Blinken and I spoke frankly about this. He agreed that the dialogue should be more substantive. I hope cooler heads will prevail, although there are no guarantees.
Question: Was there any headway made on any of the points that the Russians have been raising over the past couple of weeks that you said were very key to your security concerns? And also, did you come out of this meeting satisfied, disappointed? How would you summarise it? And then, first and foremost, how big do you think right now the threat of war is in Europe through some sort of miscalculation, with obviously such a large force gathering around Ukraine? And finally, one question that a lot of people I think are asking internationally is, why is Russia doing this now? Why do you feel that you need to make these troop deployments now, when really, the security posture of the US and NATO really hasn’t changed over the past couple of years?
Sergey Lavrov: The US State Department should analyse CNN’s methods of work to determine whether it presents information fairly and if its facts are accurate. You are claiming that Russia is planning to attack Ukraine. We have repeatedly made it clear that this is not the case. When you assert that this is going to happen, your next question is why now? When should we not attack? It’s a strange question.
We reiterated our principled approach regarding the need to put an end to NATO’s endless eastward expansion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken once again stated his position regarding the right to choose alliances. I asked him how the United States was going to make good on its commitment, which, along with the right to choose alliances, was endorsed at the highest level at the OSCE: not to enhance the security of anyone at the expense of the security of others. He promised to clarify the United States’ stance on the fulfilment of this commitment. This is not the end of our dialogue. As Secretary Blinken underscored several times, we will be given a written response next week.
Many are asking why Russia has adopted such a principled position on the non-expansion of NATO. It’s because this bloc was created against the Soviet Union and continues to “work” against the Russian Federation. Moreover, this approach is enshrined in its doctrinal documents. When Eastern Europeans, above all Poland and the Baltic countries, were eagerly seeking to join NATO, we warned the West that accepting them as members would be a mistake as this move will in no way enhance the Alliance’s security but will instead fuel extremist sentiments. They repeatedly assured us that the opposite would happen, and after they are accepted, the holdover phobias dating back to the Soviet times will vanish and these countries will become good and peaceful neighbours. Things turned out exactly the other way round. These countries, primarily the Baltic countries and Poland, are at the helm of the Russophobic minority that runs the show in NATO and the EU, which they force to continue the dead-end anti-Russian policy on all matters without exception. I urge the CNN to be more careful about the facts.
Question: In his opening remarks today, Secretary Blinken issued threats and said that there would be a response in case of an aggression against Ukraine. There will be a written response next week. Is its tone already clear or am I mistaken here? What are we going to do next?
Sergey Lavrov: Today, our American colleagues once again tried to prioritise Ukraine in this entire process. I had a sense that in the end, following our clarifications, they (with their “concerns” still in place) nevertheless came to realise that they needed to concentrate on the content of our proposals and promised to provide us with a written response to our proposals next week. I’m sure that, one way or another, Ukraine will be part of it. I have not heard a single argument today that would support the US position on the developments on the Russian-Ukrainian border. All they have is “concerns.”
Our concerns are not about imaginary threats, but actual facts that no one is hiding with Ukraine being pumped up with weapons and hundreds of Western military instructors being sent to that country. Also, the EU, fearing to fall behind NATO, wants to create its own military training mission in Ukraine. This will be a rather interesting turn in EU’s “ambitions,” which, apparently, wants to get back in the picture, because it hasn’t been seen much at serious talks recently.
We believe that the “Ukrainian issue” needs close attention, but the entire problem of European security architecture should not be reduced to Ukraine, either. With regard to Ukraine, Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the fact that President Biden spoke about the United States’ willingness to assist in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. I urged him once again to use their decisive influence with the Kiev regime in order to talk sense into them so that they stop sabotaging this critically important document, which is designed to put an end to the internal Ukrainian conflict.
Question: Did you touch on the possible deployment of Russian military infrastructure in Cuba and in Venezuela? How serious is this eventuality from Russia’s point of view? And are you engaged in talks with the governments of these countries? What is their position in general?
Sergey Lavrov: We did not touch on this issue today.
Question: You said this is not your last contact, this is just a preliminary contact. You said your contacts would continue, that there would be more contacts after the US’s written response. Is a summit to discuss these issues possible?
Can you comment on Prague’s decision to provide greater military assistance to Ukraine, in particular send artillery munitions there? The new government of the Czech Republic said it wants to improve relations with Moscow and does not want to be on the list of unfriendly countries.
Sergey Lavrov: We are waiting for an official response on paper to our proposals after which we will plan another contact. Let’s not rush ahead. President of Russia Vladimir Putin is always ready for contact with US President Joseph Biden. Obviously, these contacts must be thoroughly prepared so that we understand what our leaders could achieve at their meeting.
As for the new Czech government, we are hearing these statements but we will respond when their words turn into actions and they send signals to us.
I cannot comment on what our NATO and EU neighbours are doing as regards Ukraine. We have warned them many times that the Kiev regime is merely exploiting the connivance of its Western sponsors. When this Russophobic hysteria stops, everyone will see the failure of this regime.
Question: A lot of people in the world are concerned about these conversations, like the ones between Mr Ryabkov and Ms Sherman.You mentioned a written response from the US. Can you characterise this for us please? Is this a step in the right direction? Do you see it as a concession from the US? And how long is Russia going to wait for a satisfactory answer?
Sergey Lavrov: An attempt to go into every detail is inappropriate at this point. I described everything we discussed today and how our productive and sincere conversation ended. I cannot say whether we are on the right track or not. We will understand this when we receive responses to all the items in our proposals on paper.
Question: The State Duma is discussing initiatives to recognise the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. Do you think that if Washington refuses to agree to these security guarantees, Russia would be ready to recognise these republics? This was not done, though a referendum took place there.
Sergey Lavrov: I do not want to make any assumptions. The Kremlin has already commented on this issue. As for the referendum, it was a turning point in the history of the Ukrainian crisis. It took place immediately after the bloody, unconstitutional state coup. Since then the West has been dodging the answers to our question about what happened there from their point of view. They prefer to count the recent history of the Ukrainian tragedy from Crimea and the “uprising in Donbass.” We reminded them of the peace agreements between President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition, guaranteed by France, Germany and Poland. The opposition tore them up the next morning and instantly came out with Russophobic statements. They demanded that the Russians be expelled from Crimea and sent in their militants that started seizing the Supreme Soviet. After these events, the Crimeans rebelled and held their referendum.
The participants in the Normandy format meeting, where the Minsk agreements were drafted, seriously discussed the referendum in the DPR and the LPR. The leaders of France and Germany were going all-out to compel us to persuade the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk to sign the Minsk agreements. In fact, they met the Normandy Four halfway by cancelling their decisions on independence with the understanding that the parties would fulfil all the items of the Minsk agreements. Primarily, they expected that these territories would be granted a special status, that this status would be permanently codified in the Constitution of Ukraine in the context of decentralisation, that a full amnesty would be offered and elections held. All these issues must be resolved in cooperation with Donetsk and Lugansk. This is the short history of the status of these territories. Today we demanded, once again, an end to the connivance with the Kiev regime. We also did this when the Foreign Minister of Germany visited us and during contacts with our French colleagues. It is time to make Kiev fulfil not just what it promised but what was endorsed by the UN Security Council.
Question: This week, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed creating a new security order in Europe and said it was indispensable in order to “stand up” to Russia. Do you think this is a provocation targeting you?
Sergey Lavrov: President Macron is the most consistent proponent of the EU’s ability to act as a more significant international player, including ensuring the “strategic autonomy” of the EU, which is now drafting a document towards this end titled “Strategic сompass.” By all means, we are keeping tabs on this process. Those very Russophobes, who, as we were assured, would calm down as soon as they joined NATO and the EU, have a strong influence within it. Not only have they not calmed down, but they have just warmed up and are ready for action. But, as he was making a case for EU strategic autonomy, President Macron did not back it up with the need to oppose the Russian Federation. This is a misperception of what he said, I think.
Question: What does Russia want most: an unstable, dependent Ukraine, or a new sphere of influence in Eastern Europe?
Sergey Lavrov: We discussed spheres of influence today. Indeed, an unstable Ukraine is a factor of our common political life. I am sure that you, as a seasoned journalist, understand perfectly well where this instability is coming from. It is enough to look at the developments surrounding Petr Poroshenko’s return to Kiev.
With regard to spheres of influence, I asked Secretary Blinken today how he could explain the fact that after President Tokayev of Kazakhstan requested help, based on the CSTO Charter, to suppress the terrorist threat that was fuelled from abroad, he publicly stated that Kazakhstan should explain why it had done so. Secretary Blinken has not commented on that.
This reflects the mindset of the Western community, which is firmly convinced of its own exceptionalism and thinks that it can do anything it pleases, whereas others can only do things that it allows them to do. Look at the EU. Federica Mogherini, who preceded Josep Borrell as head of EU diplomacy, speaking about the Balkans at a meeting of the EU ambassadors and permanent representatives in 2018, stated directly, “whenever we are present in the region, there is no space for others.” Isn’t that about spheres of influence? These examples abound, including the developments in Eastern Europe. Now, in the Western Balkans, they are trying, by hook or by crook, to shove unaffiliated countries into the EU and NATO. They are flatly dissuading these countries from maintaining close relations with Russia or China. Isn’t this an attempt to impose their sphere of influence?
The spheres of influence exist due to the colonial powers’ policies. Following decolonisation, they were loath to lose these spheres of influence and came up with a variety of ways to keep these territories. We see that these areas are still being “settled,” and new territories are being drawn into our Western colleagues’ sphere of influence. I discussed this openly with Antony Blinken today. It is sad to see grown-up people engage in a “contest” to find out who is tougher and who has a bigger I don’t know what. We would all be better off if we thought like adults about how to live in the modern world, and how to make it safe amid ongoing climate change, other global threats and terrorism, drug trafficking, and human health challenges, including grave pandemic-related dangers (they say this is by far not the last pandemic). Here’s what we should be doing. Instead, Russia-US relations are reduced to discussing Vladimir Zelensky and his regime. This is wrong. We are not claiming zones of influence. But what NATO is doing now with regard to Ukraine clearly shows that NATO considers Ukraine a sphere of its influence.
Question: Will the Foreign Ministry make public the US responses to our proposals on security guarantees, if we receive any?
Sergey Lavrov: This is a question that we will need to ask our American colleagues. I thought about it today. We will not raise this issue before we have an answer. Since it is their property, which they will hand over to us as their position, the right thing to do would be to make their answer public. I will ask Antony Blinken to be receptive to our request.