With Russia’s relations with the West strained once again on several fronts, these are challenging times for Sergei Lavrov. The Russian Foreign Minister has taken a firm stand on Georgia, the US missile defence shield and other issues. He will also lead Russia’s negotiations with America on replacing by the end of the year the START-1 nuclear treaty. He spoke to euronews about the challenges ahead.
euronews: “Foreign Minister Lavrov, welcome to euronews.”
Lavrov: “Thank you, it’s a pleasure.”
euronews: “Exactly a month ago, US president Barak Obama stated in Prague that he’s sure that by the end of the year a new agreement will be signed between Russia and America to replace START-I which will expire. Do you believe it’s possible to reach a deal in such a time frame, and will Russia even consider US plans to place missile defence shields in Poland and the Czech Republic?”
Lavrov: “I prefer to judge this issue in line with the view expressed in the statement given by the Russian and US presidents, after they met in London on the 1st of April at their first, though not yet full-scale, summit, where they reached key-issue agreements. The document requires delegations of both countries to do everything possible to reach the agreement before the end of the year, when START-I expires, and to report on preliminary results in July, when President Obama visits Russia.
“Another important matter is to clearly understand America’s stance during these talks. I will be in Washington on the 7th of May and will meet my American colleagues. Of course we will discuss the issue and will try to do everything possible to make sure the goal set by both presidents is reached. Now to the second part of your question about America’s plans to place a third ABM shield in Europe. In the announcement on general relations on the 1st of April in London both presidents instructed their governments to examine the relation of strategically offensive and strategically defensive arms. All agreements between Russia and the US, between the Soviet Union and the US that have been made so far have all stemmed from the anti-ballistic treaty. Since the US left the treaty, this link has been broken. Now in London both leaders have instructed that this link be re-established.”
euronews: “The US says that if the Iranian nuclear problem is solved there will be no need for an ABM shield in Europe. Why does Russia refuse to see the connection here?”
Lavrov: “Well, the straightforward answer is because the third US ABM shield… the way it’s designed has nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear programme. It is aimed at Russian strategic forces, deployed in the European part of the Russian Federation.
“We are being very frank about this with our American colleagues and hope that our arguments are heard. At least we haven’t heard any serious objections to our comments so far. Iran’s nuclear programme is a separate issue. We approach it according to a key principal – preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
“The IAEA has clarified the issues that have arisen in relation to Iran’s nuclear efforts in recent years and in clarifying these concerns we want to establish trust in Iran’s nuclear programme and to ascertain its peaceful means of production.
After this all issues will be off the table and the Russian, US, Chinese and European positions are that when belief in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is established, Iran will have the rights of a non-nuclear member of the treaty on preventing the spread of mass destruction weapons.”
euronews: “Minister, for a long time Chechnya was a factor marring Russia’s image in Europe. Now to a certain extent we can say that about Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Will this be an issue in Russian and NATO relations? Was it not too early, or even a mistake, to recognise Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s independence?”
Lavrov: “You know, Chechnya as an irritant between Russia and the West was, in many ways, an artificial affair. It was our pain, our problem and this problem was created for us by forces of international terrorism, which is a fact acknowledged by many. Now, happily, the situation is absolutely different, peace is returning, though acts of terror still happen, as much in Chechnya as in other republics of the Northern Caucasus. But I am convinced that the peoples of these republics, Russians who live there, have made their choice for good.
“Regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia didn’t recognise these two as independent republics just to play a kind of geopolitical game. We intervened in the situation and stopped Georgian aggression not to win geopolitical scores, but to save human lives, to provide safety and to ensure the very survival of the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And the actions that we take now unambiguously express our full determination never to allow a repeat of the situation that the Georgian president sanctioned the night of August 8th last year.”
euronews: “What comments would you make on the reported coup in Georgia?”
Lavrov: “Ha! I’ve heard about these reports. I think it’s another provocation, coming just before NATO war games on Georgian territory that were in complete disregard of Russia’s warnings. If this is aimed at drawing other participants of the war games into the conflict — prompted by statements from the Georgian government — then this only proves that we were 100% right when we warned those taking part in the war games not to do so as it will lead heighten tensions sharply.”
euronews: “Mу last question is personal.You enjoy poetry, singing with a guitar and rafting. Do these hobbies help you with your diplomatic duties?
Lavrov: “And football. Yes, they do. Because they allow me to take a break from work. But I’ll be frank, I have very little time off. My only consolation is that it’s amazingly interesting work and I have put in as much effort as the work required. And I hope the partners with whom I try to solve various matters also understand that together we are doing a very important job.”