Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference on current international issues, Moscow, June 6, 2022
Last night and this morning, we received multiple questions from the media regarding our response to the unprecedented decisions made by a number of NATO members who blocked the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to the Republic of Serbia.
An unthinkable thing has happened. I understand the interest in our assessment of these outrageous actions. A sovereign state has been deprived of the right to carry out its foreign policy. At the moment, Serbia’s international activities, at least on the Russian track, are blocked.
Let’s not beat around the bush. This is another clear and cautionary demonstration of how far NATO and the EU can go in using the most low-grade methods of influencing those whose actions are grounded in national interests and who are against sacrificing their principles and dignity for the sake of the “rules” imposed by the West instead of international law. If the West sees a visit by the Russian Foreign Minister to Serbia almost as a threat on a universal scale, then, apparently, things are not so good there.
Lately, we’ve heard vociferous calls to the effect that Serbia needs to “make a final choice.” Yesterday, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt made a splashy statement saying that hosting the Russian Foreign Minister in Belgrade was the worst thing Serbia could do to advance its EU prospects. How do you like that? Several days ago (when my visit was announced), US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill published a big article titled “East or West: There is no third way,” where he used precisely these terms and logic with regard to Serbia’s future relations with the United States, the EU and the Russian Federation. Even an unsophisticated observer will understand that Brussels is not a place for the sovereign equality of states, as enshrined in the UN Charter, and even less so for the notorious freedom of choice, which Brussels constantly talks about.
During our discussions last year, we proposed signing a treaty on European security with the United States and NATO. We were told that NATO would not accept any principles regarding indivisible security, including the unacceptability of strengthening one’s own security at the expense of others. They will accept only the principle of freedom to choose partners. Now, the West has torn up this very principle, after centering it for so long.
The West believes that Serbia should not have freedom to choose partners. This cynicism is hardly surprising. The West is making it clear that it will continue to unscrupulously use pressure.
We’ve seen this kind of hypocrisy on many occasions, including during the tragic bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 by those who came to believe in their victory in the Cold War and their right to build the world exclusively according to their own design. This mentality manifested itself in the incident that we are now discussing.
I know they will come up with multiple explanations (we haven’t heard any so far). The countries that didn’t allow a flyover for the Russian aircraft will say that they received orders from the European Union or NATO. Those, in turn, will say that these countries were independent in their decision-making. You are well aware of all that. However, most importantly no one will be able to destroy our relations with Serbia.
We had plans to hold important and time-sensitive meetings with President Aleksandar Vucic, Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic, National Assembly Speaker Ivica Dacic, and the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church. That would be very helpful. These contacts did not go anywhere on other tracks. Nikola Selakovic was invited to pay a visit to Russia soon. I hope that the plane on which he will fly (a regular or a special fight) will not be subjected to another shameful “punishment” by Brussels and its “clients” that have lost all decency.
We planned to discuss a broad agenda, including the rapidly expanding bilateral strategic partnership and international affairs. Clearly, the Brussels puppeteers were not comfortable with providing us with a platform in the capital of Serbia where we could confirm Russia’s position on Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. They did not want us to express support for Belgrade’s initiative to implement the Open Balkan project in the interests of improving and bolstering relations between all the countries of that region.
Clearly, Brussels (NATO and the EU) wants the Balkans to become a project of its own called Closed Balkans. It is hard to draw other conclusions looking at the situation at hand.
Question: What measures will be taken for this meeting to be held? You said the closure of the air space by three countries is an unprecedented step. Is there a threat of this becoming a norm? That the air space will be shut for ministers to protect these countries?
Sergey Lavrov: This has already become the norm for the European Union and NATO. I mentioned the “sound effects” that accompanied this decision. They were made in the Western media and by some politicians.
They are increasingly afraid of the truth and are trying to escape into an invented, fake reality that is filling screens, social media and any information resources. They have completely shut down all alternative media at their own initiative. They want to resolve their electoral challenges by brainwashing their voters. If such a choice was made (no doubt about it), Brussels is going to decide the destinies of all European countries by itself.
This shows once again the worth of the status sought by the EU applicants. The explanation is simple. It was declared more than once (including by Josep Borrell, the bellicose EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, who said this war must be won “on the battlefield” in order to “defeat Russia”) that while merely preparing to join the EU, the applicants must fully and unquestionably follow the European policy on security and defence. It is common knowledge that this policy is emphatically anti-Russian. This is what awaits the countries that are trying to find a balance of interests in preserving and developing their relations with the EU and non-EU countries.
We value Serbia’s courageous position in this respect. President Alexandar Vucic has emphasised that he will not engage in anti-Russia activities. But this is exactly what the EU wants – for all applicants to assume Russophobic commitments.
This case showed the worth of NATO membership for Montenegro and North Macedonia and the reasons why NATO needs such countries – only to punish Russia, expand the anti-Russia bridgehead in Europe and create threats and mechanisms of containment. This does not square in the least with the requirements of Article 10 of the Washington Treaty on NATO. This article states that new members must meet the criteria and, most important, contribute to the security of all members of the alliance.
Whose security did Montenegro and North Macedonia contribute to? But they have coped with their role really well as an instrument for deterring Russia and stooges of the big guys. I feel sorry for these countries. These are two friendly nations. They have a wonderful nature and history that they cherish. They valued our relations in the past. But the current political realities have put them into a sticky situation.
As for responses, we will never do anything that will further complicate ties between nations. This is what our Western partners are doing. They are facing problems at home not only because they are creating a socio-economic quagmire but also because more and more sensible Europeans are asking the question: Why turn Russia into an enemy? More and more people are recalling the great, proud and glorious history we have made in cooperation with many European countries.
Speaking about history, I would like to return to the failed visit to Serbia. As part of the itinerary, I was supposed to attend a ceremony at the Eternal Flame in memory of the liberators of Belgrade. I was also supposed to make an entry in the Honoured Guest Book. I planned to write the following. Imagine I am sending it to the Serbian people now.
“Let us be worthy of the memory of the Soviet and Yugoslav warriors who perished in the struggle against Nazism. Serbia and Russia stand in solidarity in their efforts to preserve the truth about the history of World War II. We will not allow the rebirth of Nazism.”
Please consider these words my message to all those who visit this magisterial monument in Belgrade.
Question (retranslated from Serbian): Will you please comment on how it has come to the point that you were literally denied the opportunity to fly on a visit to Serbia as three countries closed their airspace to your plane? What was the reason for this? Does it mean that you might encounter an obstacle like this on any other route over EU or NATO member countries? Or does it only have to do with your visit to Serbia?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not engage in speculation about other routes across EU and NATO member countries. Currently, we have no plans to meet [with any officials from these countries]. As for now, there are no invitations from NATO countries, nor am I expecting anyone in Moscow.
As for the reason you asked about, there was much speculation about it several days ago in the Serbian and Croatian press and in the press in other countries in the Western Balkans. For example, it was suggested that Sergey Lavrov was one of the most unwelcome guests in Serbia now because he decided to “go ahead” of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is planning to visit the Balkans in the next few days. The head of the German Government was allegedly disappointed and even felt hurt by this impolite, in his view, step on the part of Serbia. It is on the conscience of analysts who write things like these. I believe it is humiliating not only for the people whom they write about and whose response they try to predict but, primarily, for the media outlets that are trying to reach more readers and viewers through this type of “exercise”.
Question (retranslated from Serbian): Serbia has been pressured by both sides since the very start of the conflict in Ukraine in the context of the events it has nothing to do with. Will Russia show more understanding for the national interests and position of Serbia as distinct from some Western countries?
Sergey Lavrov: My response is a definite yes. We see how fiercely the West is reacting to what is happening in Ukraine. This proves that we are right. We have explained to the whole world why the special military operation was launched. In retrospect, we showed our efforts for many years to avert threats and not 10,000 km away but right on our borders. The United States considers it possible to declare “today” that Belgrade is posing a threat (to global or European security) and start bombing Belgrade “tomorrow.” Then, in a couple of years, the United States decides that one more country, also located 10,000 km away – Iraq – is posing a threat. Cities are erased from the face of the Earth and hundreds of thousands of civilians are killed. Then they decide that there is one more country across the Atlantic – Libya – that is also posing a threat to the US and must be destroyed for this reason.
We have long been saying that it is unacceptable to expand NATO eastward, support the coup d’etat in Ukraine and tolerate the subversion by Pyotr Poroshenko and Vladimir Zelensky of the Minsk agreements that had been so hard to reach. All these warnings were ignored. The Russian people in Ukraine continued to be discriminated against across the board. Laws banning the Russian language were adopted and Nazi practices (theory and practice of Nazism) were established. The West applauded all this, presenting this process as an achievement of true democracy. It continued supporting the neo-Nazi armed forces of Ukraine that were shelling civilians and civilian infrastructure in Donbass every day. We had no other choice left.
I spoke about all this in detail and now I am reiterating what I said. But Brussels’ line in the Balkans and in Ukraine is the same. The only difference is that in the Balkans the EU favours those who impinge on the Serbian interests, while in Ukraine, NATO and the EU support the regime that has long declared a war on all things Russian. This is an interesting observation. I mentioned it during my interview with the media of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the gist of the EU’s mediation. Some process started in the Balkans after Kosovo proclaimed “independence” unilaterally and without any referendum. The UN General Assembly invited the EU to mediate between Pristina and Belgrade and its effort was rather successful: in 2013, the agreement was reached on establishing the Community of Serbian Municipalities of Kosovo. In 2014, when a coup was staged in Ukraine and the “counterterrorism” forces launched an operation against Donbass and Russians in Ukraine, the EU also acted as a mediator. This led to the signing of the Minsk agreements that established certain rules, just as with regard to the Serbian municipalities in Kosovo.
The EU made a solemn promise to support a special status for northern Kosovo and eastern Ukraine. The status did not imply any complicated things: to let people speak their native tongue (Serbians were supposed to be allowed to speak Serbian and Russians in Ukraine to speak Russian), teach children in schools in their native tongue, use it in daily life and have a certain autonomy as regards law-enforcement and economic ties with neighbouring regions (northern Kosovo with Serbia and eastern Ukraine with Russia). Identical agreements were made, which urged respect for national minorities in full conformity with international European conventions on the rights of these groups. The EU announced that it had succeeded in both cases. But it shamefully failed in both cases and had to admit it later on by saying it could not persuade Kiev to fulfil the Minsk agreements or make Pristina abide by its agreements with Belgrade. There is something in common as regards the EU’s treatment of different areas in our common geopolitical space, its goals, its competence and its ability to make deals.
Question: What role do you think Turkey could play in normalising the situation around Ukraine, especially since it aspires to the role of a mediator? How promising is the format that was initially established with Ukraine and that it subsequently torpedoed? What do you think about Ankara’s position on Sweden and Finland’s potential accession to NATO?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not even comment on the last question. This is Ankara’s sovereign business, just as it is for any other country that is a member of an alliance, union or organisation. I heard somewhere that some overzealous EU members from the Baltic states demanded during the discussion of the sixth package of anti-Russia sanctions that Hungary be deprived of the right to vote because it abused the rule of consensus. But this is a paradoxical claim. Consensus means only one thing: that everyone concurs on an issue. If a single member is against something, there is no consensus. Therefore, by voting against something, nobody can undermine the principles of consensus. I will leave this aside; let the NATO members figure it out among themselves. I already had an opportunity to comment on this. Let us see how this process will develop. As for us, this concerns Russia in just one regard: Will Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO create direct physical and material threats to Russia’s security? I think every sensible politician is aware that this will not make the situation any better politically.
As for the military aspect of this deal, we will see what will be done in this respect.
As far as Turkey’s role is concerned, yes it has its own position that it does not conceal. We do not have identical views on all issues; far from it. We have serious disagreements on many aspects of the regional situation. As our cooperation on Syria and later on the Libyan crisis showed, our presidents, while clearly outlining their views, respect each other’s positions. Instead of aggravating the existing differences, both leaders are trying to take into account each other’s concerns. This is how Moscow treats Ankara and Ankara reciprocates. This was the gist of a recent telephone conversation on the problems on food security the West has created over the past two years. Later it aggravated them further by imposing senseless sanctions. Having introduced them, the West suddenly started thinking about how they will affect food deliveries to different countries.
Yes, Russia and Turkey are interested in resolving these problems. In his recent interview, President of Russia Vladimir Putin explained in detail how to unblock food shipments from the Black Sea ports that had been mined by the Ukrainians, and from the ports of the Sea of Azov that have been demined and are now controlled by the Russian Federation. There are safe routes from there via the Kerch Strait to the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Specialists are leaving for Turkey today. Tomorrow, my delegation will head there. I hope we will manage to examine in detail all the options mentioned by President Vladimir Putin, and our countries’ leaders will dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. This depends exclusively on who will work with Ukraine and compel it to remove the mines in its own ports, as well as those who must remove all obstacles to shipments, their insurance and servicing of ships that will deliver grain and other food products to European ports and from there to developing nations.
Question: The UK has announced that it will supply multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russian forces. The United States is doing the same. You said that this was a risky path to take. But if Russia had not attacked Ukraine and there had been no Russian invasion, there would be no deliveries of rocket launchers. Do you agree?
Sergey Lavrov: I will not even try to step into America’s or Britain’s shoes. You don’t even want to hear our arguments. The issue is not that “if someone hadn’t attacked, you wouldn’t have done something.” The thing is that for twenty years, both you, the British, and the Americans, and all other NATO countries were urged to do what all of you subscribed to in 1999: no country shall strengthen its security at the expense of the security of others. Why can’t you do that? Why is it that the commitments signed by your prime minister, the presidents and prime ministers of all other OSCE countries proved to be lies? Instead, you are saying that we should leave NATO alone and that it is “none of our business,” for you will accept whoever you want. You moved closer to our borders on five occasions (a defensive alliance!). The Warsaw Treaty and the USSR are no more. Who are you defending yourselves against? Five times you decided all on your own where your lines of defence would be. What’s that? This smacks of megalomania.
Today Jens Stoltenberg is saying that NATO’s responsibility should be ensured on the global scale in the Indo-Pacific region. This means that your next line of defence will be in the South China Sea. If we look at what is happening, it becomes patently clear that during all these years you believed you had the right to wreak havoc far from your borders. I understand that you are nostalgic for the British Empire and that there are seeds planted somewhere deep down. You are wistful, of course. Regions are picked out an ocean away from the United States, where allegedly there is a threat to Washington, and they are razed to the ground. Now it is Mosul in Iraq, now Raqqa in Syria, now Belgrade. Libya is in chaos, and countries are destroyed.
Just imagine for a minute that your neighbour, Ireland, which occupies half of the island of the same name, upped and banned the English language, or that Belgium banned French, or Switzerland outlawed French, German, or Italian. How would Europe look at that? I will not even expand on this. But Europe was looking on passively at them banning Russian. This took place in Ukraine. All things Russian – education, the media, everyday contacts, etc. – were prohibited. Moreover, the regime that openly professes and glorifies Nazism bombed and shelled ethnic Russians for eight years.
I understand, you must use cut and dried phrases to drum into the heads of your audiences this truth of yours: “if you hadn’t attacked, we wouldn’t have supplied the MLRS.” Vladimir Putin has commented on the situation that emerged in connection with the arrival of the new weapons. I can only add that the longer-range arms you supply, the farther will we push from our border the line where the neo-Nazis will be able to threaten the Russian Federation.
Question: At the talks with Ukraine in March, Russia demanded that Kiev recognise the independence of Donbass and the Russian status of Crimea. Does Russia intend to demand that Kiev additionally recognise independence of the Kherson Region and part of the Zaporozhye Region currently controlled by the Russian forces, or their accession to Russia?
Sergey Lavrov: This question will be answered by the people living in the liberated territories. They are saying that they want to choose their future on their own. We fully respect this position.
As for the declared objectives, let me reiterate the following. The West has decided to supply weapons that, in all evidence, are capable of reaching not only the border areas of the Russian Federation but also its more remote points. Politicians and legislators in Ukraine itself are laughing at the Americans, who said they believed Vladimir Zelensky’s promise not to shell Russia. If this is how the United States and its satellites react to what is happening, I will stress once again: the longer-range are the systems supplied to the Kiev regime, the farther will we push the Nazis from the line from which threats emanate for the Russian population of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Question: What expectations do you have for your upcoming visit to Ankara? Will a mechanism to resolve the grain issue be announced? Will the continuation of the Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul be discussed?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already answered this question. The range of topics for the talks was outlined during a telephone conversation between the presidents of Russia and Turkey.
In his recent interview, President Vladimir Putin gave a detailed description of the best options for exporting grain. We have been doing everything that is up to us for a long time. For more than a month, Russian servicemen both in the Black and Azov seas have been opening humanitarian corridors for foreign ships to leave, which are in fact kept hostage there by the Ukrainian authorities. The Ukrainians have to clear the mines for the ships to use these corridors. Our Turkish colleagues declared their readiness to help us in this. I think our military will come to terms on the best way to organise this, so that the ships pass to the open sea through the minefields that have to be cleared. Next, we guarantee – on our own or with our Turkish colleagues – that they will reach the straits and move further into the Mediterranean Sea.
The concept is absolutely clear. We have been talking about it for a long time. Attempts are being made to present the case as if Russia does not want something, as if it is necessary to involve some organisation like the UN or adopt a UN Security Council resolution. We have been through all these games. Everyone who can be even a little bit serious about the task of exporting grain from Ukrainian ports knows very well that only one thing must be done to achieve this: to order Vladimir Zelensky to give the command to clear the ports and stop hiding behind statements that Russia will take advantage of this. President Vladimir Putin said that we are not going to take advantage of this and are ready to tackle this problem earnestly. Let me stress that we have been doing everything in our power for a long time.
Question: An increasing number of countries are trying to join the attempts to settle the disagreements between Moscow and Kiev amid Russia’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine and the problems it has caused. What proposals for mediation is Moscow currently considering as the most realistic and acceptable alternatives?
Sergey Lavrov: The most realistic proposals that did not provide for mediation were put forward at a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul on March 29, 2022. These proposals were made by the Ukrainian party. We immediately accepted them as a foundation. Afterwards, the Ukrainian party walked out on these proposals either on its own initiative or under orders from Washington, London or Brussels. Western analysts say “mediation” is impossible as Ukraine’s only demand is that the situation be reversed to the state of affairs on the ground as it was on February 24, 2022. Fantasies are talked about every day, sometimes contradicting one another.
Ukraine is unwilling to hold negotiations. It has declined to do this. We have every reason to believe that in this way Kiev is following the wishes of the Anglo-Saxon leadership of the Western world. We were ready to work honestly based on our Ukrainian colleagues’ proposals. A draft agreement drawn up on the basis of those proposals has been shelved by the Ukrainian side for six weeks now.
Question: As for the provocation by Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro, do you think their position was agreed on with Brussels or directly with Washington? Or was it these countries’ desire to gain favour with Washington and Brussels? Has Europe been closed to our diplomacy altogether?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not know what lies behind this move – either an order or the desire to gain favour – but you have hit the mark. I believe it is a combination of both. They may have long since been ordered not to diverge from the policy of containing Russia, so the desire to be servile is part of it. Or maybe they received these orders yesterday. We do not know.
We are still maintaining diplomatic relations with the majority of western countries, including the unfriendly ones. At the same time I have repeatedly emphasised the main geopolitical conclusion from this situation: it is now impossible to agree with Europe on anything and be sure that they will deliver on their obligations. When these “demons” are driven out and Europe comes to itself, we will see what their perspective on our future ties are. We are not going to impose ourselves on them. Of course, we will weigh and consider what they propose. If their proposals do not disagree with our interests, we will be ready to resume our contacts.