Over the more than ten years in office as Russia’s foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov has appeared at thousands of news conferences and granted hundreds of interviews. Minutes before the interview that follows (which lasted for more than two hours) he first loosened and took off his necktie. Then he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, but only the top one.
On the feeling of despair and the boiling point
– Sergey Viktorovich, you’ve had a really hot time for the past six months.
– And it’s not all over yet. Generally speaking, there has been no calm in foreign politics for a long time. But in summer I did have some time for recreation. In Russia, mind you.
– Don’t you get despaired due to the lack of calmness in foreign affairs?
– No, never ever. That’s not the type of feeling I may have deep down in my heart. We cannot afford to get desperate. We must keep doing our job right.
– But sometimes one cannot but reach the boiling point.
– That’s no good, either. The two things go hand in hand. Only a novice, who suddenly thinks he has reached the dead end, can be forgiven for losing self-control and for not knowing what to do next. Yours truly has had a chance to see a lot over the decades in the diplomatic service, thank God. Any person needs patience, and in our profession this quality has a double value. Making me jump out of my skin is a hopeless task. But it’s not worth trying, though.
– Can you mention some really tough guys you’ve chanced to have in front of you across the negotiating table?
– Come on, how do you think I must go about this business? I may name some, but all the others will get insulted… All were real professionals!
– Not all, I reckon…
– Why not all? Of course, all. But each of them has certain professional strengths. Some are quite professional when it comes to grandstand play, to blocking everything, to shirking the search for a compromise and to avoiding direct answers. People of this sort address some very different tasks. And nearly all of them lack an independent foreign policy. There are only strict instructions from this or that high office that have to be followed. And they scrupulously toe the line.
Naturally, you always expect your partners to be consistent in their actions, to observe common standards. After all, the United States and the European Union have been demanding all the way that all countries should stick to the principles of democracy and the rule of law in their home affairs. But as soon as we get to the international level, none of them ever mentions these basic values any more. That’s natural, of course. A democratic world order does not fit in with the policies the Western world is pursuing these days in its bid to retain its centuries-old foothold. But this is an ever trickier task. Both the Americans and the Europeans prefer to keep quiet about the supremacy of law in international affairs, or at best they pay lip service to it. Mind you, any attempts to apply this rule in practice, for instance, in Libya, where the UN Security Council’s resolution was turned inside out, or in Iraq, which fell victim to an act of outright aggression without any UN SC resolution being taken, are harshly suppressed. For our western partners “the law is an axle – it turns the way you please if you give it plenty of grease,” as a Russian saying goes. I would like to drive the message home: international law requires both development and interpretation. Someone said with a good reason there are as many opinions as there are lawyers. But certain things are indisputable. Either you refrain from supplying weapons to Libya and thereby honor the UN Security Council resolution, or you sell them… It was both NATO countries and some countries of the region that have abused the embargo. The United States is positioning itself as the citadel of freedom, but quite often it is very far from truth, to put it mildly… In other words, the international system is in commotion, its basics are being shaken loose and rather strongly…
– With our help?
– The other way round. Russia has been consistently pressing for the consolidation of international law. We have never deviated from this policy just an inch. We have urged compliance with the achieved agreements and creation of new instruments facilitating proper response to the modern challenges. Take, for instance, our proposal for codifying the principle of indivisibility of security in Europe and making this principle legally binding for all. This political declaration of ours was aimed at preventing crises like the one in Ukraine. The draft of such a treaty, which Russia proposed a while ago, implied that as soon as any of the signatories (and we had hoped that practically all Euro-Atlantic countries would put their signatures to it) has any fears about their security, consultations should instantly follow, with evidence and arguments put on the negotiating table, a collective discussion held and eventual measures taken to de-escalate the crisis. Our proposals fell on deaf ears. We were told that an extra treaty was utterly unnecessary. In other words, everybody was saying that security in Europe was inseparable, of course, and that in terms of international law NATO would provide proper protection for all of its members. But it does not guarantee the security of all those unaffiliated with it! Possibly, the original plan was to use this pretext for pulling all post-Soviet countries into the alliance and thus bringing the division lines closer to our borders. But the idea proved an abortive one.
– Experience has shown that this a vicious logic and it leads to a dead end. Ukraine has demonstrated this to the full extent. To make NATO and CSTO countries and all neutral countries not affiliated with any political and military alliance (let me remind you that Ukraine had proclaimed its non-aligned status, just like Moldova) feel comfortable and secure, a dialogue should have been started precisely the way we had proposed long ago. Then there would have been nothing like today’s tug-of-war situation, in which Brussels told Ukraine to choose between the West and Russia. Everybody knows the root causes of the crisis: we were not being listened to, Kiev was forced into signing arrangements with the European Union, which had been drafted behind the scene and, as it eventually turned out, were undermining Ukraine’s obligations on the CIS free trade area. When Viktor Yanukovich took a pause for a closer look at the situation, the Maidan protests were staged. Then there followed the burning tires, the first casualties and an escalation of the conflict…
– One of our satiric writers, Mikhail Zadornov, at a certain point dropped this remark: America is prepared to fight a war with Russia to the last Ukrainian.
– What can be said in a situation like this? Cynicism has been part and parcel of politics all along. Possibly, it is inherent in all those who write and speak about politics. We would hate to see Ukraine being used as a pawn. Alas, it has been otherwise so far – not through our fault and contrary to Russia’s wish. Some partners in the West – not all of them – have been trying to use the deep crisis of Ukrainian statehood for the purpose of “containing” Russia, for isolating us, and thereby tightening their looser grip on the international system. The world is changing, the share of the United States and Europe in the global GDP is shrinking, there have emerged new centers of economic growth and financial power, whose political influence has been soaring accordingly. As concerns economy, there seems to be growing awareness of that. The G20 group has been created. In 2010 the G20 made a decision to reform the International Monetary Fund to redistribute quotas from the Western countries so that new, growing economies can receive a little bit more quotas. Then the crisis began to ease somewhat and the United States and the European Union these days are in no mood to stand by those arrangements. Now they are determined to retain positions within the IMF that are by no means proportionate to their real economic potential in the world. A really tough struggle is underway for keeping unchanged the state of affairs in which the Western civilization determines the shape of the world order. This is a faulty policy with no chances to succeed, objective processes are developing in opposite direction. The world is getting really polycentric. China, India, Brazil, the ASEAN countries, Latin America and, lastly, Africa – a continent with the richest natural resources – all begin to realize their real significance for world politics. There will be no stopping this trend. True, it can be resisted, and such attempts are being made, but it is really hard to go against the stream. This is the cause of many crises.