(Thanks to Singing Sam for pointing out this video to me and for sending me the transcript – The Saker)
Question: Mr. Lavrov, welcome to Conversation With. So, what do you have to say to Malaysia’s families who lost loved ones on MH17?
Lavrov: we already expressed our deepest condolences on many occasions to those who lost their families, their relatives their sons and daughters and parents. This is terrible tragedy and from the very first days if not hours of this, of this incident we have been insisting on
very thorough investigation and we were among the initiators of the Security Council resolution 2166 which was adopted a bit more than one year ago on the 21st of July last year and which called for a thorough comprehensive independent international investigation under the authority of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The Security Council pledged to keep this investigation under its permanent review. It’s also called upon the secretary-general to provide recommendations as to how the Security Council and the United Nations in general can help and assist in the investigation and it also called upon all countries who might possess any information to submit it to the investigation procedures. Unfortunately the investigation which was started was not independent was not comprehensive and was not truly international. Instead of acting under the authority of the International Civil Aviation Organization which is the rules under the Chicago Convention, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands signed bilateral agreements between themselves the substance of which was never made fully known and based, uh organized the Joint Investigation Team criminal investigation team last August, August 2014. It’s really very strange that Malaysia was invited to join only in December 2014. So now this 5 country criminal investigation group technical investigation team was broadened. They invited several other countries to participate in this technical investigation including the Russian Federation. And the representative from the Russian Civil Aviation Organization is participating in these procedures but the information we receive through this representative is not complete. We are being given less than those who started the investigation which is also subject to questions.
Number two, the secretary-general unfortunately in spite of our reminders did not provide his recommendations as to how the United Nations can facilitate the investigation and the call of the Security Council upon all countries to submit information which might have any relevance to the incident was basically responded only by Russia, who submitted the data from our radar station in the Rostov region which monitored the skies at that time. The Americans said that they did have images from their satellite, but never submitted them, never make them public. The same was true for the Ukrainians who were asked to provide recordings of the air controllers and between the planes up in the air in the area of incident. All this unfortunately has been repeatedly brought to the attention of the United Nations and general public by us. We suggested that the Security Council couple of times should consider the implementation of this resolution and should you know call upon everyone to strictly abide by its provisions. Unfortunately the proposals were blocked in the Security Council, and the secretary-general also was asked by us to appoint special envoy to monitor the investigation and we also suggested to dispatch a Security Council mission to the area. All this was blocked, and unfortunately blocked by those very countries who now insist on creating the tribunal.
Question: Yes, isn’t it a bit confusing now though because the Malaysians have as a representative of a group and that is of course Malaysia, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Ukraine they’ve all—Australia—all come together though to put forward the latest draft resolution for the tribunal and they seem to be in agreement that there appears to be sufficient evidence to pursue a criminal tribunal. Why is it that Russia decided to veto that draft resolution? Why are you so against the criminal tribunal?
Lavrov: No, we are very strongly demanding that the truth be established and that the culprits be brought to justice. The Security Council was involved from the very beginning, and I just explained what measures the Security Council demanded to be taken one year ago. None of this was implemented, and the investigation is not transparent because not completely. The preliminary report which was circulated causes so many questions. It never answers such you know very simple things which air traffic and air service experts immediately brought to the attention of the public. They never inves.., they only said that the plane was hit by high energy particles. The first thing investigators, professional investigators do is to conduct chemical analysis of those particles was more than technologies because immed…, it is possible to immediately identify what is the metal and what factory in what country produced this particular thing. Another problem which I believe is very important from the very beginning there was finger pointing saying that we know who did it the rebels in Ukraine you did from the Russian-made air defense missile system and they even identify the system which is one of the options which is one the versions we believe must be thoroughly investigated. Why do you think they never ever approach the company the Russian company which produces those systems? The company itself conducted its own study and they presented the results in June this year. But the fact that the investigators didn’t ever approach the company which produced the system from which the investigators say the plane was hit is causing a lot of questions. My point answering your question is that the Security Council one year ago identified very specific steps to conduct investigation and most of the steps were not heeded, were not implement and people repeatedly blocked our proposals for the Security Council to pick up the matter during the year which passed after the tragedy. And they were saying that they’re doing this among themselves. By the way the five countries you mentioned apparently agreed among themselves not to provide any, not to make any information public unless all of them including Ukraine agreed. And we also don’t understand why Malaysia was invited only six months after the investigation team was was composed.
Question: But Liow Tiong Lai seemed satisfied enough to actually be the proposer of the resolution the draft resolution for the criminal tribunal and he expressed great disappointment in fact that the draft resolution wasn’t passed, blocking vote came from the Russian Federation and so if the countries involved who suffered victims seem to feel that the coming report which will be out in October had sufficient evidence in it to pursue a criminal tribunal. Why is Russia still so adamant…
Lavrov: you know, you say they were disappointed, we have been hugely disappointed that during the year which passed after the tragedy all our attempts to push the investigation to make it transparent to you know provide information because the families did not didn’t receive it enough information all our attempts to get answers to the questions which we formulated through our professional civil aviation agency, all this was just stonewalled and because of suspicions and you know if you if you take the..
Question: what is your position sir, you say it causes suspicions…
Lavrov: when people who say we would investigate instead of fulfilling the Security Council decision that the investigation must be under their authority all the International Civil Aviation Organization they ignored this they created their own small team without even inviting immediately Malaysia, waiting six months to do this then in the in the previous disasters like this including one in 1988 the United States shot down the Iranian civil airliner when Ukraine shot down the Russian airliner in 2001 whatever the case all these have been considered as criminal offense. The Security Council never created any tribunal to investigate these incidents. Every time there was some special way out and the proposal specific proposal which was submitted apart from the arguments which I already alluded to like you know ignoring the previous resolution but insisting that the council should create the tribunal. Apart from this the proposal itself was very peculiar. It was proposed in the draft statute to establish the tribunal based mostly on the Ukrainian law for the judges and prosecutors of the tribunal to be appointed by the Secretary General without consulting the Security Council and the judges as it was proposed in the draft statute should have experience in exercising Ukrainian and Malaysian law. It is not, it does not look like an international investigation or prosecution mechanism.
Question: Sir do I understand correctly though that you are implying that the other countries including Malaysia are being manipulated by the Ukrainians?
Lavrov: Uh I’m not saying that anyone is manipulated by Ukrainians and least of all by Malaysians. We believe Malaysia is the most sincerely interested country in establishing the truth. It has experienced two disasters with its airliners and I don’t see any political motivation in what Malaysia is trying to do. There should be no doubt about it. I cannot be so certain about some other colleagues especially from from the western countries who seem to be quite quite prejudiced. but still the chief of the criminal investigation team said that he didn’t exclude that the plane might have been hit by air to air missile not just by surface to air missile. Our experts have been looking in both options and they believe that both of them must be investigated. But you know when we try to speak about this it is very easy to be driven by emotions for Russia should be something which was supposed to establish the truth. I never get an answer from my colleagues in the investigation team to a very simple question. If from the very first days it was stated that most probably the plane was hit by the Buk air defense missile made in Russia. Why the producer of the system was never called and why this producer has himself you know initiate some investigation and this, the results of this investigation was made public and very simple question about the American satellite images, about Ukrainian air traffic controllers recordings by the way the those who insisted that is the rebels who are responsible try, try not to mention the nearest very simple and very well known fact this happened on the 17th of July. On the 20th of July the black boxes were discovered on the 21st of July they were given to Malaysian experts who then transmitted them to the Dutch investigators immediately. So that so many politicized politicized games around this tragedy you that we cannot, we cannot pretend that we are satisfied was the way the original resolution was handled. It was. it was you know bypassed by the investigators. The demands were not implemented, the information is not made public and now they’re ignoring our proposals to engage the Security Council during the year, saying that they’re doing this on their own. I don’t believe you its to you know crucial for them to have something under the Security Council. As I said none of these, such cases have been investigated has been, has been and subject to a tribunal by the Security Council. And by the way the representatives of this criminal investigation group including Ukrainians they said they’re thinking of creating some mechanism outside the United Nations and maybe using using national jurisdiction. That’s how all similar disasters have been handled.
Question: So you would like it to be done in national jurisdictions and not under the United Nations?
Lavrov: I would like the Security Council resolution 2166 to be respected fully which was not the case by the criminal investigation team created by the five countries you mentioned.
Question: If I could just quote you though something that the Malaysian Minister Transport Liow Tiong Lai said, he said that instead conveying a message of support, justice and accountability we are sending a dangerous message of impunity for the perpetrator of this heinous crime. Do you agree though?
Lavrov: I believe, no I don’t agree with this. I, I read an interview with the former ambassador of Malaysia to the Netherlands in the Sun yesterday who said different things, who said that this is hugely politicized, and I agree with him.
Question: So you believe that the Malaysian government again by implication is being manipulated by a political agenda?
Lavrov: I don’t know who has… (unintelligible, both speaking) I don’t know whether the Malaysian government is manipulated. I said only one thing, I can repeat it again. I don’t have any suspicions that Malaysian government sincerely wants to establish the truth. I’m sure this is the case for the Dutch government for the Australian government. But there are also those in Europe and in the west who would like to use this tragedy to achieve also political purposes.
Question: Who are these in Europe and the West who would try to achieve a political purpose (unintelligible, both speaking)
Lavrov: Well those who immediately, the next day after the disaster pointed the finger to the rebels, now this very people say that they want the justice to prevail.
Question: Are you referring to the Ukraine?
Lavrov: Well there were many statements in Europe and the United States, Ukraine, uh I don’t think Ukraine was making any straightforward statements. My point is people including those whose countries who are the creators of this criminal investigation team have said that they knew who did it. If you know who did it you say so you present your report and then we will see whether this report is persuasive. But they also must answer the question why they ignored most of the demands of the Security Council of the original resolution. Doesn’t it look fishy, what do you think?
Question: Well sir the countries who are involved seem to think that it doesn’t look fishy and that there is sufficient evidence to (form?) a criminal tribunal.
Lavrov: If you you were asked to to present your opinion do you think the Security Council resolution on such important issue should be strictly implemented or not?
Question: But sir that would imply that 2166 was somehow wrong fundamentally (unintelligible)
Lavrov: No, I’m asking whether 2166 should be implemented strictly or not.
Question: Sir most important in this interview is definitely of course your opinion not mine. Could we move on, sir, to looking at Russia’s role in Asia?
Lavrov: Now that you failed to answer my question, okay let’s move on.
Question: Shall we look at Russia’s involvement here in Asian engagement here in Asia later this month Russia will be holding joint military drills with China in the air and sea space of the Sea of Japan and the Chinese Defense Ministry have said that they see this as for to further enhance the capabilities jointly coping with maritime security threats. So what are these maritime security threat?
Lavrov, Well, piracy for one smuggling, including smuggling of potentially dangerous materials, maybe materials related to weapons of mass destruction so it’s about piracy it’s about non-proliferation just the same the same purposes as we are being engaged together with NATO together with China with the European Union in the Gulf of Guinea, in the Gulf of Aden the Somali pirates, piracy coalition, and this is not this is not something unique. I understand that if I, I don’t have statistics about the number of exercises we conduct on our eastern frontiers together with China or other countries is a very tiny percentage of the number of exercises when American neighbors conduct together with Japan, South Korea and others in this area. And we are very much concerned about build-up which is the military build up taking place in this region, the continued strengthening of the closed military blocks. Instead of going this way we proposed I think three years ago together with China, together with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia and other countries to discuss in the context of the East Asia summits the formation of an open comprehensive non-block security and cooperation architecture. And there have been four rounds of discussions and we hold that the forth-coming East Asia Summit this year the leaders would express themselves on the work being done.
Question: Given the situation the South China Sea with a certain amount of tension some political watchers would say that the joint military drills might indicate that China supports that Russia supports China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Does Russia support China claims in the South China Sea?
Lavrov: This, this political analysts should better study what our position is which is not secret, it is publicly presented. We are strongly in favor of any dispute in South China Sea, in the East China Sea in any sea for that matter to be, to be resolved on the basis of the international law including first the full 1982 Below the Sea Convention on the basis of the declarations signed between China and Russia and on this basis the countries directly involved in any dispute should find mutually acceptable solution without any outside interference. We don’t believe that, that attempts to internationalize the disputes are really healthy. Such attempts normally are intended not to help the countries in question to move closer but rather to help some, to gain some political scores internationally, and I don’t believe this is serious, I don’t believe this is fair.
Question: So what are Russia’s intentions in Asia?
Lavrov: Uh, well we know that Russia is the biggest Asian country if you take territory from the Ural Mountains where it starts and you have the legitimate interest all borders of our big country and we are one of the, one of the biggest Pacific, Pacific power and we certainly have an interest first of all in developing our far-eastern distance Siberia it is not populated as densely as the European part of Russia and we want this part of our country to develop much faster than it does and of course these days of interdependence, globalization offer a lot of opportunities to promote your national interest in cooperation with your neighbors with other countries in the region. That’s why while developing our own problems for Russians forests in east Siberia we try to engage all the potentials existing in Asian-Pacific cooperative structures including APEC, including East Asia summits, and including our bilateral relations with the countries of the region. ASEAN, ASEAN in particular. When our number eight partner, economic partner ASEAN our volume of trade doubled during the last seven years it was more than $20 billion dollars a year now and we intend to continue not only trade but also joint economic projects in high-technology, nuclear energy, outer space exploration, truck transport infrastructure the many plans between us and the countries of the region which I believe are mutually beneficial.
Question: You mentioned sir the increase in trade between Russia and ASEAN is up now at $20 billion, but does it concern you that trade with United States in ASEAN is almost ten times larger up around $200 billion. Is that a cause of concern?
Lavrov: Why, why should that concern us? It’s trade between ASEAN and the United States. It’s their business we’re not we’re not doing something with our ASEAN friends to out-bench somebody. We’re doing this for the benefit of ASEAN and the Russian Federation. And let the trade between ASEAN and other countries boom you know up to the skies. We will be concentrating on the abilities which we and ASEAN can use together.
Question: What do you think of the moves by the current Japanese government, Abe’s government to change the constitution so that they can be more active militarily overseas. Is this something that Russian is concerned about?
Lavrov: It is the Japanese’ Constitution and it is the responsibility of the Japanese people. I have no doubt that the Japanese people understand the historic legacy, which is not very bright, and I’m sure the Japanese government understands the importance of maintaining good relations with all its neighbors. And of course I would hope that they keep in mind their international responsibility as, as regards the order created after World War II.
Question: Do you feel though that the world is becoming more dangerous place sir? Do you think that relations for example between two big super powers like Russia and and the United States are more dangerous, more dangerous for us in Asia?
Lavrov: You know, no and yes. No because I don’t even think that that it is possible to imagine something like their reputation from World War Two or something like Hiroshima the 70th anniversary of which comes these days and this was this was a terrible event involves history absolutely unnecessary so dangers like this I don’t foresee. There is no bipolar confrontation when the whole globe was split into two parts you know but the same time was the collapse of this bipolar confrontational structure there appeared so many regional conflicts. And of course the action by some of our colleagues including the United States to promote their own view of the world and to promote their vision how all countries most live including through using military force, including through changing the legitimate governments, all these brought to life so many uncertainties and gave rise to people who want to use terrorist means to achieve their goals. If somebody is allowed to use force they say why don’t we follow the same, the same example is to promote our ideas. So that’s how ISIL, that’s how ISIL announced its goal to create a caliphate from Spain to Pakistan, a huge territory.
Question: You draw a parallel between ISIL and the United States.
Lavrov: No, ISIL’s uh logic as we see it now is a product of the quote unquote revolutions to which took place in the Middle East and North Africa. But what I’m saying is whenever you start you know expanding your ideology not by persuasion but by force you create so many risks and so many dangers. Indeed be it the promotion of communism like the Soviet Union used to, do be it the promotion of democracy in spite of all the cultural differences and ignoring the traditions and values of the people whom you want to make happy could be terrorist, the terrorist ideals of the caliphate. You can not impress and impose your will upon others by force.
Question: And you believe the role that Russia should play in all this is what? What should Russia be doing since world has got at least one super power that is attempting to persuade people by force.
Lavrov: Russia is in favor, and we have been doing this for quite some time now, of making the United Nations Charter respected um making the Security Council to be the central body as the charter provides for, to coordinate efforts of the international community in addressing more than threats and challenges including terrorism including drug trafficking including organized crime, and our initiative which we presented that last year is to have given the United Nations Security Council a thorough analysis of all threats which is which are present in the Middle East and North Africa, mostly the threat of terrorism and to elaborate common standards to address such threats. I’ll explain what common standard means. When Libya was attacked those who wanted to overthrow Qaddafi they were closing their eyes they were sometimes supplying arms to the groups on the ground very extremist groups only because they were fighting the Qaddafi army. When Qadaffi was deposed these very people started trouble in neighboring countries including Mali and the countries who armed them, like France for example, who armed them to topple Gadhafi were fighting them in Mali, and this people who are fighting the French with the French weapons. This, this kind of double standards must be avoided. If, if we all, uh want to eradicate terrorism then we must not allow the situations to happen. When we close our eyes on bad guys and call them not-so-bad terrorists because they fight your enemy, somebody whom you, whom you hate like Saddam Hussein, like Muammar Qadaffi like other authoritarian leaders as it were, neither in Iraq, nor in Libya, nor in Syria where attempt to change regime by force from outside are being made became became happier. Don’t you agree with me?
Question: Sir if I can bring you back to Asia. Do you think that the United States is a destabilizing force in its presence in Asia?
Lavrov: Uh, I didn’t say this. I said that the United States is making…
Question: I believe that your colleague the defense minister has said that. That the United States is possibly one of the most destabilizing forces in Asia. Do you agree?
Lavrov: The, the I said that the United States is engaged in a very huge military buildup in Asia, including under the pretext of countering the North Korean threat but the uh scale of the build-up is way beyond the need, you know, to neutralize. It’s disproportionately huge. Let me put it this way. United States is also building missile defense with cooperation with Japan and South Korea which is not helpful at all and the fact that the United States dropped from the treaty, ABM treaty some, some time ago was a destabilizing factor of global importance. Because it, three years you know the build-up that brings us back to the mutually assured destruction logic in, in as it relates to the strategic stability.
Question: We’re not there at the mutually assured destruction logic any more are we sir?
Lavrov: I said that the withdrawal the United Nations from the, the ABM treaty brings temptation to bring this logic back which would be which would be very unfortunate.
Question: Russia would not want that?
Lavrov: Russia, Russia doesn’t want any arms race. Russia would not engage in the arms race. We have enough technological means to provide not very expensive answer to the efforts to build missile defense especially specially when the Iranian nuclear issue has been resolved and President Obama in 2009 publicly said that if Iranian nuclear issue is resolved there would be no need for missile defense in Europe. It seems that he was not telling the truth.
Question: Sir, uhm, a fundamental question: is Russia still a superpower, and this will be the last question. Is Russia still a super power, and last year…
Lavrov: We’re modest people. It is up to objective analysts internationally to describe what Russia is.
Question: And you would not use the word superpower in Russia?
Lavrov: we respect ourselves, and we have our own dignity, but we would not brag, you know about what we are. Let the objective analysts decide.
Question: minister thank you very much for being in Conversation With.
Lavrov: Thank you.