Russia in recent weeks has clashed with the European Union and the United States over international policies. Of key note are the civil war in Syria and an American step to impose sanctions on Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses. Here we interview Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov.
Alexander Shashkov, euronews: “What is the most important theme among those to be taken up at the EU-Russia summit, in your opinion?”
Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister: “Traditionally, the backbone of everything in which we cooperate has been the dialogue on energy. We have now reached an advanced phase, very confident of cooperation, which envelops several aspects of European energy security. The Nord Stream pipeline is already operational, both conduits having the potential for opening up supplementary ones. We’ve launched construction of South Stream, which has already been declared as a project of national importance by several EU countries, so I think that we’re moving steadily toward heightened energy security for the whole European continent.”
euronews: “So, you will be discussing economic questions especially?”
Lavrov: “In talking about the economy, we will also discuss what surrounds a new EU-Russia Framework Agreement, even though that is broader than the economy on its own. We cannot proceed further in our cooperation in relation to our joining the World Trade Organisation as things currently stand, but in the future – and President Putin has said this several times – we are ready to move towards a free trade zone or more developed forms of integration. Our leader has even proposed a principle of creating a unifying economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Another sphere of cooperation that has great potential is in international policy-making, before anything else: settling crises.”
euronews: “The crisis grabbing most of the attention now is in Syria. To what extent do Russia’s and Europe’s positions coincide; how are they evolving on this crisis, notably since the unification of the opposition and its recognition by France and the US?”
Lavrov: “Right now I consider it most realistic as a position to ask both parties in the conflict for an immediate halt to the violence, and a start to negotiations with no prior conditions. This has been our position from the beginning of the conflict. We are working with the regime and with all the groups of the opposition, without exception, and we are telling them all the same thing: you have to think of your people, of your country; agree on a cease-fire, sit down at the negotiating table, name the delegates who will conduct the talks, and agree on a mechanism for transition from the old system towards something new, more democratic and more open, which your state is going to need.
“But our Western partners, sadly, are concentrating exclusively on the victory of the opposition, and they tell us that if Assad left we could then begin to negotiate. Well, one has to choose one’s priorities: if you want to save lives, they have to be gathered around the table without preconditions. If your priority is to overthrow Bashar al Assad, you have to set out based on the principle that that’s going to take some more time, entailing a high number of new victims among ordinary Syrians. And the attempts to present things, as if it only needed Russia to say the word and Assad would leave at once: these are pure provocation, gone about the wrong way. Everybody is perfectly aware that this doesn’t only depend on us.”
euronews: “But you admit the possibility of an opposition victory, of the departure of Bashar al Assad?”
Lavrov: “You know, there won’t be any winners. It’s a war of mutual destruction. Horrible things are happening now in and around the Palestinian refugee camps. They are trying to drag the Palestinians into this internal war. The Palestinians are split. Some support the regime, and the others, the opposition – and what’s more either one group or another in the opposition. This crater is being stuffed deeper and deeper with new layers of the population, including, now, the Palestinians. There won’t be any winners in this war, and I think that everyone is perfectly conscious of it. But once they have said, ‘we won’t talk to Assad’, these people themselves are stuck in a trap they don’t know how to get out of. A war of attrition? History is full of examples, and nothing good ever came out of one.”
euronews: “And is Russia ready to recognise the united Syrian opposition?”
Lavrov: “But we don’t need to recognise or not recognise whomsoever it might be. We work with all the groups without exception, of those who represent whatever current of the Syrian opposition. In the same way we are going to work – we are ready to work – with the National Coalition or any other configuration which may appear on the political playing field, on the opposition side. The importance lies not in giving or withholding recognition but in pushing everyone in the same direction. And if recognition of one group is used only to gamble on that group, whether it’s with money, weapons or political or moral support, well, that is an intrusion in the conflict, taking sides.”
euronews: “Another question about primary news events which perhaps chafes at Russia’s relations with Western partners is the US Magnitsky Act. Now the Russian Duma is debating how to respond. Have you, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, been consulted as to how to react to the Magnitsky law?”
Lavrov: “I consider it entirely normal that our members of parliament adopt measures in response. And they are not following a principle along the lines: ‘here’s an unresolved problem, an unfinished process, let’s interfere in their internal affairs’. No, they are responding to concrete facts on which the American justice system has already ruled, notably the dismissal of charges or granting of bail to American citizens who killed, raped or tortured children adopted from Russia.”
euronews: “But is that to say adoption of Russian children by American families must be banned outright, the more so seeing that the MPs are now interpreting the law more broadly?”
Lavrov: “If the adoptions are stopped it signifies one thing: we would have to denounce agreements with the Americans on cooperation in the field of international adoption. But if we do that, we lose all legal possibility of asking for access to our children over there. That might be a good reason for measuring just how far we go in our reaction.”
euronews: “How will Russia react if an EU country sanctions a Russian official along the lines of the Magnitsky law?”
Lavrov: “Again, that’s a choice to face, like in Syria, about what your priorities are. Is it saving lives or regime change? This is the same. If your goal is to achieve concrete improvements in the field of human rights, then let’s work calmly, specifically and without noise. If your goal is just that, to make noise, then just say that’s what you want to do: make noise without accomplishing anything.”
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