Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s news conference following his visit to the United States within the framework of Russia’s presidency of the UN Security Council, New York, April 25, 2023
Question: You said that Russia will not forget and will not forgive the US for denying Russian journalists visas to come to the UN and to follow your visit. What does it mean, and can you elaborate on that, please?
Sergey Lavrov: Our representative spoke at the UN Committee on Information today. Maria Zakharova has made an explicit comment on this subject there. We regard the current situation as outrageous. All the incantations about the freedom of the media and access to information, which Western leaders, including the Americans, uttered, were set out in the Human Rights Council and OSCE’s decisions adopted back in the early 1990s. At that time, the Soviet Union openly accepted such arrangements. Now that the West feels embarrassed by the existence of alternative views and the ability of all people on the planet and in their own countries to access facts that do not fit in into the Western narrative, it has launched a radical offensive on the media outlets that do not obey its orders.
Our ambassadors in various countries, including in Washington DC, regularly provide factual information about discrimination against Russian media outlets. Many years ago, France denied accreditation with the Elysée Palace to RT and Sputnik and described them as “propaganda tools.” Mr John Kirby explained the denial of visas to Russian journalists, who were to participate in this part of our presidency, by saying that “Russian state media are propaganda outlets” that have nothing in common with the American “democratic” vision of media freedom. It appears that the First Amendment no longer means anything in practice. Let’s take a look at the state of media freedom in the United States. They say that Tucker Carlson is no longer with Fox News. An interesting piece of news! My guess about the reasons for that is as good as yours. But this has certainly affected the diversity of views in the US information space.
As for our response, we will certainly take this outrageous behaviour of the US authorities into account. As I see it, the decision was made at the Department of State. We will keep this in mind, when the Americans ask for anything from us.
Question: I’d like to ask you about Sudan and what’s happening there, and also about the involvement of the Wagner group with the support forces. We asked Hemetti, the leader of that group, about the involvement of Wagner with him and his forces, and he did not deny it. To whom is this group accountable, to the Russian Government or some other body?
Sergey Lavrov: Wagner is a private military company. We have spoken about this many times, including in this room, when our French colleagues and the top echelon of EU diplomacy represented by Josep Borrell raised a ballyhoo over our ties with Mali and the Central African Republic several years ago. When France started scaling down its Operation Barkhane and shutting down its military bases in the north of the country, where terrorists were a major threat, the government of Mali, fearing that this would leave them defenceless, requested Wagner’s assistance. They had a right to do this, which the Malian Foreign Minister pointed out at the UN General Assembly. Nobody made a secret of that relationship. The Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and several other countries, where governments and legitimate authorities requested such services, are fully in their right to do this.
If you feel concerned about this, look up online the number of private military companies that exist in the United States, Britain and France. There are dozens of them, and many of them have been working for years right on our border, including in Ukraine. This is suggestive as well.
As for the situation in Sudan, it is a tragedy. People are dying. Diplomats may be in danger. We are aware of this, and we are monitoring the situation. UNICEF has asked our embassy today to take in their personnel who were staying in an unsafe place. I do not know how this can be done, but we will consider all the possibilities.
Take a look at how Sudan developed as a state. Initially, there was one state, which later split into Sudan and South Sudan. We saw this happen. Our American colleagues made Sudan’s division into two parts a foreign policy priority. They asked us to convince President Omar al-Bashir to agree to hold a referendum and to voluntarily divide the state in two. Frankly, we believed that the people of Sudan should decide their future independently. Ultimately, Sudan was divided into two states, one of them South Sudan. The Americans, as the initiators of that “divorce,” should have helped the two new states live peacefully with each other, develop their economies and the well-being of the people. But something displeased them. I will not go into detail, but the United States introduced sanctions against the authorities of Sudan and South Sudan and started presenting its demands to them through the IMF. This “geopolitical engineering” will do no good.
I suggest that all sides should draw conclusions from the current Sudan crisis. Let us not interfere with the Africans’ efforts to come to terms among themselves or add any demands from the outside (which do not reflect these countries’ interests) to their efforts to find their own, African, solutions to their problems.
Question: I just want to ask you a little bit more about the Ukraine grain deal and whether Russia has responded to the letter that the UN Secretary-General has sent to President Vladimir Putin suggesting a way forward for the extension and expansion of this Ukraine grain deal. And China is the biggest recipient of the Ukraine grain under that deal. So, has China asked Russia to extend that deal?
Sergey Lavrov: Well, on China I will say right away that we have not been discussing this issue with our partners from the People’s Republic of China; including probably for purely pragmatic considerations, given that we have a shared border with the People’s Republic of China, across which there is export and import going on, and the Black Sea space is not at all necessary for China to procure our grain and grain in general from other countries that are adjacent to the Russian Federation, such as Kazakhstan, for example. As for the letter that the Secretary-General conveyed to President Putin yesterday, I hope that it did not leak because this is personal correspondence between the leadership of the United Nations and the leader of a UN member state. If this paper, this correspondence was disclosed, this would not be very appropriate, this would indicate another attempt to exert pressure on the situation, and this is not acceptable; the situation has not been resolved, and it has been brought to a dead end by our Western colleagues.
I would recall that on July 22 last year, when this Black Sea initiative was agreed upon, was signed, the text explicitly stated that this pertained to the export of grain and ammonia. Nobody recalled ammonia until the day before yesterday. Even yesterday, Antonio Guterres told me that on global markets there are acute shortages of fertiliser, specifically, from the ammonia group. Nobody thought about this up until very recently, until the last moment, about the way that this deal quickly transformed from the Black Sea Initiative into the Black Sea Grain Initiative, from a humanitarian initiative into a commercial undertaking. This is also something that gives rise to a significant number of questions that all of us have been consistently talking about all this time, and we continue to draw attention to this situation. If we look at the statistics, less than three percent of the entire volume of grain that travelled from Ukrainian ports, less than three percent reached the truly poor countries on the relevant list of the World Food Programme, namely, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia. Everything else, the 80-plus percent reached high-income countries or middle-income countries.
We discussed this, we drew attention to this, and then there was a blatant attempt by Ukrainian colleagues, as part of their activities within the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul. They tried to create an artificial accumulation of ships. In the Ukrainian press, there were reports about the Ukrainian regime taking bribes to agree on the queue where a certain ship would be located, whether it would be placed before others without those mechanisms, bribe-taking mechanisms. We also drew attention to the fact that concentrating completely and fully on the Ukrainian part of the deal, our colleagues, primarily at the United Nations, have forgotten that Antonio Guterres initially proposed the package of inextricably linked measures. Well, he told me yesterday that the UN-Russian memorandum is not very concrete, and we signed on to this because the memorandum contained an obligation for the Secretary-General and his staff to do everything possible to lift obstacles to exports of Russian fertiliser and Russian grain. I cannot say that the UN has not been undertaking efforts in the right direction. On the contrary, UNCTAD Secretary-General and Antonio Guterres and Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs have all been advocating this. They have been trying to reach an agreement with the countries that have announced illegitimate unilateral sanctions against the Russian Federation, but there has been practically no result. The Rosselkhozbank, the main bank that services our agricultural exports, has been expelled from the SWIFT system, and there are no plans to bring it back in. Instead, we are offered a one-off alternative, where three American banks, as the Secretary-General requested, replace SWIFT and help Rosselkhozbank service export operations. A few months have elapsed, and one of the banks kindly consented to finance one operation. But when we are told that we should continue our efforts on the basis of this principle, that’s not much to go on. If you want to systemically resolve the issue of food shortages on the global market, then there is the need to bring our bank into the fold of the SWIFT system.
If you want us and the UN Secretary-General to run back and forth every time and plead with any US financial structure to be so magnanimous, you understand that this cannot work, and this will not work. There are still problems with insurance, and yesterday I was told by the Secretary-General that the rates dropped significantly after his contacts with Lloyd’s of London, but this is all focused on maintaining and preserving control over everything that is happening, to prevent our fertiliser and grain from freely reaching markets and on the basis of market mechanisms, to prevent them from entering certain countries. All this, of course, complicates the work of the World Food Programme which has been helping the poorest countries. In addition to what we have been talking about, we have nearly 200,000 tonnes of fertiliser, and it has been seized at EU ports. Last August, President of Russia Vladimir Putin publicly stated our position, according to which, the companies that own the fertiliser provide it on a voluntary basis and free of charge to the poorest countries through the World Food Programme mechanisms. This was back in August. The first consignment of 20,000 tonnes out of the 200,000 tonnes entered Malawi only six months later. It is now with great difficulty that we are conducting discussions on two other consignments, with 24,000 tonnes each, for Kenya and Nigeria. And this all takes time and is fraught with bureaucratic red tape, with additional costs.
And, with respect to our part of the grain deal; I will now return to that question. Yes, we can see that the Secretary-General and his colleagues have been making efforts, but there have been practically no results, unless we are to view as results the glimmer of hope that, instead of normal provision of necessary products to global markets, each time there will be a need to make efforts manually and plead with American and European ports, banks and other structures, insurance companies and request that they be magnanimous. That’s not the deal we reached on July 22 of last year when we supported the Secretary-General’s initiative which, as he has reiterated, is a major package that has many components.
So, unlike you, I cannot be so confident in describing what is contained in the correspondence from Antonio Guterres to Vladimir Putin because this correspondence is, of course, not for a wider audience, and it is intended for our President. The same letters have been sent to Ukraine and Turkey, as far as I know, but the reaction to this correspondence will come after the recipient reads it. That’s the way decent people behave.
Question: It doesn’t sound like you see a lot of hope for an extension of the Black Sea grain deal.
Sergey Lavrov: No comment.
Question: On April 25, 2023, US President Joe Biden said he would run for a second term. The Republicans’ comments (for example, from Donald Trump, who also announced his intention to run) indicate that they are seriously concerned about that leading to a third world war. Which candidate would Russia prefer as the next US president?
Sergey Lavrov: Unlike journalists, who are duty-bound to publicly analyse current events, the Russian government does not interfere in the affairs of other states.
Question: You talked about, yesterday and a year ago, about the inadmissibility of the expansion of NATO. And yet, because of the war, Finland has become a member, Sweden’s next, and NATO’s Secretary General is supporting Ukraine’s membership. Was it a miscalculation and where do you see the reasons now for the war since the NATO border with Russia has now doubled? Thank you.
Sergey Lavrov: NATO never had an intention of stopping. If you look at how events have been unfolding lately, the EU and NATO have been actively merging in terms of military affairs. Recently, they signed a declaration, according to which the EU essentially delegated responsibility to NATO for ensuring the security of all its members and guaranteed that the Organisation would be provided with the territories of the EU countries that are not part of the alliance to use for its purposes. Sweden and Finland were in the front row of this interaction, as frequent participants in the bloc’s military exercises and other events aimed at synchronising the military programmes of the NATO members and neutral states.
Saying that Russia wanted to prevent NATO from expanding is such a beautiful figure of speech. It is not so much that we wanted or considered it necessary to prevent expansion, as that we were repeatedly promised it would not happen. We were lied to. Now everybody knows that. We were lied to in the same way as later, about the Minsk agreements and many other things. They admitted it without even blushing.
Russia’s attempts to prevent the expansion of NATO leading to its accelerated expansion is how you see the situation from your vantage point. We have our vantage points too. Impartial observers and political analysts in Russia and abroad have concluded that NATO intended to tear Russia apart when, in fact, it welded it together. We are not going to speculate about how it will end. We declared our goals clearly and continue to assert them – for example, we asserted them yesterday in the remarks at the UN Security Council meeting.
What are Americans trying to achieve? I have been reading local press, analysis and speaking to some old friends among political analysts. They are increasingly questioning what happens next. We stated our goals clearly and honestly. What are the goals of the United States, NATO and the EU? Is it to pump weapons into Ukraine? An amusing theory has emerged recently, according to which the West will secure Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive and then ask Ukraine and President Zelensky to begin talks. This reasoning is akin to schizophrenia.
Our wish is that no security threats come from the territory of Ukraine. These threats have accumulated there for years, especially after the state coup in February 2014. Another wish of ours is that people who consider themselves Russian speakers, members of the Russian culture and faith, which they have always practiced through the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, will not be subjected to discrimination, persecution and threats of extermination.
There is a persona in Zelensky’s circle, Mikhail Podolyak, Adviser to the Chief of the Office of the President of Ukraine. He said that Ukraine is fighting for Western values and democracy. Are these the democracy and the values for which NATO is ready to fight until the last Ukrainian?
For many years, we have drawn attention to the struggles of the ethnic minorities in Ukraine, especially the Russian minority. Laws were adopted banning education in languages other than Ukrainian – although an exception was made for EU languages, which once again stressed that this whole campaign was targeted against Russian culture. Both Russian media outlets broadcasting in Ukraine and Ukrainian media outlets broadcasting in the Russian language and representing the opposition were banned. Millions of books were thrown out of libraries, some to be burned publicly like the Nazis had done in the past. Almost all cultural contacts between our countries were prohibited.
Look at what is happening now with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We have addressed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, OSCE senior officials and other institutions – but they responded with little interest.
A similar reaction was given to the state coup in February 2014. We questioned France, Germany and Polandbecause the day before the coup, they had guaranteed a settlement and put their signatures as guarantors under it. The answer was that in democratic processes some “excesses” are still possible. That was it. The same justification was used to explain any workings of the Kiev regime. Meanwhile, the West triumphantly confirmed that it would pile arms into the regime to defeat Russia on the battlefield because the Kiev regime is defending Western values and “democratic ideals”. If that is what the West is fighting for, then it should be perfectly clear what we support and what we will fight for to the end.
Question (retranslated from English): Can you tell us more about any contacts you may have had with US officials regarding the fate of US citizens in Russian jails? Have there been any contacts or attempts at contacts?
There have been prisoner swaps in the past. What are you looking for in exchange for Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich?
Sergey Lavrov: As agreed by US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Geneva in June 2021, there is a special channel in place for discussing Russian detainees in the United States and US detainees in the Russian Federation. It is no great secret that this channel was not intended to involve journalists or to publicly “spotlight” certain situations to put pressure on the serious, professional negotiations underway.
Several American citizens are serving sentences in Russia for various crimes, including the individuals you have mentioned (Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich). They were detained while committing the crime of obtaining materials constituting a state secret. We reject the vociferous, pathetic claims that a journalist cannot, by definition, commit a crime. There are many examples to the contrary. We have drawn public attention to the fact that when a campaign broke out around Evan Gershkovich, everyone forgot about Julian Assange, or Russian citizen and journalist Maria Butina, who spent two years in prison in the United States just because of being involved with non-governmental organisations.
There are about 60 Russians in prison in the United States. In most cases, the charges are dubious. But not even once, when abducting our people from European or other countries, as the Americans are wont to do, have they deigned to comply with the bilateral consular convention, under which, if they have suspicions regarding Russian citizens, they should contact the Russian Federation and voice their concerns instead of abducting them (like in Hollywood films).
To reiterate: there is a channel to discuss these things. This kind of work is not public in nature. Publicity can only complicate the process, for obvious reasons. There is no need to explain this to professionals.
Question (retranslated from English): Recently, President of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Türkiye to participate in the ceremony to launch the first nuclear reactor in Türkiye that was built by Russian companies. Does the Russian President plan to visit Türkiye?
Sergey Lavrov: I assume that the two presidents are aware that such a meeting would be important.
Question (retranslated from English): Russia has repeatedly stated that Ukraine is not fulfilling its obligations under the grain deal. Does Russia intend to withdraw from this deal, and are there any reasons left for staying on?
Sergey Lavrov: Ukraine has nothing to do with the part of the deal regarding Russian fertilisers and grain. These parts of the deal are blocked by the Western sanctions. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is working to overcome these sanctions and remove the obstacles to fertiliser and grain exports from Russia to the world markets. In this Memorandum, he pledged to do everything possible to achieve these goals. Apparently, this will require the impossible. So far we do not see that happening.
Where the prospects for the deal are concerned, I have just replied to your colleague. Indeed, Antonio Guterres gave me a message for President Putin yesterday. It will be reported. The response will be announced.
Question (retranslated from English): President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel made statements to the effect that Beijing does not need peace in Ukraine and that China is satisfied with the status quo. What is Russia’s position on this point?
Sergey Lavrov: Statements of this kind have nothing to do with the work of a normal politician.
You’ve mentioned the Czech Republic and that reminds me of the European Union (for now it still exists). EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said that they would promote relations with other countries depending on their stance towards Russia and China. This is an indicator of the mentality of current European “diplomacy.”
Question: There are nearly 80,000 Ukrainian refugees currently in Ireland. Did you apologize to them for having to leave their homes, fleeing your war?
And secondly, is China your friend? And if it is your friend, why aren’t they sending you weapons?
Sergey Lavrov: No one is taking any pleasure in how the current developments affect the lives of ordinary people. But their lives should be considered not only when they are abroad and inconvenience the host countries; the lives of ordinary people should attract the attention of politicians when these lives are discriminated against and threatened on a day-to-day basis, legislatively and in practice, for many years.
Nobody cared when we were saying that such laws should not be adopted. Ukraine’s Constitution guarantees all the rights of national minorities – political, religious, linguistic, and so on. And when they passed laws canceling those rights in relation to the Russian language, we appealed (Russia was still a member of the Council of Europe then) to the Venice Commission (this is a body that analyses legislations of CE member countries for compatibility with European conventions). And the Council of Europe, through this commission, issued a ruling that Ukraine should adopt a new, separate law on national minorities. They did so last December. The law says that all without exception rights of national minorities are guaranteed to the extent envisaged by the current legislation. That is, to the extent to which they have been truncated. To nearly a zero! This is a mockery of justice.
As for the refugees in Ireland, I do not really know. Now there is a great deal of information, including in the Western European and Eastern European media,that not all of these refugees are in such great need. And there have been scandals, someone stealing something, or a wife leaving a husband, or vice versa. I don’t want to insult anyone, but Ukrainian refugees began coming to Russia much earlier, and that was primarily the consequence of the war the Kiev regime unleashed against its own people in the east of the country only because the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine refused to recognise the coup and told those guys they just wanted to be left alone, to be able to address their own problems. For this, they were labeled terrorists, and a war was unleashed against them. Millions of people fled to Russia. I cannot recall anyone in this room or at my other press conferences attended by Western journalists being interested in this aspect of the situation. Over the last year or a year and a half, we have also been receiving refugees from areas that remain under the Kiev regime’s control.
Are you from Ireland? Good. From time to time, I use this argument: if the English language were to be banned in Ireland, how would the British react to this? It’s inconceivable, impossible to wrap one’s head around.
But in Ukraine, the Russian language can be banned. They can publicly say, go back to Russia if you consider yourself part of Russian culture. This is what Vladimir Zelensky said long before our special military operation. He was asked what he thought of the people living on the other side of the lineof contact. He replied that there were people, and there were “species.” This “leader of global democracy” said that if anyone in Ukraine felt part of Russian culture, his advice, for the sake of the future of their children and grandchildren, was they should go off to Russia. As bluntly as that. And when he was asked what he thought about the neo-Nazi Azov Regiment (back in 2013, even in Washington, in Congress in fact, it was specifically designated as a unit that should not receive US funding, a unit marching with Nazi flags, with the SS divisions’ insignia), he said that they had many of them, and that they were what they were. Period. So those values that Vladimir Zelensky has been upholding “for the Western world” in the war against Russia also include things that we, honestly speaking, got rid of long ago. But Europe, in just the blink of an eye, again embraced the traditions that were nurtured in the past.
Question: The UN has many goals and is increasing its goals all the time. But the main goal in 1945 was to prevent World War III. For 75 years, we have been able to reach this goal. I heard your speech yesterday at the Security Council. It looks like you are not confident, I don’t think you are confident anymore that this institution can prevent another world war.
So my question is why you are not confident and what the Secretary-General – does he have any role? <…>Why didn’t the Secretary-General – we’re not seeing him doing what others do, coming up with a plan? The Secretary-General of the UN isn’t coming up with a plan for peace because you are not going to even look at it or he’s not doing it because he can’t do it?
Sergey Lavrov: Well, why not ask him?
I can only say who is stirring up panic about WWIII. President Joe Biden once said (I won’t be able to give you the exact quote) that, if they help Ukraine win, they will prevent WWIII. Do you analyse your president’s statements or just my remarks at the UN Security Council?
Some time ago, the then UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss, said that she would not hesitate to push the red button. On hearing this, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, said France also had nuclear weapons. Next the German Air Force commander said they were prepared for a nuclear war and were not afraid of Vladimir Putin’s threats. This was all at a time when we did not say a single word about WWIII.
Let me remind you that it was us who, during President Donald Trump’s tenure, proposed that the United States publicly, at the highest level and officially, reaffirm the Gorbachev-Reagan statement to the effect that Russia and the United States (or the USSR and the USA as it was at the time) were confident that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be waged. We suggested doing the same once again during the Trump administration. We failed. If the US side was prepared to discuss this at all, they had a number of caveats, which devalued the whole thing completely. Under President Joe Biden, our two presidents made such a statement. And then it was once again that we took the initiative to have a similar statement about the inadmissibility of nuclear war adopted at the highest level by all the five nuclear powers.
When this subject is raised, everyone immediately points a finger at Russia, claiming that Russia is bringing the world to the brink of WWIII. We in Russia have this saying: What the heart thinks the tongue speaks. So, I just hope that people making statements like, “If Ukraine loses, WWIII cannot be avoided,” or vice versa, are in their right mind and able to display responsibility.
Question: My first question has to do with the Israeli delegation, led by Israel’s Permanent Representative Gilad Erdan, walking out of the UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East today. How would you comment on that move? Was there any communication with Israel before the meeting that hinted or could have implied that the Israeli delegation might walk out?
My second question is about the recent statement by UK Minister of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey, who said that thousands of depleted uranium shells for Challenger 2 tanks had already been sent to Ukraine. What do you think when you hear such statements?
Sergey Lavrov: Let’s begin with today’s meeting. Frankly, I cannot comment on the details. When Russia assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council, we discussed the schedule of meetings and their themes. Nobody protested against discussing Middle East issues, including Palestine, today. The Israeli representative asked today, pathetically and emotionally, about Russia’s attitude if an anti-Russia meeting was scheduled for May 9, Victory Day. You know, I worked at the UN for 10 years, and we also met on May 9 to discuss all kinds of issues, as well as on days that are national holidays of other UN member states. The UN is like that. If we agreed not to meet on every country’s days off, there would be few working days left.
Anyway, the Israeli representative said he could not attend an “anti-Israel event” on such a day. The answer can be found in the essence of the matter. It was not an anti-Israel event. It was an event held in accordance with the issue that has been on the Security Council agenda for decades.
The Palestine issue is the oldest conflict to which nobody has found or is looking for a solution. Attempts are being made now to move away from the agreements sealed in Security Council resolutions, and economic boons are being promised to the Palestinians if they do not demand the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is what is being done now. So, this was not an anti-Israel event. As I pointed out in my remarks, the event was held to promote the implementation of the initial UN resolutions on ensuring the Palestinians’ right to have a state of their own and also Israel’s right to security within its borders, as well as at eliminating any threat to Israel in the region. This is the issue we planned to discuss; there was no intention to condemn Israel. Today we also criticised the terrorist attacks against Israelis. This is a well-known fact.
We have spoken on the issue of depleted uranium on many occasions. No matter what they say about depleted uranium not being radioactive and that it is not on the relevant IAEA lists, there are facts and interviews with people who were injured by the use of depleted uranium in the former Yugoslavia. They are available on our television, online and also on Western television channels. There are such people in Italy, the veterans of combat operations waged against what they described as the Slobodan Milosevic “regime.” We must be aware of our responsibility. Britain, as an island state, might not care if these depleted uranium shells emit fallout radiation or not, or what they contain.
Question: After February 24, 2022, by many tallies, Russia is the most sanctioned country in the world. Do you think Western sanctions are working, and can your country withstand more economic pressures?
Sergey Lavrov: I remember how US President Barack Obama said in 2015 that Russia’s economy was “in tatters.” This is probably their desire, which has been consistent and does not change with the change of administration.
We have long come to the conclusion that we can only rely on ourselves and those who honour their agreements. We will never again rely on those who lie, who constantly deceive others and who try to gain illegitimate unilateral advantage.
Some Western companies, which acted on their governments’ orders to leave Russia, are trying to return now. Our government has commented on this situation. We are not sure that this matter should be decided immediately. Let our businesses take the vacant niches. We will develop our economy by using the material benefits which history and God have given to us in this world, rather than through any virtual services or the artificial domination of the dollar and dependence on it.
The United States has launched the de-dollarisation process. Analysts, including American political analysts and economists, are analysing this process with great concern. This is a fact. If I recall correctly, the percentage of the dollar in global settlements has fallen from 55 percent to 47 percent over the past year. Eight percent a year is a lot.
The transition to transactions in national currencies, bypassing the dollar, the euro and the yen, as well as the development of digital currencies cannot be stopped. What will happen to the international currency and financial system, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank? This is a big question. The process has begun. The Americans have shown that they did not tell the truth when they claimed for many decades after Richard Nixon cancelled the “gold standard” that the dollar, even without gold backing, was not “their” currency but the “international currency,” and that its use would guarantee the smooth operation of all the global economic mechanisms.
They have shown now that they have easily, as if by the wave of an invisible magic wand, abandoned the values they upheld as the fundamentals of the global economy, such as honest competition, the inviolability of private property, non-use of unilateral protectionist measures, and everything else they used as the basis for globalisation, which the world has accepted, by and large, and started adjusting its plans to. Globalisation no longer has a future in the form it was initially conceived. We see fragmentation in the global economy, de-globalisation and regionalisation.
We are aware of these processes, and we are actively involved in them within the framework of the SCO, the EAEU, the EAEU-China agreement, and BRICS. President of Brazil Lula da Silva has expressed interest in preparing for the next [BRICS] summit, scheduled for this summer, analytical materials on precluding any dependence on the whims of those who had so far governed the international monetary and financial system.
Question: First, a quick follow-up on the grain deal. You just talk a lot about the nature of it, whether it’s commercial or humanitarian. Do you think that Russia has been fooled from the beginning to sign this deal?
My question is, you talk a lot about a new world order, which was resonated yesterday by the member states like Brazil. Can you tell us why the international multipolar world order is better than the current one, especially the rules-based order? And, most importantly, how are you going to persuade your Western colleagues to believe that?
Sergey Lavrov: I will reiterate that the deal was not initially called a grain deal but the Black Sea Initiative. It is directly stated in the agreement that it concerns expanded opportunities to export grain and fertilisers.
No, I do not suspect that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was disingenuous when he proposed the deal. I believe his intentions were sincere. I know Mr Guterres quite well and can state this with confidence.
The other thing is that his sincere and assertive efforts to persuade those who imposed the sanctions, to make an exception at least for agricultural exports, grain and fertilisers, have been futile. I talked about this at length today.
How can we persuade our Western colleagues that it is necessary to build a multipolar world? We are not going to persuade them. We explicate our position, just like the People’s Republic of China, Brazil and many others. We propose doing business based on the provisions of the UN Charter: we all have equal rights and must seek a balance of interests and deal with world problems collectively. Perhaps the best way to persuade the Western countries that a multipolar world is already forming is not to get in the way of this historical process. Getting in the way is exactly what they are doing.
The sanctions against Russia are indeed something that nobody has ever seen or been able to imagine. But for us it is a resolved issue. We have all the capacities to be independent from this sort of behaviour by our Western colleagues who have proven their complete inability to negotiate. I hear they are prohibiting semi-conductor exports to China. At the same time, they are demanding that South Korea refrain from substituting the missing supplies of semi-conductors from Europe and the United States with its own supplies. Preparations are ongoing for a new round in the war for world dominance – or, to be more precise, a war for maintaining world dominance. This might possibly slow the natural process of building a multipolar world order, but not for long. Historically, I believe that won’t happen.
All these claims that, as EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said, a heavenly garden (meaning the West) is surrounded by jungles (which sounds like a racist and Nazi statement) is a manifestation of a philosophy that is detrimental to all of humankind, including those that adhere to this philosophy.
Regarding China, after his visit to Beijing, President of France Emmanuel Macron said that Europe must be independent and that being allies of the United States does not necessarily mean following its will on every issue. He also mentioned Taiwan, saying that it is not a European issue. I want to note that in brackets, he implied that Ukraine is a European matter, thus admitting that Europe is waging a proxy war in Ukraine. Immediately after Macron said that, Josep Borrell, literally yesterday, proposed an initiative to send EU naval forces to the Taiwan Strait. What does this mean? It means either that those who support Josep Borrell’s logic in Europe have completely lost all independence and are only pursuing the interests of the United States, or that they have not reached an agreement on a unified position.
A multipolar world is objectively taking shape. I don’t know what its final configuration will look like. Many have said, including at the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, that the G20 could serve as a prototype for a certain governance mechanism.
I believe it is better to seek guidance from the UN Charter while considering the fact that UN Security Council reform is necessary to reflect new trends and realities. Perhaps it will be something similar in composition to the G20 membership. But it is absolutely necessary to address the obvious deep underrepresentation of the Asian, African and Latin American countries.
Question: The Taliban recently banned women from working at UN offices. The Secretary-General is travelling to Doha to meet with his special envoys regarding Afghanistan. What do you think the next step of the international community will be regarding Afghanistan?
And also, one question about the JCPOA. Do you think the JCPOA is dead?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we supported the Secretary-General’s initiative to hold a meeting of special envoys in Doha on May 1-2, including many Western countries.
For the entirety of 2022 and this year as well, we have been dealing with Afghanistan in the neighbouring countries format. The fourth ministerial conference of Afghanistan’s neighbours took place in Uzbekistan recently, preceded by a similar meeting in China last year. On a parallel track, there is the group of four countries (Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran) – and we also invited India. We would like this group to become the core of this neighbouring countries’ format.
The Moscow format of consultations remains. The United States has participated in it in the past, before it provoked the current events in Ukraine and acted up, leaving the format. There was also a Russia-China-US format of three, joined by Pakistan, which was also abandoned.
Apparently, to make sure the West is implanted in the process of assisting with the settlement in Afghanistan, the UN Secretary-General convened a conference in which we will also participate. We believe that the West should not avoid the discussion. They operated in Afghanistan for 20 years and did nothing to strengthen the country’s economic capacity. Narcotics production experienced explosive growth and remains at a record-high level even though the Taliban is trying to ban it. We support this effort.
The main thing that Afghanistan needs for its development is money – the money that the United States seized and refuses to provide for public needs. Not only must the West return these afghanis to the people of this country when conditions are right but it must consider compensating them for the damage caused to the Afghan state, its economy and population over those 20 years.
Our understanding is that the Taliban is a reality on the ground and dialogue with them is necessary. However, we are not going to recognise this state de jure until it fulfills its own obligations as recognised by the international community – specifically, until it ensures the inclusivity of all governing structures, in the ethnic and political sense. The Taliban government claims that it includes Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. This is true. But all these ethnic representatives are Taliban in the political sense.
A civilised society requires a wide representation of political forces. The other criteria for legal recognition of the state include basic protection of human rights, including women’s and girls’ rights. This matter will be discussed at the conference convened by UN Secretary-General Guterres.
Question: And what about the Iran nuclear deal?
Sergey Lavrov: That is not a question for us. We believe that the agreement on resuming the deal was reached long time ago. Right now, for some reason, the European countries have lost their enthusiasm for this, and the Americans, through various sources, have already been anonymously stating that something else must be found. I don’t know.
It seems to me that this is a huge mistake to let the opportunity to revive this deal slip away, especially given that relations are normalising between the Arab countries and Iran. In particular, Saudi Arabia, with support from the People’s Republic of China, has restored relations. This is a process which is very healthy. And, in principle, we believe that in the Gulf region, mechanisms for cooperation, transparency, and confidence-building should be established.
However, at the present juncture, the full revival of the deal does not depend on Iran, or us, or China. Those who ruined it need to revive it. If there is any chance for this, then it would be in that form only. Based on our assessments, that document, which was agreed upon last year, reflects this objective. Attempts to introduce new requirements, which did not exist in the initial JCPOA text, complicate the process and reflect the very same policy that we have been talking about today: to extort or blackmail to secure unilateral advantages.
Question: You mentioned the golden billion. Do you foresee not one but eight golden billion in the future?
And the second question is about a two-state solution. Everyone welcomes this. Do you believe there is any real chance to have an independent, conjugated, and sovereign Palestinian state?
Sergey Lavrov: I think we should not give up on this. We are currently bearing witness to certain attempts to remove the political aspects of the Palestinian question and focus on the proposals of certain economic benefits for the Palestinian people. This appears to be some kind of a bribe. Here is a financial incentive, but how about forgetting about independence and statehood? I cannot understand the logic here.
Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN Gilad Erdan was mentioned earlier; in his emotionally charged remarks he defended the right of Israel to have a Jewish state. But if that is the case, then what about the Palestinians? Then they need their own state. This is recognition of the fact that the two-state solution is the only way to undermine the Jewish essence of Israel that it is defending.
I do believe that common sense and cooler heads will prevail, and when the opportunity emerges, without looking back at any electoral cycle, then there will be a possibility to deal with this meaningfully. Though, how can we not consider them when, for example, in the US, one focuses on the re-elections every two years? There is no time left to work. The election is what matters.
I talked yesterday about the golden billion. Of course, this is arrogant and rude, what’s written in the resolutions of NATO and the European Union. It is pure arrogance. These are the people who say black lives matter.
Question: Are you personally involved in any negotiations that would release prisoners in America and Russia, for example, Evan Gershkovich?
Sergey Lavrov: No.
Question: It looks like Ukraine joining NATO is not very realistic, despite what some people have said, but joining the EU seems more feasible. What is your opinion on that?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot make a decision on behalf of the EU, but we are seeing this organisation become more militarised at a record pace, becoming an aggressive organisation with the declared goal of containing the Russian Federation.
Just have a look at how regularly President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic expresses his concern about the demand that they join the sanctions against Russia and recognise the independence of Kosovo, disregarding and ignoring the fates of the Serbs who have been living in the northern part of that territory for hundreds of years. This is what the EU looks like.
If you are carrying out an anti-Russia policy, then you have an excellent chance. It would be interesting to look at the situation with Serbia or Türkiye, which have been negotiating for years.
There are those in the EU who do want to allow Ukraine to join on an expedited basis. That will just show that it has nothing to do with meeting the criteria but that it’s just a geopolitical game of tacking on as much territory as possible which will belong to no one.
I don’t know, this is for them to decide. There is no doubt that now there is little difference between the EU and NATO, especially since the EU and NATO have recently signed a declaration where they openly stated they would be ensuring the security of the European Union, and the EU has expressed recognition of this. There was also a statement that it would be important for the “billion.”
Question: As you look ahead to the rest of this year, what are your expectations for the state of peace and security in the world? Do you see any potential for negotiations or an end to the Ukraine conflict or other conflicts (Yemen, Libya)? You also mentioned Sudan. What are your hopes and expectations?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not paid for hopes and expectations. We have to solve concrete issues. And those currently and primarily are about ensuring the security of our country and preventing Russians who have been living next door to us for centuries from being discriminated against and exterminated by the Ukrainian regime, including physical extermination, as its officials publicly declare.
Politics is something special… In May 2003, several months after the beginning of the unlawful war in Iraq, George W. Bush announced, while aboard an aircraft carrier, that democracy had won in Iraq. This was in 2003. What are your expectations from Iraq now? I don't know.
The same goes for Libya. Back then US President Barack Obama decided to lead from behind and put the Europeans up front. We saw another grave violation of a UN Security Council resolution, which only called for establishing a no-fly zone to prevent Muammar Gaddafi’s planes from flying. They were not flying, but then they went and bombed the whole country, which now lies in ruins. And what Barack Obama claimed about Russia is what actually happened with Libya rather than with the Russian economy.
I hope that there will be progress on Yemen. Today I noted in my remarks that we value the efforts made by Saudi Arabia in this context to establish a direct dialogue.
I will not make a guess on Ukraine. The issue is not that there is a certain schedule. Maybe in other countries, there are schedules.
However, on Libya again, France repeatedly called conferences where it was decided that elections would be held “in four months and three days.” This was happening since 2015. Nothing has changed in this regard.
One must simply keep working on excerсising one’s lawful rights, and doing it honestly, explaining one’s motives, which is exactly what we did regarding our actions as part of the special military operation. And we would also like to hear from our Western colleagues in reciprocity: what goals they pursue in Iraq, Libya and other places where they are trying to show some kind of activity.
One must remain optimistic. This is important. Although, they say that a pessimist is a well-informed optimist. We can hope that attempts to bring our efforts together will prevail, as well as that understanding that breaking the world community up into one billion and seven billions is the wrong approach. Placing one above others is also wrong, no matter what aristocratic traditions of lords and other high titles might seem to justify this. We all live on the same planet.
We just spoke about a third world war. Who wants this? But it seems that there are some who are prepared to go to the end. Once again, to quote the statement, "If Ukraine wins against Russia, we will avoid a third world war." This is a simple, tidy idea that is so far replacing the normal professional conversation between responsible politicians.
I also wish you success in your work. It is really important. Once again, I appeal to you, given that there are fewer Russian journalists than there should have been, to help compensate for this lack in numbers by providing broad coverage of everything that you have heard from us.