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Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivers a speech and answers questions during debates at the 51st Munich Security Conference, Munich, February 7, 2015


Ladies and gentlemen,

Mr Wolfgang Ischinger has included the issue of the collapse of global development on the agenda. One has to agree that events have taken a turn, which is far from optimistic. But it is impossible to agree with the arguments of some of our colleagues that there was a sudden and rapid collapse of the world order that had existed for decades.

To the contrary, the last year’s developments confirmed the correctness of our warnings against profound, systemic problems in the organisation of European security and international relations in general. I would like to remind you of the speech delivered by Russian President Vladimir Putin from these stands eight years ago.

The structure of stability, based on the UN Charter and the Helsinki principles, has long been undermined by actions of the Unites States and its allies in Yugoslavia, which was bombed, as well as in Iraq and Libya, NATO’s expansion to the east and the creation of new lines of separation. The project of building a “common European home” failed because our western partners were guided by illusions and beliefs of winners in the Cold War rather than the interests of building an open security architecture with mutual respect of interests. The obligations, solemnly undertaken as part of the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, not to ensure one’s own safety at the expense of others’ remained on paper and were ignored on practice.

The problem of missile defence is vivid evidence of the powerful destructive influence of unilateral steps in the development of military capabilities contrary to lawful interests of other states. Our proposals on joint operation in the anti-missile field were rejected. In exchange we were advised to join the creation of global US missile defence, strictly according to Washington’s templates, which, as we underlined and explained based on facts a number of times, carries real risks for Russian nuclear deterrence forces.

Any action undermining strategic stability will inevitably result in counter measures. Thus, long-term damage is inflicted upon the entire system of international treaties dealing with control over armaments, the feasibility of which directly depends on the missile defence factor.

We do not even understand what the United States’ obsession with creating a global missile defence system can be connected with. With aspirations to indisputable military supremacy? With faith in the possibility to resolve issues technologically, whereas these issues are in reality political? In any case, the missile threats did not become weaker, but a strong irritant emerged in the Euro-Atlantic region, and it will take a long time to get rid of it. We are ready for this. Refusal of the United States and other NATO members to ratify the Agreement on Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which buried this treaty, was another destabilising factor.

At the same time, our US colleagues are attempting to lay the blame on Russia in each complicated situation they themselves created. Let’s take the discussions, which have revived recently, on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (the INF Treaty). Specialists are well aware of the United States’ actions, which are in conflict with the spirit and the letter of this document. For instance, as part of the creation of a global missile defence system, Washington commissioned a large-scale programme of creating target missiles with characteristics similar or close to land-based ballistic missiles, prohibited by the aforementioned treaty. Unmanned fighting vehicles, widely utilised by the US, fall within the treaty’s definition of intermediate-range cruise land-based missiles. The treaty directly prohibits ABM launchers, which will soon be deployed in Romania and Poland, because they can be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles.

While refusing to acknowledge these facts, our US colleagues assert they have some “substantiated” claims against Russia with respect to the INF Treaty, but diligently avoid specifics.

With due account of these and many other factors, attempts to narrow down the current crisis to last year’s developments, to our mind, means falling into dangerous self-deception.

There is a pinnacle in the course pursued by our western colleagues in the past quarter of a century on preserving their domination in world affairs by all possible means, on seizing the geopolitical space in Europe. They demanded of the CIS countries – our closest neighbours, connected with us by centuries economically, historically, culturally and even in terms of family ties – that they make a choice: “either with the West, or against the West.” This is a zero-sum logic which, ostensibly, everyone wanted to leave in the past.

The strategic partnership of Russia and the European Union failed the test of strength, as the EU chose a path of confrontation over the development of mutually beneficial interaction mechanisms. We cannot help remembering the missed opportunity to implement Chancellor Merkel’s initiative put forward in June 2010 in Meseberg, to create a EU-Russia Committee on Security and Foreign Affairs at the level of foreign ministers. Russia backed that idea but the European Union rejected it. Meanwhile, this constant dialogue mechanism, if it were to be set up, would allow for solving problems faster and more effectively, and for resolving mutual concerns in a timely manner.

As for Ukraine itself, unfortunately, at each stage of the crisis’ development, our American colleagues, and under their influence, also the European Union, have been taking steps leading to escalation. This happened when the EU declined to involve Russia in the discussion of the consequences of implementing the economic block of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, which was followed by direct support of a coup d’etat, and anti-government riots prior to that. This also happened when our western partners kept issuing indulgences to the Kiev authorities, who, rather than keeping their promise to launch nation-wide dialogue, began a large-scale military operation and labelled “terrorists” all those citizens who defied the unconstitutional change of power and the rule of ultranationalists.

It is very hard for us to explain why many of our colleagues fail to apply to Ukraine the universal principles of settling internal conflicts which presuppose, above all, an inclusive political dialogue between the protagonists. Why do our partners in the cases of Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Mali and South Sudan, for instance, urge the governments to talk with opposition, with rebels, in some cases even with extremists, whereas in the Ukrainian crisis, our partners act differently, in fact, encouraging Kiev’s military operation, going so far as to justify or attempt to justify the use of cluster munitions.

Regretfully, our western colleagues are apt to close their eyes to everything that is said and done by the Kiev authorities, including fanning xenophobic attitudes. Let me quote: “Ukrainian social-nationalism regards the Ukrainian nation as a blood-race community.” Which is followed by: “The issue of total Ukrainisation in the future social-nationalist state will be resolved within three to six months by a tough and balanced state policy.” The author of those words is Andrey Biletsky, the commander of the Azov regiment, which is actively engaged in the military activities in Donbass. Some other activists who gained a position in politics and power, including Dmitry Yarosh, Oleg Tyagnibok and the leader of the Radical Party in the Verkhovna Rada Oleg Lyashko, publicly called a number of times for an ethnically clean Ukraine, for the extermination of Russians and Jews. Those statements failed to evoke any reaction in the western capitals. I don’t think present-day Europe can afford to neglect the danger of the spread of the neo-Nazi virus.

The Ukrainian crisis cannot be settled by military force. This was confirmed last summer when the situation on the battlefield forced the participants to sign the Minsk Accords. It is being confirmed now as well, when the next attempt to gain a military victory is failing. Yet regardless of all that, more loud calls are being made in some western countries to step up support of the Kiev authorities’ vector towards militarisation of society and the state, to “infuse” Ukraine with lethal weapons, to drag it into NATO. There is hope in the increased opposition in Europe to such plans, which can only make the tragedy of the Ukrainian people worse.

Russia will continue strive for establishing peace. We are consistently calling for the cessation of military activities, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the start of direct talks between Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk on practical steps to restore the common economic, social and political space within the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Numerous initiatives by President Putin were dedicated to exactly that within the Normandy format, which helped launch the Minsk process, and our further efforts on its expansion, including yesterday’s talks in the Kremlin between the Russian, German and French leaders. As you know, these talks are ongoing. We believe that there is every possibility we will reach results and agree on recommendations that will really allow the parties to untie the knot of this conflict.

It is crucial that everyone should be aware of the real magnitude of the risks. It is high time we abandon the custom of considering every problem separately, unable to see the forest for the trees. It is time to give a comprehensive assessment of the situation. The world is now facing a drastic shift connected with the change of historical eras. The “labour pains” of the new world structure are manifested in increased proneness to conflicts in international relations. If short-sighted practical decisions in the interest of the nearest elections at home will prevail with politicians over a strategic global vision, the risk will emerge of losing global management control.

Let me remind you that at the onset of the Syrian conflict many people in the west advised not to exaggerate the danger of extremism and terrorism, stating that the danger will somehow dissipate by itself, while attaining the regime change in Damascus was a key priority. We see what has come out of it. Huge areas in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Afghan-Pakistani area are dropping out of legitimate government control. Extremism is spilling into other regions, including Europe. Risks of WMD proliferation are intensifying. The situation with the Middle East settlement, and in other regional conflict areas, is acquiring an explosive character. No adequate strategy on curbing those challenges has been worked out so far.

I would like to hope that today’s and tomorrow’s debates in Munich will bring us closer to understanding the level of efforts on searching for collective answers to threats which are common for all. The talk, if we want a serious result, can only be equal, without ultimatums and threats.

We are still confident that the overall complex of issues could be resolved much more easily, if the largest players agreed on strategic landmarks in their relations. Recently Helene Carrere d’Encausse, permanent secretary of the Academie française, whom I hold in high esteem, said that a real Europe may not exist without Russia. We would like to see if this perspective is shared by our partners, or if they are inclined to keep deepening the split in the common European space and setting its fragments in opposition to each other. Do they want to build a security architecture with Russia, without Russia, or against Russia? Of course, our American partners will also have to answer that question.

We have long been proposing the creation of a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, based on the principles of equal and inseparable security that would encompass both members of integration unions and those nations that are not part of do them. Setting up reliable interaction mechanisms between the EAEU and the EU is especially topical. We welcome the emerging support for this idea by responsible European leaders.

On the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Paris, Russia calls for infusing documents with real life, for preventing the substitution of the principles they contain, for ensuring stability and prosperity in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic space based on true equality, mutual respect and consideration for each others’ interests. We wish success to the OSCE-formed “Group of Wise Men,” which should reach a consensus in its recommendations.

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, one should remember the responsibility each of us bears.

Thank you for your attention.

Question: I am aware of all the problems you mentioned regarding relations with the US: the CFE Treaty and ABM. Apart from the fact that under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Russia equates drones and cruise missiles, I would also like to note that US President Barack Obama has considerably reduced European anti-missile defense. If Russia has problems in its relations with the US, why should Ukraine be paying for that? I’m talking about the seizure of Crimea and attempts to split Ukraine. What did the poor Ukrainians do for you to punish them for the Americans’ sins?

Sergey Lavrov: It’s clear to me that you have a twisted view on things. You shouldn’t mix up apples and oranges. People keep saying now, “we are going to settle the Ukrainian crisis, and the whole system of security and stability will start working all by itself.” On the contrary. The crisis must be settled, it is a prime priority, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that all the agreements concluded after the end of the Cold War are not observed. We have no desire for revenge, especially at somebody else’s expense. We want to have normal relations with the US. It was not us who destroyed the established mechanisms created in recent years, which ensured daily contact and addressing each other’s concerns. It was not us who withdrew from the ABM Treaty. It was not us who refused to ratify the adapted CFE Treaty. Now we have to pick up the pieces and somehow negotiate a new security system on the basis of re-confirming the Helsinki principles, a system that would be comfortable for all including Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, all those before whom our US colleagues have placed the option of going West and cooperating less with Russia. This is a fact.

I know that US Ambassadors across the world are receiving such instructions. I see here Alexander Vershbow who in a recent interview called NATO the most peace-loving bloc in the world and a hope for European stability and security. But who bombed Yugoslavia and Libya in violation of UNSC resolutions? We can see now success stories through unilateral actions in the Middle East. We want NATO to be not the model organisation they are trying to present it to be, but a participant in an equal dialogue on ensuring stability. What’s so bad about that? Everybody wants us to admit the subordinate role of everybody else regarding the US and NATO. I don’t think it serves the interests of the world order and stability.

As for the onset of the developments in Ukraine, US President Barack Obama recently said publicly that the US brokered the transition of power in Ukraine. It is modest wording, but we are perfectly aware of who was involved and how it was openly discussed over the phone which individuals should be in the new Ukrainian government, and many other things. We know what’s going on now, who monitored the Maidan developments on a daily basis. There were no Russian military specialists and experts there.

We really want the Ukrainian people to restore their unity but it should be done on the basis of real nationwide dialogue. As the central authorities make decisions to celebrate the birthdays of Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevich, and the date of the “Ukrainian Insurgent Army” formation as national holidays, the question arises, how those holidays could be celebrated in the east of Ukraine. They cannot be celebrated. Whereas in the west of the country they are reluctant to celebrate the 9th of May. To say nothing about the other specificities of Ukrainian society, this alone requires political agreements.

People are probably shy to talk about it here, but currently mobilisation is underway in Ukraine, and is coming up against gravest problems. Members of the Hungarian and Romanian minorities feel a “positive” discrimination since they are recruited in much greater proportions that ethnic Ukrainians. Why aren’t we discussing that? Or the fact that not only Ukrainians and Russians live in Ukraine, that there are other ethnicities who by a twist of fate, found themselves in that country and want to live there. Why not ensure equal rights for them and take their interests into account? During the parliamentary election the Hungarian minority asked to “carve up” the constituencies in such a way so that at least one ethnic Hungarian could be elected to the Verkhovna Rada. The constituencies were “carved up” in such a way that no Hungarian went to parliament. All that proves that there are issues to discuss. There are real problems that prevent the Ukrainian state from coming out of that most difficult crisis, but the problems are being hushed up in the west. I talked to many, including those present here, when the lustration law was put into effect. In private, they said it was an awful law that should be urgently cancelled. I asked them why they did not speak publicly about it, only to hear in response that now there is the understanding that Ukrainian authorities should be supported and should not be criticised. Is there anything else to add to this?

I really hope that yesterday’s efforts by the presidents of France and Russia and the German Chancellor will yield a result that will be supported by the parties to the conflict, and will allow for truly easing the situation by launching so badly needed nationwide dialogue on ways of solving all the problems: social, economic, and political.

Question: Coming back to the results of yesterday’s talks in Moscow and those in Kiev a day earlier, the good news is that the Minsk Accords are still on the agenda, while the bad news is that not all of the signatories are prepared to follow them, in particular, representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic, who are currently conducting offensives, artillery shelling, etc. The Russian Federation has also signed the Minsk Accords. Attempts are being made to reconsider the disengagement line. No pressure is being applied on militia, although Russia has acknowledged that it can exert such pressure. Are you really inclined to implement the Minsk agreements? What guarantees of implementing all the 12 items of the Minsk Accords and pressure on the DPR and the LPR can you offer as Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation?

Sergey Lavrov: As soon as the main participants of the Minsk process – the Ukrainian authorities and representatives of the proclaimed republics of the DPR and LPR, reach agreements on all the practical aspects of implementing each of the Minsk items, I am confident that Russia will be among those to ensure such guarantees, either in the OSCE, or in the UNSC. I am convinced that Germany, France and other countries will also be ready to offer such guarantees. But only what is done and achieved can be guaranteed. Agreements should be direct. We shouldn’t pretend that those people will readily obey. They live on their land, and they are fighting for it. When it is said that they alone wouldn’t have been able to ensure an advantage on the battlefield, I would respond that their cause is right, whereas Ukrainian soldiers do not understand what they are pushed to fight for. Let me reiterate, negotiations between the parties should be held directly.

Once the US Administration was criticised for maintaining active contacts with the Taliban via Doha, Qatar. In response to the criticism, the Administration enquired why it is being criticised: Yes, they are enemies, but one does not have negotiations with friends. Negotiations are held with enemies. If Ukrainian authorities consider their citizens to be enemies, they will have to negotiate with them anyway. Our Ukrainian colleagues should not hope that all-out external support will solve all the problems. Such support, lacking any critical analysis, went to some people’s heads. As much as it went to Mikhail Saakashvili’s head back in 2008. Everybody knows what came of that.

Question: I am a member of the international organisation, the European Leadership Network. It comprises representatives of Russia, the United States and European countries. Recently, we have conducted research on air violations. If our top priority is to defuse the situation in east Ukraine and reach an agreement on ceasefire, don't you think that our next priority should be an attempt to figure out a way to create an arrangement, given the complete breakdown of mutual trust, that would at least allow all of us − Russia, NATO, Europe and the United States − avoid unnecessary and potentially dangerous close military encounters? We don't need this in the current situation. Why not put serious effort into developing an arrangement that would make us confident that our aircraft, military vessels and objects are not in close contact with each other, as it has been in the past two weeks?

Several weeks ago, a passenger plane flying from Copenhagen airport to Warsaw nearly collided with a Russian military aircraft flying in international airspace with its transponders turned off. No European member of NATO would act this way towards Russia. Why do Russian military planes carry out flights in international airspace with their transponders turned off, which makes them invisible to radar? This is like driving a big black truck on a city road at night with headlights switched off. Why is this taking place? When will it stop?

Sergey Lavrov: We had an extensive network of bilateral mechanisms between Russia and NATO in the Russia-NATO Council, where the military had contacts with each other on a daily basis, with experts from the countries’ capitals holding special meetings and numerous joint projects to fight terrorism, as well as a project for the Stand-Off Detection of Explosives (STANDEX). Among others, there was also a project on training personnel for the Afghan security forces and providing them with helicopters, and the Common Airspace Initiative projects. Now they all have been suspended, although these mechanisms provided opportunities for agreeing on efforts to avoid dangerous military activities.

As regards the air forces activities, we have corresponding statistics which show that NATO’s activity has increased immeasurably more than Russia’s. As far as I remember, this January, Permanent Representative of Russia to NATO Alexander Grushko discussed this with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and handed over the fact sheet containing the statistics we have been compiling. We are open to restoring the mechanisms of interaction, but as I said all those mechanisms have been frozen. There is only the council of permanent representatives, ambassadors, which holds sessions not very frequently. The rest has been scrapped.

This has resulted in certain problems. Apparently, our NATO colleagues want to cut Russian diplomats’ physical presence in the Permanent Mission of Russia to NATO. Our access to the headquarters, where we have our premises, is being restricted. This will obviously lead to additional “dark spots” in our relations and will not encourage clarification of each other’s intentions.

Question: You said you want to define the general principles of European security. I believe that EU principles are based on self-determination and do not correspond to the Russian principles. You believe in spheres of influence. As George Kennan said some 60 years ago, many of Russia's neighbours have to choose between being enemies or vassals. Given the incompatibility of our values, which common rules are possible? Five years ago, Dmitry Medvedev proposed a concept for a new European security architecture. It did not work, as Russia has a strong influence on its neighbours. Do you see any way out of this situation? Is there a compromise possible between the Russian and European approaches to building security in Europe?

Sergey Lavrov: I suppose you were not listening very carefully. I did not say that new principles have to be developed. I said it is necessary to reaffirm the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter and the documents of the Russia-NATO Council, but it has to be done in a fair manner. And the main thing is to make them binding.

The European security treaty, which you have mentioned, did not contain anything new either. It simply proposed formalising the principle of indivisibility of security, declared under the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, in a legally binding form. Our NATO colleagues said that legal guarantees of security must remain a prerogative of NATO in order for countries to strive to become its members and for this line of vision to expand. Why not make security equal? This was declared, and this is an obligation that presidents and prime ministers of OSCE and Euro-Atlantic states undertook. It appears that NATO wants to make security unequal: so that some can be “more equal than others,” as George Orwell wrote.

You have quoted George Kennan. I can cite another quote by him, when he said that the cold war was a colossal mistake made by the West.

There is no need to come up with something new. We just have to sit and reaffirm those principles and then implement in good faith what was agreed upon a couple of decades ago.

Question: I agree with you that things have not been perfect in the past 25 years. We have had much discord with Russia. We nearly signed an agreement on partnership aimed at modernisation of the Russian economy, and this is just one example. I think we have created an arrangement in Europe that provides for territorial integrity and sovereignty of the countries. Both principles have been violated, and it must be admitted that Russia is the side of the conflict in Ukraine. We can overcome this conflict only if we properly analyse the internal political situation in this country. Your description of the situation in Ukraine is unacceptable.

There was an agreement with Viktor Yanukovich, approved by the parliamentary majority. Then elections were held, with 80 percent voting for the integration with Europe. Nationalists, communists and fascists garnered 2-3 percent of the vote. This is the actual situation that has to be taken into account. In the 21st century, no basis should exist for violation of the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity formalised in the Helsinki Final Act. The principle of sovereignty means that every nation, including Ukraine, has the right to independently decide with whom they want to sign a trade agreement. If a neighbouring country is making attempts to control this choice, this means a transition to the old policy and a violation of the principle of sovereignty, which is currently happening in Ukraine.

Sergey Lavrov: I am sure your speech will make a good TV topic.

There are international rules which, indeed, are sometimes interpreted differently, with different actions receiving directly opposing interpretations. What took place in Crimea is stipulated in the UN Charter: self-determination. This document contains several principles, and a nation’s right to self-determination is a key one. Read the Charter. Territorial integrity and self-determination must be respected. The UN General Assembly adopted a declaration that clarified the correlation of the basic principles of international law. It confirmed that territorial integrity and self-determination are inviolable, and countries claiming that their sovereignty must be respected have to respect the rights of ethnicities residing in this country and prevent violations of the right to self-determination through the use of sheer force.

According to what you’ve said, the events in Kiev were simply the implementation of the agreement signed by president Yanukoviech as elections were held there. First, the next day after signing the agreement, regardless of Yanukovich’s location (and he was in Ukraine), his residence, as well as the presidential administration and the government buildings, were attacked; not to mention buildings burnt and people killed on Maidan previously. The trampled down agreement, witnessed by foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland (by the way, present here is Radoslaw Sikorski, who can probably tell a story of his own), in its first article implied the creation of a government of national unity. These are key words. The aim of the national unity cannot depend on the fate of Viktor Yanukovich alone. So, if he fled, does this mean that power could be seized through an armed coup and that national unity could be disregarded? You wouldn’t agree with this, and you would be right, because it’s inadmissible. So, this all took place instead, establishing a government of national unity, which by September ought to have developed a new constitution to be used as the basis for the national election. This is how the events should have unfolded. But the starting point is national unity; this is what the Constitution should be based upon with consideration of all opinions across the country.

Instead, when the agreement I mentioned was already buried, Arseny Yatsenyuk spoke at Maidan announcing the establishment of the “government of victors.” Then, force was used against the regions of Ukraine that staged protests and refused to accept the results of the coup. The leaders who spoke against the coup were arrested. Who attacked whom? Did Donetsk and Lugansk start the assault on Kiev? Not at all. Just the opposite, military units were sent to the southeast of Ukraine to take control of power by force.

Crimean residents saw what was happening in Ukraine. At the very early stages of the crisis, the Right Sector made attempts to break through and seize administrative buildings, but they were stopped by voluntary people’s guards at the isthmus. Then, referendums on Crimea’s independence and then on incorporation into Russia were held. In Kosovo, no referendum was held, although US President Barack Obama recently claimed Kosovo as an exemplary case, as people voted in a referendum there. No referendums were held in Kosovo, nor were many other “referendums.” Germany’s reunification was conducted without any referendum, and we actively supported this.

As you remember, after the end of WWII the USSR spoke against the division of Germany. Speaking of methods used instead of direct dialogue; unfortunately, the current President of Ukraine has lost the monopoly on the use of force. Private battalions have been created in Ukraine, and they are paid better than the regular army. People defect from the regular army to these battalions (including the Azov Battalion, which I have mentioned). Some of the commanders of these battalions are ultranationalists. Mr Brok, we have been working with each other for a long time. You even visited Moscow. So my response will be simple. It’s one thing if you want to deliver angry speeches to reinforce your positions in politics and the European Parliament, but if you want to maintain dialogue, let’s just sit down and reaffirm all the principles of the Helsinki Accords and see why and where you believe they were violated.

By the way, the Nuremberg-based Ukrainian rating agency GfK Ukraine has recently conducted an opinion poll in Crimea. The survey shows that over 90 percent of Crimean residents support the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. Only two percent said they were against it, and another three percent admitted they so far don’t have a clear idea of what is going on. These are statistics and people. A colleague has mentioned that the EU’s main principle is respect for self-determination. You spoke about countries, and in this particular case we are taking about people’s self-determination. And it took place based on centuries-long history. We can discuss all this if you indeed want to understand our position and our motives, and this has been repeatedly mentioned by President Putin. Or you can laugh at this, if you find it funny. They say that laughter prolongs one’s life.