Transcript of Interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov with Editor-in-Chief of Ekho Moskvy Radio Station Alexei Venediktov, Moscow, August 14, 2008
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, Mikhail Saakashvili must step down?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I am convinced Saakashvili can no longer be a responsible partner in talks, since all that which this man has been saying in the last few days absolutely does not correspond to facts. And the political assessment he makes based on lies is simply outrageous. I firmly believe this is a provocateur. When the man who gave the order treacherously to start a massive barrage from volley-fire and artillery systems and to carry out air strikes at civilian areas of Tskhinval says from TV screens, showing off against the background of the EU flag, that he is defending American values here, I think the cynicism of these remarks strikes everyone. It seems to me that it’s all obvious even to those trying to defend him and they understand this is a losing game.
Question: Still, with whom to talk in Georgia then, if Georgia remains a party in the negotiations, if the president of Georgia is now not a negotiator for you?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Occasionally this question has no answer. Yesterday, for example, the need arose to again speak over the telephone with the Georgian FM, Mrs. Eka Tkeshelashvili, with whom I had thus been communicating during these days. But it took several hours before we could get in touch with their ministry by at least one of the phone numbers we’ve got. We finally talked. Contact channels exist. My deputy has been periodically conversing with his Georgian colleague. So the conversation goes on.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, there’s a question that falls out of the signed framework documents; it is about the territorial integrity of Georgia, about the status and future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian vice premier Sergey Ivanov, talking to our BBC colleagues, said this can be discussed. He said explicitly enough that this question is not outside the discussion framework.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Of course. Mikhail Nikolayevich Saakashvili, when he first became president in 2003 – admittedly it was a peculiar way of coming to power in Georgia, not via elections – kept saying right from the outset that his chief mission was to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia; that is to settle the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which have long-standing roots.
We can delve into history and look at how it all came about. But the latest causes behind the situation in recent years were the decisions of the first post-Soviet president of independent Georgia, Mr. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who issued the call “Georgia for Georgians.” He sent Georgian State Council troops towards Sukhum and Tskhinval, angry that they had protested against his abolition of their autonomy. War began, and the Georgian troops took these cities. You know what ensued: they were dislodged from there. As a result, thanks largely to the action of Russia, which paid with the lives of its soldiers, a number of peacekeeping mechanisms, peacekeeping and negotiation structures were created to hopefully produce negotiated solutions by which to preserve Georgia as one state while ensuring rights and freedoms for the South Ossetians and Abkhaz based on autonomous principles. And that Mikhail Nikolayevich Saakashvili has repeatedly tried to discard all these negotiation mechanisms, repeatedly rejected the accords thus reached, and periodically attempted a use-of-force solution speaks for itself concerning the methods which the present Georgian leader has tried to use to accomplish his mission as the “unifier of the Georgian lands.” I would like on cue from a journalist to cite a quotation from the live remarks of Saakashvili here on your radio on February 25, 2006, when he said just this: “I will not order to start military operation. I do not want people to die, because blood in the Caucasus is not even for decades, but for centuries. We will achieve everything by negotiation and consultation.” It turns out that he lied, and what he has indeed understood correctly is that blood in the Caucasus is not for decades, but for centuries. So now the present countdown of centuries began from the 8th of August 2008.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, post-Soviet Georgia has had three entirely different presidents: Zviad Gamsakhurdia with one biography, then Eduard Shevardnadze with another biography, and now Mikhail Saakashvili with still another. And all three of them got into attempts to solve the conflict by force. Furthermore, each has been a person with an entirely different understanding. Where is the guarantee that this won’t happen again, when there is the new president of Georgia, whether now or in three years when Saakashvili’s term expires, and a certain Igor Georgadze or Nino Burdjanadze, I take different people, or a Buba Kikabidze or a Tina Kandelaki becomes president? Evidently the history of force-based relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia is somehow predetermined for Georgian presidents, whatever their upbringing and education. Maybe it’s just that kind of systemic history?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: If that is so, then I think one can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade the Ossetians and Abkhaz to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state. How do you imagine that? How is it possible after this tragedy, with Tskhinval burned down and many settlements in South Ossetia wiped off the face of the earth, when we see on the screens of, at least, Russian television – although this footage does not always get onto the screens that western viewers watch – this human tragedy, to include in any document a reference to Georgia’s territorial integrity? Doing so would simply be seen by these people as an insult, a deep human insult. I can assure you that we don't want the collapse of Georgia, but the de facto situation is such that neither the South Ossetians nor the Abkhaz want to live in the same state with the person who has sent his troops against them.
Question: But then this person will leave after some time.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: The wounds he has inflicted are very deep. They will take very long healing. As we kept saying all these years, Mr. Saakashvili has to learn to speak respectfully and patiently with the people whom you consider your citizens, whom you consider residents of your country. That’s what he is patently unable to do. You know what he has done in lieu of this? Mr. Saakashvili has inflicted colossal harm not only upon the South Ossetians, not only upon the Abkhaz, if you take the ethnic characteristic, but also upon the Georgians – his own people. What has he done for the Georgian state as a result of this operation? Before it, somehow or other, with all the problems, with all the complexities there really were the Georgian enclaves in South Ossetia, Georgians lived there.
Within the peacekeeping force, alongr with the Russian and South Ossetian battalions, there was a Georgian battalion. It was really present in South Ossetia. Instead of using this to create confidence-building measures and to forge a respectful dialogue, a conversation on how jointly to solve these problems, and a year and a half ago the understanding was reached in the Joint Control Commission framework to set up a joint Georgian-South Ossetian working group and work out plans – later on this arrangement was simply cancelled. So instead of working in the existing formats, working honestly – although it would probably have taken much time – but this was all the same the only way leading to a search of solutions… in lieu of this he created fortified areas in these southern enclaves within South Ossetia on the sly and as a matter of fact engaged in the preparation of the action which he started on August 8. We all know the result, the action failed. But in the course of this action the Georgian peacekeepers behaved like traitors and fired at the fellow Russian peacekeepers.
Question: Has this been proven? – The peacekeepers, exactly?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: It has been proven. No need to prove anything here. When it all began on the 8th of August; it was already late, nearer the night. On the night of August 7-8 the Russian military tried to urgently get in touch with somebody from the Georgian leadership, they got through to Georgia’s deputy defense minister.
Question: Phoning from Moscow, not from South Ossetia?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Phoning both from there and from Moscow. Asked him what was going on, and the bombing of Tskhinval was already under way. He said, “We have declared war on the Ossetians. We are going to restore constitutional order.” And immediately afterwards the commander of the Georgian battalion assigned to the joint peacekeeping force said they were joining the operation to restore constitutional order and opened fire on their comrades in arms with whom they had together been performing peacekeeping service.
Now one cannot imagine Georgian peacekeepers reappearing in South Ossetia. Most Georgians, as far as I know, fled the enclaves on South Ossetian territory. Sure, the Ossetian population might wish to resort to acts of revenge, but that would be utterly wrong. Both the Russian president and defense minister have given the strictest orders not to allow any violence against civilians.
Question: Now order maintenance is also the responsibility of the Russian troops? I mean not allowing any score settling.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: South Ossetia has its own authorities.
Question: But the President must have given the order to the Russian troops?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Yes, because should such episodes arise the Russian peacekeepers in accordance with their mandate must immediately stop them.
Question: Two questions for clarification. Sergey Viktorovich, you said it is now impossible to support any document which mentions the integrity of Georgia within the borders in which it is recognized by the world community. Does this mean the Russian Federation will not support a document in which the territorial integrity of the present borders will be mentioned? Sure enough, there will be a vote in the Security Council on a resolution?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: You know I won’t surmise now how the talk will proceed in the UN Security Council. I won’t surmise because before we reach this stage something has to be done. I will now return to this.
I would like to recall what President Sarkozy said as he spoke in the Kremlin on August 12 after his talks with President Medvedev, replying to a question about the territorial integrity of Georgia. He was asked why the principles agreed and offered to the parties for approval had no mention of the territorial integrity of Georgia. President Sarkozy reasoned that no one questions Georgian sovereignty. While no one casts doubt on the independence of Georgia, territorial integrity as a principle is not rejected by anybody. Yet, if we take the real situation, insofar as any principle must be considered with reference to a specific situation, the situations in Georgia and in the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts proved to be such that, in both cases, the world community recognized the presence of conflict. In both cases the world community backed the creation of special, negotiation and peacekeeping, mechanisms for resolving these conflicts. So that, de facto, the territorial integrity of Georgia, due to the presence of these conflicts, is limited and this matter can only be settled via the search for a way to solve these crisis situations that is mutually acceptable to both parties.
Question: You to me – Nicolas Sarkozy, I to you – Angela Merkel. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow there must be a meeting in Sochi. As far as I understand, the FRG Chancellor is coming to meet with the President of the Russian Federation. Her spokesman said yesterday that questioning Georgia’s territorial integrity – or Saakashvili’s legitimacy as elected president – is unacceptable. How can talks be held this way, from such different starting points of Medvedev and Merkel?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: It was the FRG Chancellor who said she does not call into question the territorial integrity of Georgia, you know. But Mikhail Nikolayevich Saakashvili has. I even think that he has inflicted colossal harm upon it. Once again I will stress that it will take very long to overcome the consequences of what he has done. I have just cited his words that this will take decades and perhaps even centuries. This he said, not me. He is perfectly well aware of all this as one from the Caucasus, he is perfectly well aware how long people in the Caucasus remember the blood spilled.
Question: And a second question relating to the peacekeepers. You’ve said that, from your viewpoint, Russia’s position is that there must be no Georgian peacekeepers representing the Georgian state in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: There have never been any of them in Abkhazia.
Question: And in South Ossetia?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: You understand this is not even the position of Russia. It is an objective reality. How can you imagine that Georgian peacekeepers will come there?
Question: I can’t imagine it, but I saw the document of 1994 where the composition of the joint peacekeeping force is described: such and such one, such and such two, such and such three. Does this mean that the document needs to be changed, since it is written down precisely there – one Georgian, one Ossetian and one Russian battalion under Russian command. It is all set forth in detail there. The first question: Is it necessary to change the document? And my second question. The EU ministers offered to send ceasefire observers yesterday, EU monitors for the time being. Some ministers were saying that in prospect, if there is no Georgian battalion, let us form a third European battalion. What do you think of this?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: There are two circumstances here. Firstly, as regards the agreements, they were not one, but several: the first in 1992, then in 1994 and the memorandum of 1996. Indeed, they describe a three-battalion-based peacekeeping procedure. There can be no withdrawal from this agreement. For some reason unknown to me, but that seems to have been the wish or readiness of those who signed it, neither its duration nor the procedure for withdrawal from it are indicated in it. The Georgian battalion simply refused to fulfill its duties. It deserted and even more than deserted, it simply violated the oath if you will. And those who remain there as peacekeepers, undoubtedly, will not act in such a way and will sacredly fulfill their duties.
As to further peacekeeping efforts or additional possible mechanisms, the principles President Medvedev and President Sarkozy hammered out in Moscow on August 12 provide for this. In addition to the Russian peacekeepers, additional international mechanisms need to be agreed, since the international mechanisms are already in place in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In Abkhazia together with our and CIS peacekeepers the UN Observer Mission operates, a fairly large structure which effectively and very closely interacts with the CIS Peacekeeping Force. And in South Ossetia it is the OSCE Mission. It is small, with a staff of about 10, I guess; its headquarters is situated in Tskhinval. By the way, the mission’s headquarters building was also the object of bombing. Maybe a shell hit it accidentally. I would not want to make unfounded accusations. And surely it is feasible to consider a possible increase in the number of international observers. I don’t mean the Russian observers. There is a need for that also because the Russian peacekeepers will have to take additional security measures, considering, as the events that began on the night of August 7-8 have shown, the vulnerability of Tskhinval to possible Georgian adventures. The possibility of our taking additional measures is recorded in the principles our President agreed with the President of France.
Question: Additional troops?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: This may be a quantitative increase; it may also be measures on the ground. It is military specialists who must see how to do it in such a way as to stop such aggressive manifestations even before they could tell on civilians and civilian facilities. And in this context, of course, we would be prepared to consider proposals for additional international observers. But as the OSCE is already present there, it would apparently be more logical to do it under the aegis of the OSCE in Vienna, at OSCE headquarters. The Finnish chairmanship has already come up with the initiative of increasing the number of peacekeepers. We will examine this initiative. It is important to agree on how to use them best.
Question: Observers or peacekeepers – inspectors or armed battalions?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Observers. There is no question of any armed battalions. First, do not forget that peacekeepers and observers alike must always match in composition and strength what the parties are ready for. And of course the stand of the South Ossetian party on this issue will be very important. But, as far as I can understand the situation now – we are in contact with both the South Ossetian and Abkhaz leaders – they strongly favor keeping the Russian peacekeepers within their territories. They are ready to continue cooperating with international observers, and to consider the proposal for increasing the number of international observers. In the case of South Ossetia I have no doubt that, apart from the return of the already existing OSCE mission to Tskhinval itself, some extra monitors or inspectors – whatever you may call them – will not be a bad thing to have on the external perimeters of the security zone, on the external perimeters of South Ossetia.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, you are against a third peacekeeping battalion?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: No, we are not against a third peacekeeping battalion. The third peacekeeping battalion has disgraced itself.
Question: No, not the Georgian, I mean an external battalion, for example, from the EU.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: This has to be cleared between the parties, primarily with the South Ossetian party, because this party has been subjected to aggression. The agreements you have mentioned also contain the maximum strength limits for the peacekeepers in South Ossetia. Within these limits everything is possible, an increase of the Russian peacekeeping presence too. And, as we discussed it with the French delegation and as we spoke to our other partners, German in particular, we will be ready to back the sending of additional observers to the conflict zone.
Now, if we are to speak of the peacekeeping operation and ceasefire monitoring and, by the way, of the UN Security Council, our French colleagues have already begun work in New York. Its objective is to back up the principles that were agreed to by Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy and which the two presidents asked the parties to sign. We have assumed the obligation to ensure the signature of both the South Ossetians and the Abkhaz, as the plan concerns Abkhazia too. Our French colleagues have offered to get the signature of the Georgian leadership. You apparently saw footage from Tbilisi when the statement of Mikhail Saakashvili resounded at the rally that he was supporting these principles. But the snag is, he has not signed them. Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy in their document called on the parties to sign these principles. So we are now looking into the why of this state of things. But so long as the signatures of all the parties are not under the document, it turns out that there is nothing to approve.
Question: Regarding the UN Security Council: What do you expect from a resolution, what mandate and what content of the Security Council resolution would suit you?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: It should be very simple. It should merely back up and buttress the principles that were formulated in the Moscow document of August 12. But prior to this the parties must affix their signatures to – physically sign – this document.
Question: In this context I would like to ask you about the position of your colleagues, primarily in the UN Security Council, the United States of America. It is known that Condoleezza Rice has today flown to Paris and that there will be a NATO foreign ministers meeting today or tomorrow. She will then fly to Tbilisi, perhaps in order to get exactly the signature of Mr. Saakashvili. How do you generally assess the position of the United States of America since August 8? At the beginning it was said the Americans had been almost egging on Saakashvili to draw Russia into war, and then you said, if I am not mistaken, and if I am mistaken – please correct me – that, at your request, the US colleagues had tried to keep Saakashvili from this. What is the reality?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: We have been working along these lines for a long time. And when in 2002 the Americans began their program for the Georgian army under the name “Train and Equip,” I think our representatives were already asking them if Washington did not fear that the Georgian armed forces thus trained and equipped might be used for attempts to settle the conflicts by force. We were piously assured that the Americans would not allow this to happen. Later, over all the subsequent years, when, time and again, provocations arose now in South Ossetia, now in Abkhazia, for example, three years ago, in summer 2005, when, remember, Saakashvili already made attempts to start war in South Ossetia. But then they could not have led to such a scale and would have been quickly stopped. And each time after this kind of manifestations we reminded our US colleagues of our fears again and again. They gave us assurances that Washington constantly worked with Tbilisi, keeping it from such adventures. The last conversation on this theme took place with them a month ago, shortly after the return of Madame Rice from Tbilisi, where she was on July 10, and such assurances were again given to us. I think that the Americans had indeed been conducting such work but, evidently, underestimated the degree of bellicosity of the present Georgian leader and the degree of his interests.
Question: How do you assess the position of the American leadership now? Yesterday there was the quite sharp statement of President Bush, and this night – the even sharper statement of Rice, who said that the actions of Russia were leading to the isolation of the Russian Federation. And how in general do you assess them – why, what for, what?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I yesterday already had the opportunity to comment on the situation.
Question: And now could you in greater detail?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Sure. There is no secret here – they are writing about this in the West, so are analysts. The present Georgian leadership is a “special project” of the United States. Of course, it pains them to see their fosterling in such an absolutely unseemly shape. They feel hurt over the entire “project,” over the efforts spent and over the funds invested. Evidently one can humanly understand that so much has been put in and everybody sees the “exhaust” on the screens. As soon as Mikhail Nikolayevich appears on television and opens his mouth, it becomes clear to all who we deal with. So that, humanly, I can understand it, but they will have to make a choice: either throw everything into the scales of this “virtual project” or give thought to the fact that the world is much more complex, and that there are far more serious situations in it, where we can’t avoid partnership and where we need to realistically cooperate. So I don’t know how they are going to isolate us.
I heard the threats to bar us from the WTO. Even so, no one is going to let us in. We are becoming increasingly convinced of this. Each time, excuse me for an incorrect remark, they take us in: now they’re about to sign a bilateral protocol and everything seems alright, but then new questions pop. We’ve spoken about the WTO repeatedly. Our President and Premier have stressed that we want to join the WTO on terms which will be mutually advantageous, on standard terms. So, returning to what the US leaders said, it is important that the conversation should rest on facts. But when the president of that great power says America is outraged by the introduction of Russian troops into Poti and demands that they be immediate removed and at this moment there are no Russian forces in or around Poti at all, or when it is alleged that Cossacks and mountainous people are looting and marauding in Gori with the connivance of Russian troops, I feel like giving up.
I spoke with Rice yesterday. She called me concerning these reports. True she spoke calmly. I promptly rechecked the situation. We told the Americans that this information is not confirmed. Moreover, indeed our troops are near Gori and near Senaki. They did not enter these towns. They advanced into these areas only because Georgian forces’ positions were there, from which fire had been delivered at South Ossetia. Having stopped at these towns, they carried out elementary reconnaissance. In Gori there was not a single representative of authority – neither the mayor, nor vice-mayor, nor heads of law enforcement bodies, nor a single policeman, simply nobody, only peaceful inhabitants who spoke unpleasantly about their present leader for his having unleashed this massacre. These peaceful inhabitants were left there without any rudimentary facilities with which the state must provide its citizens. In particular, they there had run out of food and our servicemen did what they could to help them.
Question: You believe the Americans have been misinformed.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Yes, misinformed. A second point, which is very important, because nearly all of the CNN broadcasting yesterday rested on it; reconnaissance had discovered a huge arsenal of arms and equipment on the other side of Gori. There were about 15 tanks, armored personnel carriers, rail carloads of ammunition and explosives, let alone small arms, and this depot was completely unguarded. Not that there were no guards, there was not a single soul near this arsenal. Simply under the open sky all this stood, ready for use, including operable tanks. It is obvious that it would have been madness simply to go past and leave the place. Now our military is engaged in the disposal of this arsenal. How they will deal with it – I don’t know, but this just can’t be left under the open sky when any citizen or non-citizen with ill intentions can simply climb into a tank and drive someplace to shoot. There is a similar arsenal near the city of Senaki. These tanks were being taken towards Gori, but their movement was immediately recorded. CNN started to trumpet at once, reporting the hottest news that Russian tanks were advancing on Tbilisi. It’s all really the way I tell you. Moreover, when we simply declared publicly that there were no authorities in Gori and that residents there were simply left to the mercy of fate, it was only yesterday that secretary of the Georgian Security Council Mr. Lomaia came there toward the evening, bringing with him two persons who he said would be responsible for maintaining elementary authority in Gori. They communicated with the command of our units staying near Gori. I think they even passed the night together – they had no shelter to take. So there is no hostile, biased attitude towards the Georgian people. We want to continue to be friends with the Georgian people, we want to continue sincerely enjoying this friendship and I hope that everything will return to this.
Question: Still, back to the Americans, Sergey Viktorovich.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Well, about the Americans. By the way, I told about CNN, how this is done. Evidently we sometimes not quite elegantly do PR on what is going on. When our troops came up to Gori and saw what was going on there, it could have been announced that Gori was absolutely empty, with no authorities there, with residents being unlooked after – thus drawing attention to the need for the Georgian side to send its representatives there to exercise their powers. Instead, the military just went about their business: somewhere helping locals, then starting to disassemble this dangerous arsenal. And on the other hand, they are looking for any pretext to do “black PR” on the basis of facts that do not receive confirmation. A couple of days ago, by the way, CNN, with the note “urgent news,” was also showing footage and reporting that the Russian army had entered Tbilisi. It was only several hours later that, after rechecking, CNN informed viewers that those were Georgian army units returning from the battlefield.
Question: Sergey Viktorovich, returning to the Georgia theme, I would like to touch on the remark that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made at the very start of his first trip: he said that this sort of microscopic conflict, meaning on a world scale, leads to consequences in relations, between great powers specifically. I have a question for you: after signing of the declaration between Presidents Putin and Bush we long talked about possible resultant development of Russian-US relations in different fields. Has the declaration been discarded? Forgotten?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: No, we never renege on our commitments, on our words.
Question: In this connection are you going to hold any meetings? Now everybody meets: Condoleezza Rice, the OSCE foreign ministers, NATO foreign ministers, EU foreign ministers. Are you going to meet with the same Rice? Is this in your plan?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: You see, I have been communicating with Rice regularly. Since August 8 we spoke over the telephone five times at least, in great detail and frankly. Although I said since August 8, it was perhaps since August 10, because since August 8 she had not tried to contact me. But we had, unfortunately, been preoccupied with not very pleasant things. There is no reason to break off the dialogue. Ours is an extensive agenda. And, as I have already said, we work together with them. That this “micro,” as the French put it, conflict has now eclipsed all other issues… this was not our choice. The conflict is over. All that needs to be done now is to implement the principles set forth in the document by Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy. Only they must be signed for a start, because we do not take Mr. Saakashvili’s word for it. By the way, even after these principles were agreed to in Moscow and when they were still in the process of approval, a Georgian drone plane was again shot down over South Ossetia.
Question: And now this, fairly significant episode, when only seven of the Group of Eight foreign ministers gathered and held a conference call. You had not been invited, you had declined or was it really the sign that you guys stand aside for a while until we decide?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: They did not gather anywhere.
Question: I mean called one another by telephone.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: And there was even no conference call there, merely Madame Rice’s bilateral conversations with her colleagues. I see no reefs here. One G8 member felt like mobilizing all the rest, except us, to send us a signal. For God’s sake, please send it. We received it and explained our reaction to this signal. And I think the effectiveness with which the aggressive actions of the Georgian leadership have been stopped explains to no small extent the certain hystericalness that is now present in coverage of what is going on.
Question: There are only two questions left. One question is linked to American domestic politics. Now Vitaly Churkin, speaking in the UN Security Council where there arose, shall I say so, a diplomatic wrangle with the US ambassador, said, I quote, that “there is no need to play into the hands of one of the presidential candidates,” meaning US domestic politics. Now we see that the positions of both John McCain and Barack Obama are quite tough. It is not known who is tougher yet. How do you assess such a theory that after all this the next US president will anyway be a person with very tough rhetoric against Russia?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Alexei, you know how this is done, don’t you? We are children where the methods of using the media are concerned; mere children. We try to learn from our senior comrades who have for decades been accumulating know-how of using the fourth power. You understand quite a simple picture is thrown on to the screen that is not accompanied by any deep analysis and is accompanied with the phrase “Russians have intruded in Georgia.” Who cares that the Russians were there as peacekeepers on the basis of the agreements signed in Tbilisi? And who cares that these agreements were torn up by Georgia’s leadership, which began to bomb the city which it considers to be within its territory? Now the Russians appear to be in Georgia. Yes. But what they are doing there, one doesn’t have to explain. Then again, yesterday’s CNN footage, I have periodically been watching CNN, shows Tskhinval, ablaze. It is written “archives” somewhere on the screen. The text reads, “Russians have begun moving from Gori to Tbilisi.” And in this situation persons appear, as they always do, wishing to come up to the microphone and demand something. When all this occurs at the height of the presidential campaign, of course, neither candidate wants to fall behind the other in expressing righteous anger at these attempts to crush tiny Georgia, a United States ally and “a bulwark of democracy.” It’s all perfectly understandable to me. I worked in America. Then, though, at the end of the 90s and the start of 2000 they could not yet ratchet this up in such a big way. Now they have honed it to perfection.
Question: But this is a tradition?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: I’ve mentioned that Georgia is a “project” of the United States. And that’s why they’re trying with such zeal to turn public opinion on. One simple fact: when president Sarkozy the day before yesterday was in Tbilisi and held talks with Saakashvili, Georgia’s president conducted these talks accompanied by three US advisers. I can imagine how the French took this.
Question: True, that’s an element of the pre-election campaign. But this will reflect on the essence of the relations of Barack Obama with Russia or the candidate who will become a future US president?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: You know, when all is said and done, we, of course, do not interfere in this campaign. I’ve already said that this is not a part of our political culture. It is crystal clear that whoever becomes president of the United States, we will conduct dialogue with the elected US leader.
Question: The last question. You remember when we talked half a year ago I asked you the question if the CIS was dead? Firstly: how will you comment upon Georgia’s withdrawal from the CIS, what is the reaction to the statement made by President of Georgia Saakashvili? And secondly: look, now everybody meets, but where’s the CIS? Is there at least one CIS country that would support Russia? Yesterday even Mr. Lukashenko said that he would seek to strengthen relations with the EU and US. And that was yesterday. Maybe, “if it is dead, it is dead,” Sergey Viktorovich?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Perhaps this tree is shedding the dead branches, I don’t know. I heard Mr. Saakashvili’s statement that he is withdrawing from the CIS. The CIS Executive Committee and Chairman have received no official documents on this score. There is the appropriate procedure in the Charter of the CIS. So I wouldn’t particularly analyze this. Everything Mikhail Nikolayevich Saakashvili does at this moment and has done in the last few days is solely for his own political survival.
Why didn’t we convene the CIS? Why didn’t we demand that the CIS condemn all and sundry in solidarity with us? You understand if you ask me, I consider it improper to make people do things which cause them discomfort. We are perfectly aware that the CIS countries, like ourselves, want to have normal relations with the outside world in all sectors. We are perfectly aware that they attach special significance to relations with the West and, primarily, with the United States of America and the European Union. I understand this. We appreciate the normal objective position of our neighbors, of our partners. We don’t want to make them, don’t want to drive them into a conference hall in order to show afterwards that we have all together condemned someone. You understand this is the method which our partners use in the West. I don’t think that we need artificially to ask somebody to support Russia.
Question: I see you are upset, Sergey Viktorovich. They didn’t even speak out individually. All right, don’t drive them into a hall. But where is Ilham Aliyev, where is the president of Kazakhstan? Where are those people who have always been professing support and friendship with Russia?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: You want to say that we, like our US partners, should meet secretly, as they do, for example, with someone from the Baltic states – I know this – and say listen, go and rouse the EU to such and such action. Efforts follow. I simply know this kitchen; I know the price of this kind of solidarity, which has become a headache in the EU. I would prefer that in our relations with the CIS partners we take into full consideration their interests, their positions and would not create any situations for them in which they would feel uncomfortable. Any integration or any other association will be strong when it rests on the real interests, on the realistically understood interests of each other. I assure you that we have good prospects of developing this cooperation without any mentor-like, great-power notes.
Question: The last question about the position of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, during the conflict?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: It is hard for me to comment because the Ukrainian leadership and President Yushchenko have recently been specifically and consistently taking a series of anti-Russian steps, particularly where the Black Sea Fleet is concerned. It has become the practice to adopt decrees of President Yushchenko which are an attempt to rewrite everything that is contained in the Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the basing of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine unilaterally. Furthermore, these unilateral attempts come as surprises, although elementary diplomatic and then also other courtesy presuppose that if it occurs to you to decide that I do not want to act in the way my state pledged to act, but differently, the way I want, then at least lift up the receiver and call and say that the following thoughts have crossed my mind, you know. This does not occur. I think this also largely reflects the current domestic political situation in Ukraine. We want this permanent crisis in Ukrainian politics to be overcome as soon as possible. We want Russian-Ukrainian relations to be cleansed of the artificial accretions resulting from the power struggle between key political forces or from the obsession to please NATO and try to drag an unwilling Ukrainian people into it as quickly as possible.
Question: That is the war is over, now it’s the diplomats’ turn to work?
Foreign Minister Lavrov: Which war are you talking about?
Question: I’m talking about the war in Georgia, about the war in Ossetia.
Foreign Minister Lavrov: We have stopped the illegal actions. As regards the armed forces of the Russian Federation, they have received the order of the Commander in Chief to end the operation which was begun in response to the actions of Tbilisi. They have ended it. Yes, the diplomats need to work now. We will work with everybody, and with our Georgian colleagues in particular, who now, in the first place, must sign the agreed principles for settlement.