The Financial Times’s Interview with President Putin

July 03, 2019

Ahead of the G20 Osaka Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with The Financial Times Editor Lionel Barber and Moscow Bureau Chief Henry Foy, The Kremlin, Moscow, June 27, 2019.

WATCH PART 1

WATCH PART 2

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/60836

Lionel Barber: Mr President, you head for Osaka shortly as the senior statesman at the G20. Nobody has been to so many international meetings of this grouping and the G7 over the last 20 years while you have been in charge of Russia. Before we talk about the G20 agenda and what you hope to achieve, we know that there are rising tensions between America and China in trade, the risk of conflict in the Gulf. I would be very grateful if you could talk a bit about how you have seen the world change over the last 20 years while you have been in power.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: First, I have not been in power for all these 20 years. As you may know, I was Prime Minister for four years, and that is not the highest authority in the Russian Federation. But nevertheless, I have been around for a long time in government and in the upper echelons, so I can judge what is changing and how. In fact, you just said it yourself, asking what has changed and how. You mentioned the trade wars and the Persian Gulf developments. I would cautiously say the situation has not changed for the better, but I remain optimistic to a certain extent. But, to put it bluntly, the situation has definitely become more dramatic and explosive.

Lionel Barber: Do you believe that the world now has become more fragmented?

Vladimir Putin: Of course, because during the Cold War, the bad thing was the Cold War. It is true. But there were at least some rules that all participants in international communication more or less adhered to or tried to follow. Now, it seems that there are no rules at all. In this sense, the world has become more fragmented and less predictable, which is the most important and regrettable thing.

Lionel Barber: We will return to this theme of the world without rules, fragmentation, more transactional. But first, Mr President, tell us what you want to achieve in Osaka, in terms of your relationships with these other parties? What are your main goals for the summit?

Vladimir Putin: I would very much like all the participants in this event, and the G20, in my opinion, is a key international economic development forum today, so I would like all the G20 members to reaffirm their intention – at least an intention – to work out some general rules that everyone would follow, and show their commitment and dedication to strengthening international financial and trade institutions.

Everything else is details that complement the main topics one way or another. We certainly support Japan’s Presidency. As for the development of modern technology, the information world, the information economy, as well as our Japanese colleagues’ attention to matters such as longevity and the environment – all this is extremely important, and we will certainly support it and will take part in all these discussions. Even though it is hard to expect any breakthroughs or landmark decisions in the current conditions; we can hardly count on it today. But in any case, there is hope at least that during these general discussions and bilateral meetings we will be able to smooth out the existing disagreements and lay a foundation, a basis for positive movement forward.

Lionel Barber: You will have a meeting with Mohammad bin Salman in Osaka. Can we expect an extension of the current agreement on oil production? Limitations?

Vladimir Putin: As you know, Russia is not an OPEC member, even though it is among the world’s largest producers. Our daily production is estimated at 11.3 million barrels, I believe. The United States has surged ahead of us, though. However, we believe that our production stabilisation agreements with Saudi Arabia and OPEC in general have had a positive effect on market stabilisation and forecasting.

I believe both energy producers, in this case, oil producing countries, and consumers are interested in this, because stability is definitely in short supply at present. And our agreements with Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members undoubtedly strengthen stability.

As for whether we will extend the agreement, you will find out in the next few days. I had a meeting on this issue with the top executives of our largest oil companies and Government members right before this interview.

Lionel Barber: They are a little bit frustrated. They would like to produce more. Is that correct?

Vladimir Putin: They have a smart policy. It is not about increasing production, although that is a major component in the work of large oil companies. It is about the market situation. They take a comprehensive view of the situation, as well as of their revenues and expenses. Of course, they are also thinking about boosting the industry, timely investments, ways to attract and use modern technology, as well as about making this vital industry more attractive for investors.

However, dramatic price hikes or slumps will not contribute to market stability and will not encourage investment. This is why we discussed all these issues in their totality today.

Lionel Barber: Mr President, you have observed four American presidents at close quarters and will maybe five, you have had direct experience. So, how is Mr Trump different?

Vladimir Putin: We are all different. No two people are the same, just like there are no identical sets of fingerprints. Anyone has his or her own advantages, and let the voters judge their shortcomings. On the whole, I maintained sufficiently good-natured and stable relations with all the leaders of the United States. I had an opportunity to communicate more actively with some of them.

The first US President I came into contact with was Bill Clinton. Generally, I viewed this as a positive experience. We established sufficiently stable and business-like ties for a short period of time because his tenure was already coming to an end. I was only a very young president then who had just started working. I continue to recall how he established partner-like relations with me. I remain very grateful to him for this.

There have been different times, and we had to address various problems with all other colleagues. Unfortunately, this often involved debates, and our opinions did not coincide on some matters that, in my opinion, can be called key aspects for Russia, the United States and the entire world. For example, this includes the unilateral US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that, as we have always believed, and as I am still convinced, was the cornerstone of the entire international security system.

We debated this matter for a long time, argued and suggested various solutions. In any event, I made very energetic attempts to convince our US partners not to withdraw from the Treaty. And, if the US side still wanted to withdraw from the Treaty, it should have done so in such a way as to guarantee international security for a long historical period. I suggested this, I have already discussed this in public, and I repeat that I did this because I consider this matter to be very important. I suggested working jointly on missile-defence projects that should have involved the United States, Russia and Europe. They stipulated specific parameters of this cooperation, determined dangerous missile approaches and envisioned technology exchanges, the elaboration of decision-making mechanisms, etc. Those were absolutely specific proposals.

I am convinced that the world would be a different place today, had our US partners accepted this proposal. Unfortunately, this did not happen. We can see that the situation is developing in another direction; new weapons and cutting-edge military technology are coming to the fore. Well, this is not our choice. But, today, we should at least do everything so as to not aggravate the situation.

Lionel Barber: Mr President, you are a student of history. You have had many hours of conversation with Henry Kissinger. You almost certainly read his book, World Order. With Mr Trump, we have seen something new, something much more transactional. He is very critical of alliances and allies in Europe. Is this something that is to Russia’s advantage?

Vladimir Putin: It would be better to ask what would be to America’s advantage in this case. Mr Trump is not a career politician. He has a distinct world outlook and vision of US national interests. I do not accept many of his methods when it comes to addressing problems. But do you know what I think? I think that he is a talented person. He knows very well what his voters expect from him.

Russia has been accused, and, strange as it may seem, it is still being accused, despite the Mueller report, of mythical interference in the US election. What happened in reality? Mr Trump looked into his opponents’ attitude to him and saw changes in American society, and he took advantage of this.

You and I are talking ahead of the G20 meeting. It is an economic forum, and it will undoubtedly have discussions on globalisation, global trade and international finance.

Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and what benefits were gained from globalisation, the development of which we have been observing and participating in over the past 25 years, since the 1990s?

China has made use of globalisation, in particular, to pull millions of Chinese out of poverty.

What happened in the United States, and how did it happen? In the United States, the leading US companies –the companies, their managers, shareholders and partners – made use of these benefits. The middle class hardly benefitted from globalisation. The take-home pay in the US (we are likely to talk later about real incomes in Russia, which need special attention from the Government). The middle class in the United States has not benefited from globalisation; it was left out when this pie was divided up.

The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they used this in the election campaign. It is where you should look for reasons behind Trump’s victory, rather than in any alleged foreign interference. This is what we should be talking about here, including when it comes to the global economy.

I believe this may explain his seemingly extravagant economic decisions and even his relations with his partners and allies. He believes that the distribution of resources and benefits of globalisation in the past decade was unfair to the United States.

I am not going to discuss whether it was fair or not, and I will not say if what he is doing is right or wrong. I would like to understand his motives, which is what you asked me about. Maybe this could explain his unusual behaviour.

Lionel Barber: I definitely want to come back to the Russian economy. But what you said is absolutely fascinating. Here you are, the President of Russia, defending globalisation along with President Xi whereas Mr Trump is attacking globalisation and talking about America First. How do you explain this paradox?

Vladimir Putin: I don’t think that his desire to make America first is a paradox. I want Russia to be first, and that is not perceived as a paradox; there is nothing unusual there. As for the fact that he is attacking some manifestations of globalisation, I made that point earlier. He seems to believe that the results of globalisation could have been much better for the United States than they are. These globalisation results are not producing the desired effect for the United States, and he is beginning this campaign against certain elements of globalisation. This concerns everyone, primarily major participants in the system of international economic collaboration, including allies.

Lionel Barber: Mr President, you have had many meetings with President Xi, and Russia and China have definitely come closer. Are you putting too many eggs in the China basket? Because Russian foreign policy, including under your leadership, has always made a virtue of talking to everybody.

Vladimir Putin: First of all, we have enough eggs, but there are not that many baskets where these eggs can be placed. This is the first point.

Secondly, we always assess risks.

Thirdly, our relations with China are not motivated by timeserving political any other considerations. Let me point out that the Friendship Treaty with China was signed in 2001, if memory serves, long before the current situation and long before the current economic disagreements, to put it mildly, between the United States and China.

We do not have to join anything, and we do not have to direct our policy against anyone. In fact, Russia and China are not directing their policy against anyone. We are just consistently implementing our plans for expanding cooperation. We have been doing this since 2001, and we are just consistently implementing these plans.

Take a look at what is written there. We have not done anything that transcends the framework of these accords. So there is nothing unusual here, and you should not search for any implications of the Chinese-Russian rapprochement. Of course, we assess the current global developments; our positions coincide on a number of matters on the current global agenda, including our attitude towards compliance with generally accepted rules in trade, the international financial system, payments and settlements.

The G20 has played a very tangible role. Since its inception in 2008, when the financial crisis flared up, the G20 has accomplished many useful things for stabilising the global financial system, for developing global trade and ensuring its stabilisation. I am talking about the tax aspect of the global agenda, the fight against corruption, and so on. Both China and Russia adhere to this concept.

The G20 has accomplished a lot by advocating quota changes at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Both Russia and China share this approach. Considering the major increase in the global economic share of emerging markets, this is fair and right, and we have been voicing this position from the very beginning. And we are glad that this continues to develop and to proceed in line with changes in global trade.

Over the past 25 years or so (25, I believe), the share of G7 countries in the global GDP has declined from 58 percent to 40 percent. This should also be reflected in international institutions in some way. That is the common position of Russia and China. This is fair, and there is nothing special about this.

Yes, Russia and China have many coinciding interests, this is true. This is what motivates our frequent contacts with President Xi Jinping. Of course, we have also established very warm personal relations, and this is natural.

Therefore, we are moving in line with our mainstream bilateral agenda that was formulated as far back as 2001, but we quickly respond to global developments. We never direct our bilateral relations against anyone. We are not against anyone, we are for ourselves.

Lionel Barber: I am relieved that this egg supply is strong. But the serious point, Mr President, is, you are familiar with Graham Allison‘s book, The Thucydides’s Trap. The danger of tensions or a military conflict risk between a dominant power and a rising power, America and China. Do you think that there is a risk of a military conflict in your time between you, America and China?

Vladimir Putin: You know, the entire history of mankind has always been full of military conflicts, but since the appearance of nuclear weapons the risk of global conflicts has decreased due to the potential global tragic consequences for the entire population of the planet in case such a conflict happens between two nuclear states. I hope it will not come to this.

However, of course, we have to admit that it is not only about China’s industrial subsidies on the one hand or the tariff policy of the United States on the other. First of all, we are talking about different development platforms, so to speak, in China and in the United States. They are different and you, being a historian, probably will agree with me. They have different philosophies in both foreign and domestic policies, probably.

But I would like to share some personal observations with you. They are not about allied relations with one country or a confrontation with the other; I am just observing what is going on at the moment. China is showing loyalty and flexibility to both its partners and opponents. Maybe this is related to the historical features of Chinese philosophy, their approach to building relations.

Therefore I do not think that there would be some such threats from China. I cannot imagine that, really. But it is hard to say whether the United States would have enough patience not to make any rash decisions, but to respect its partners even if there are disagreements. But I hope, I would like to repeat this again, I hope that there would not be any military confrontation.

Lionel Barber: Arms control. We know that the INF agreement is in grave jeopardy. Is there any place, from Russia’s point of view, for future arms control agreements or are we in a new phase when we are likely to see a new nuclear arms race?

Vladimir Putin: I believe there is such a risk.

As I said already, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty, and has recently quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as well. But this time, it did not just quit but found a reason to quit, and this reason was Russia. I do not think Russia means anything to them in this case, because this war theatre, the war theatre in Europe is unlikely to be interesting to the US, despite the expansion of NATO and NATO’s contingent near our borders. The fact remains, the US has withdrawn from the treaty. Now the agenda is focused on theStrategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). I hope that I will be able to talk about it with Donald if we happen to meet in Osaka.

We said that we are ready to hold talks and to extend this treaty between the United States and Russia, but we have not seen any relevant initiative from our American partners. They keep silent, while the treaty expires in 2021. If we do not begin talks now, it would be over because there would be no time even for formalities.

Our previous conversation with Donald showed that the Americans seem to be interested in this, but still they are not making any practical steps. So if this treaty ceases to exist, then there would be no instrument in the world to curtail the arms race. And this is bad.

Lionel Barber: Exactly, the gloves are off. Is there any chance of a triangular agreement between China, Russia and America on intermediate nuclear forces or is that a dream, pie in the sky? Would you support such an end?

Vladimir Putin: As I said at the very beginning, we will support any agreement that can advance our cause, that is, help us contain the arms race.

It should be said that so far, the level and the development scale of China’s nuclear forces are much lower than in the United States and Russia. China is a huge power that has the capability to build up its nuclear potential. This will likely happen in the future, but so far our capabilities are hardly comparable. Russia and the United States are the leading nuclear powers, which is why the agreement was signed between them. As for whether China will join these efforts, you can ask our Chinese friends.

Lionel Barber: Russia is a Pacific power as well as a European and Asian power. It is a Pacific power. You have seen what the Chinese are doing in terms of their buildup of their Navy and their maritime strength. How do you deal with those potential security problems, territorial disputes in the Pacific? Does Russia have a role to play in a new security arrangement?

Vladimir Putin: You mentioned the build-up of naval forces in China. China’s total defence spending is $117 billion, if memory serves. The US defence spending is over $700 billion. And you are trying to scare the world with the build-up of China’s military might? It does not work with this scale of military spending. No, it does not.

As for Russia, we will continue to develop our Pacific Fleet as planned. Of course, we also respond to global developments and to what happens in relations between other countries. We can see all of this, but it does not affect our defence development plans, including those in the Russian Far East.

We are self-sufficient, and we are confident. Russia is the largest continental power. But we have a nuclear submarine base in the Far East, where we are developing our defence potential in accordance with our plans, including so that we can ensure safety on the Northern Sea Route, which we are planning to develop.

We intend to attract many partners to this effort, including our Chinese partners. We may even reach an agreement with American shippers and with India, which has also indicated its interest in the Northern Sea Route.

I would say that we are also primed for cooperation in the Asia Pacific region, and I have grounds to believe that Russia can make a considerable, tangible and positive contribution to stabilising the situation.

Lionel Barber: Can we just turn to North Korea? How do you assess the current situation and do you believe that in the end, any deal or agreement will have to accept the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons and that total dismantling is just not possible? If I could just add, Mr President, I ask you this because Russia has a fairly small but still a land border with North Korea.

Vladimir Putin: You know, whether we recognise North Korea as a nuclear power or not, the number of nuclear charges it has will not decrease. We must proceed from modern realities, which are that nuclear weapons pose a threat to international peace and security.

Another pertinent question is where this problem stems from. The tragedies of Libya and Iraq have inspired many countries to ensure their security at all costs.

What we should be talking about is not how to make North Korea disarm, but how to ensure the unconditional security of North Korea and how to make any country, including North Korea feel safe and protected by international law that is strictly honoured by all members of the international community. This is what we should be thinking about.

We should think about guarantees, which we should use as the basis for talks with North Korea. We must be patient, respect it and, at the same time, take into account the dangers arising from this, the dangers of the nuclear status and the presence of nuclear weapons.

Of course, the current situation is fraught with unpredictable scenarios, which we must avoid.

Lionel Barber: You have obviously thought of this as an experienced foreign policy and security analyst and a strategist. How do you see the North Asia security situation over the next five to ten years, given you have Russia, you have China, you have Korea and Japan?

Vladimir Putin: You have said correctly that we have a common border, even if a short one, with North Korea, therefore, this problem has a direct bearing on us. The United States is located across the ocean, and the UK is located far away, while we are right here, in this region, and the North Korean nuclear range is not far away from our border. This why this concerns us directly, and we never stop thinking about it.

I would like to return to my answer to your previous question. We must respect North Korea’s legitimate security concerns. We must show it respect, and we must find a way of ensuring its security that will satisfy North Korea. If we do this, the situation may take a turn nobody can imagine today.

Do you remember what turn the situation took after the Soviet Union adopted the policy of détente? Do I need to say anything else?

Lionel Barber: Mr President, you have been in power or very close to power. I think in Davos I said to you when we met – you were not in power but still calling all the shots. After 20 years at the top or near the top, has your appetite for risk increased?

Vladimir Putin: It did not increase or decrease.Risk must always be well-justified. But this is not the case when one can use the popular Russian phrase: “He who doesn’t take risks, never drinks champagne.” This is not the case. Quite possibly, risks are inevitable when one has to make certain decisions. Depending on the scale of any decision, risks can be small or serious.

Any decision-making process is accompanied by risk. Before taking one’s chances, one has to meticulously assess everything. Therefore, risk based on an assessment of the situation and the possible consequences of the decisions is possible and even inevitable. Foolish risks overlooking the real situation and failing to clearly comprehend the consequences are unacceptable because they can jeopardise the interests of a great number of people.

Lionel Barber: How big was this Syria risk in terms of your decision to intervene?

Vladimir Putin: It was sufficiently high. However, of course, I thought carefully about this well in advance, and I considered all the circumstances and all the pros and cons. I considered how the situation around Russia would develop and the possible consequences. I discussed this matter with my aides and ministers, including those in charge of law enforcement agencies and other senior officials. In the long run, I decided that the positive effect from our active involvement in Syrian affairs for Russia and the interests of the Russian Federation would far outweigh non-interference and passive observation of how an international terrorist organisation grows ever stronger near our borders.

Lionel Barber: What has the return been like on the risk taken in Syria?

Vladimir Putin: I believe that it has been a good and positive return. We have accomplished even more than I had expected. First of all, many militants planning to return to Russia were eliminated. This implies several thousand people. They were planning to return to Russia or neighbouring countries with which we do not maintain any visa regime. Both aspects are equally dangerous for us. This is the first thing.

Secondly, we have managed to stabilise the situation in a nearby region, one way or another. This is also highly important. Therefore, we have directly strengthened Russia’s domestic security. This is the third thing.

Fourthly, we have established sufficiently good business-like relations with all regional countries, and our positions in the Middle East region have become more stable. Indeed, we have established very good, business-like, partner-like and largely allied relations with many regional countries, including Iran, Turkey and other countries.

Primarily, this concerns Syria, we have managed to preserve Syrian statehood, no matter what, and we have prevented Libya-style chaos there. And a worst-case scenario would spell out negative consequences for Russia.

Besides, I would like to openly speak of the mobilisation of the Russian Armed Forces. Our Armed Forces have received such practical experience that they could not have obtained during any peace-time exercises.

Lionel Barber: Are you committed to Mr al-Assad remaining in power or can we see, at some point, the transition in Syria that Russia would support, which would not be Libya?

Vladimir Putin: I believe that the Syrian people should be free to choose their own future. At the same time, I would like the actions of external players to be substantiated and, just as in the case of the risks you have mentioned, predictable and understandable, so that we can consider at least our next moves.

When we discussed this matter only recently with the previous US administration, we said, suppose Assad steps down today, what will happen tomorrow?

Your colleague did well to laugh, because the answer we got was very amusing. You cannot even imagine how funny it was. They said, “We don’t know.” But when you do not know what happens tomorrow, why shoot from the hip today? This may sound primitive, but this is how it is.

Therefore, we prefer to look at problems thoroughly from all possible angles and not to be in any hurry. Of course, we are perfectly aware of what is happening in Syria. There are internal reasons for the conflict, and they should be dealt with. But both sides should do their bit. I am referring to the conflicting parties.

Lionel Barber: Mr President, does that same argument apply to Venezuela? In other words, you are not prepared to see a transition in Venezuela and you are absolutely committed to President Maduro.

Vladimir Putin: Oh, and it seemed we had started so well. Please do not take offence to what I am going to say next. You won’t, will you? We were off to such a terrific start, talking seriously, and now you have moved back to the stereotype views on Russia.

We have no nothing to do with what is happening in Venezuela, if you know what I mean.

Lionel Barber: What are those advisors doing then in Caracas?

Vladimir Putin: I will say this now, if you just let me finish. There is no problem with that.

Back under [President] Chavez we sold weapons to Venezuela, without any limits and problems. We did this absolutely legally just as it is done all around the world and as every country does, including the United States, the UK, China and France. We did this too – we sold weapons to Venezuela.

We signed contracts, which say what we have to do when it comes to servicing this military equipment, that we must train local specialists, ensure that this equipment is maintained in combat readiness, and so on. We provide maintenance services for this equipment. I have already said this many times, including to our American partners: there are no Russian troops there. Do you understand? Yes, there are Russian specialists and instructors there. Yes, they are working there. Only recently, I believe it was a week ago, a group of our advisers and specialists left the country. But they can return.

We have an agreement that our aircraft fly there from time to time to take part in exercises. And this is it. Are we regulating the rebels’ actions as some of our partners are doing, or the actions of President Maduro? He is the president, why should we control his actions? He is in control. Whether he is doing well or not, this is another matter altogether. We do not make any judgments.

I believe that many things could have been done differently there when it comes to the economy. But we do not meddle in things; it is none of our business. We have invested billions of dollars there, mostly in the oil sector. So what? Other countries are doing the same as well.

It looks like everything is preserved only by Russian weapons. This is not true. It has nothing in common with reality. Where are the self-proclaimed presidents and opposition leaders? Some of them have taken refuge in foreign embassies and others are in hiding. What do we have to do with this? This problem should be sorted out by the Venezuelan people themselves. This is all.

Lionel Barber: I was just applying your theory and your experience of seeing what happened in Libya and Iraq to Venezuela. And therefore, logically, you would say, “We are committed to Mr Maduro because we do not want to see regime change from outside.” Is that the Russian position? Or might you be willing to say, “We will support Guaido because we have important oil interests in Venezuela”?

Vladimir Putin: We are prepared for any developments in any country, including Venezuela, if they are taking place in accordance with internal rules and the country’s legislation, its Constitution, and in line with the people’s will.

I do not think that Libyan or Iraqi statehood would have been wrecked if there had been no intervention there. It would not have happened in Libya, the situation was absolutely different there. Indeed, Gaddafi wrote his books there, set forth his theories, and so on, which did not meet specific standards, and his practical work did not meet European or American perceptions of democracy.

Incidentally, the President of France said recently that the American democratic model differs greatly from the European model. So there are no common democratic standards. And do you, well, not you, but our Western partners want a region such as Libya to have the same democratic standards as Europe and the United States? The region has only monarchies or countries with a system similar to the one that existed in Libya.

But I am sure that, as a historian, you will agree with me at heart. I do not know whether you will publicly agree with this or not, but it is impossible to impose current and viable French or Swiss democratic standards on North African residents who have never lived in conditions of French or Swiss democratic institutions. Impossible, isn’t it? And they tried to impose something like that on them. Or they tried to impose something that they had never known or even heard of. All this led to conflict and inter-tribal discord. In fact, a war continues in Libya.

So why should we do the same in Venezuela? Do we want to revert to gunboat diplomacy? What do we need it for? Is it necessary to humiliate Latin American nations so much in the modern world and impose forms of government or leaders from the outside?

By the way, we worked with President Chavez because he was president. We did not work with President Chavez as an individual, but we worked with Venezuela. That is why we channelled investments in the oil sector.

And where did we plan to deliver Venezuelan oil while investing in the oil sector? As you know, Venezuela has unique oil that is mostly delivered to US refineries. What is so bad about that? We wanted the Venezuelan oil and gas sector to operate steadily, predictably and confidently and to make deliveries to those US refineries. I do not understand what is so wrong with this.

First, they faced economic problems, followed by domestic political problems. Let them sort things out by themselves, and these leaders will come to power by democratic means. But when a person enters a square, raises his eyes to the sky and proclaims himself president? Let us do the same in Japan, the United States or Germany. What will happen? Do you understand that this will cause chaos all over the world? It is impossible to disagree with this. There will be pure chaos. How could they act like this? But no, they started supporting that person from the very outset.

He may be a very good person. He may be just wonderful, and his plans are good. But is it enough that he entered a square and proclaimed himself president? Is the entire world supposed to support him as president? We should tell him to take part in elections and win them, and then we would work with him as the state leader.

Lionel Barber: Let us talk about another democracy in Europe, my own country. You are going to have a meeting with Mrs May, which is going to be one of her last meetings before she steps down as Prime Minister. Do you think that there is a possibility of some improvement in Anglo-Russian relations and that we can move on from some of these issues that are obviously of great sensitivity, like the Skripal affair? Or do you think that we are going to stay in a deep freeze for the next three or five years?

Vladimir Putin: Listen,all this fuss about spies and counter-spies, it is not worth serious interstate relations. This spy story, as we say, it is not worth five kopecks. Or even five pounds, for that matter. And the issues concerning interstate relations, they are measured in billions and the fate of millions of people. How can we compare one with the other?

The list of accusations and allegations against one another could go on and on. They say, “You poisoned the Skripals.” Firstly, this must be proved.

Secondly, the average person listens and says, “Who are these Skripals?” And it turns out that Skripal was engaged in espionage against us [Russia]. So this person asks the next question, “Why did you spy on us using Skripal? Maybe you should not have done that?” You know, these questions are infinite. We need to just leave it alone and let security agencies deal with it.

But we know that businesses in the United Kingdom (by the way, I had a meeting with our British colleagues in this same room), they want to work with us, they are working with us and intend to continue doing so. And we support this intent.

I think that Mrs May, despite her resignation, could not help but be concerned that these spy scandals made our relations reach a deadlock so we could not develop our ties normally and support business people, who are doing what? They do not only earn money, this is what is on the outside. They create jobs and added value, plus they provide revenue at all levels of the tax system of their countries. This is a serious and multifaceted job, with the same risks you mentioned, including risks related to business operations. And if we add an unpredictable political situation, they will not be able to work at all.

I think that both Russia and the United Kingdom are interested in fully restoring our relations. At least I hope that a few preliminary steps will be made. I think it would be easier for Mrs May, maybe, because she is leaving and is free to do what she thinks is right, important and necessary and not to bother about some domestic political consequences.

Lionel Barber: Some people might say that a human life is worth more than five pennies. But do you believe, Mr President that whatever happened…

Vladimir Putin: Did anybody die?

Lionel Barber: Oh yes. The gentleman who had a drug problem and he died after touching the Novichok in the car park. I mean somebody did that because of the perfume. It was more than one person that died, not the Skripals. I am just…

Vladimir Putin: And you think this is absolutely Russia’s fault?

Lionel Barber: I did not say that. I said somebody died.

Vladimir Putin: You did not say that, but if it has nothing to do with Russia… Yes, a man died, and that is a tragedy, I agree. But what do we have to do with it?

Lionel Barber: Let me just ask this and I really want to talk about the Russian economy. Do you believe that what happened in Salisbury sent an unambiguous message to anyone who is thinking of betraying the Russian state that it is fair game?

Vladimir Putin: As a matter of fact, treason is the gravest crime possible and traitors must be punished. I am not saying that the Salisbury incident is the way to do it. Not at all. But traitors must be punished.

This gentleman, Skripal, had already been punished. He was arrested, sentenced and then served time in prison. He received his punishment. For that matter, he was off the radar. Why would anybody be interested in him? He got punished. He was detained, arrested, sentenced and then spent five years in prison. Then he was released and that was it.

As concerns treason, of course, it must be punishable. It is the most despicable crime that one can imagine.

Lionel Barber: The Russian economy. You spoke the other day about decline in the real wages in the Russian workforce and Russian growth has been less than expected. But at the same time, Mr President, you have been accumulating foreign exchange reserves and international reserves at some 460 billion. What are you saving for? What is the purpose? Can’t you use some of this money to ease up on the fiscal side?

Vladimir Putin: Let me correct a few very small details. Real wages are not in decline in Russia. On the contrary, they are starting to pick up. It is the real household disposable income that is falling.

Wages and income are two slightly different things. Income is determined by many parameters, including loan servicing costs. People in Russia take out a lot of consumer loans and interest payments are counted towards expenses, which drags down real income indicators. Also, the shadow economy is undergoing legalisation. A substantial part of self-employed people – I believe, 100,000 or 200,000, have already legalised their business. This, too, affects real incomes of the population, disposable incomes.

This tendency has persisted for the past four years. Last year we recorded a small increase of 0.1 percent. It is not enough. It is still within the margin of error. But it is one of the serious problems that we need to deal with and we are dealing with it.

Real wages started to grow recently. Last year there was an 8.5-percent increase. This year, the growth rate of real wages has significantly decreased due to a whole range of circumstances. I mean that last year we saw a recovery growth and there are some other factors involved. However, it continues. And we really expect that it will have an effect on real household disposable incomes.

Even more so because lately we have adopted a number of measures to speed up the growth of retirement pensions. Last year the inflation rate was 4.3 percent and, based on these results, in the beginning of this year pensions were adjusted for inflation by 7.05 percent. And we set ourselves a goal, a task – which, I am certain, will be achieved – to adjust pensions by a percentage that is above the inflation rate.

Now, real incomes were also affected because we had to increase VAT from 18 to 20 percent, which affected people’s purchasing power because the inflation rate exceeded 5 percent.

In other words, we expected that the negative impact of the VAT increase would be short-term, which is exactly what happened. Fortunately, it worked out and our calculations proved right. Now the inflation rate is going down, the macroeconomic situation is improving; investment is rising slightly. We can see that the economy has overcome those difficulties that were caused by internal and external shocks. The external shocks were related to restrictions and slumping prices on our traditional export products. The economy has stabilised.

The macroeconomic situation in the country is stable. It is not accidental and all rating agencies registered it. The three major agencies raised our investment rating. Economic growth last year was 2.3 percent. We do not think it was enough but we will, of course, work on speeding up the pace. The growth rate in industrial production was 2.9 percent and even higher, up to 13 percent in some industries (light industry, processing and garment industries and several others). Therefore, overall, our economy is stable.

But the most important task we need to achieve is to change the structure of the economy and secure a substantial growth of labour productivity through modern technologies, Artificial Intelligence, robotics and so on. This is exactly why we increased VAT, to raise budget funds for performing a certain part of this job that is the state’s responsibility, in order to create conditions for private investment. Let us take transport and other infrastructure development. Hardly anybody besides the state is involved in it. There are other factors related to education and healthcare. A person who has health problems or has no training cannot be efficient in the modern economy. The list goes on.

We really hope that by starting this work on key development areas, we will be able to increase labour productivity and use this basis for ensuring an increase in the incomes and prosperity of our people.

As concerns the reserves, you are not exactly correct here, either. We have over 500 billion in gold and foreign currency reserves, rather than 460 billion. But the understanding is that we need to create a safety net that would let us feel confident and use the interest on our existing resources. If we have 7 percent more, we can spend those 7 percent.

This is what we plan for the next year and there is a high probability that we will succeed. Do not think that this money is just sitting on the shelf. No, it creates certain guarantees for Russia’s economic stability in the midterm.

Lionel Barber: The Central Bank has done a very good job in helping to secure macroeconomic stability even if some of the oligarchs complain about banks being closed.

Vladimir Putin: You know, first of all, we do not have oligarchs anymore. Oligarchs are those who use their proximity to the authorities to receive super profits. We have large companies, private ones, or with government participation. But I do not know of any large companies that get preferential treatment from being close to the authorities, these are practically non-existent.

As for the Central Bank, yes, it is engaged in a gradual improvement of our financial system: inefficient and small-capacity companies, as well as semi-criminal financial organisations are leaving the market, and this is large-scale and complicated work.

It is not about oligarchs or large companies; the thing is that it affects, unfortunately, the interests of the depositor, the average person. We have relevant regulatory acts that minimise people’s financial losses and create a certain safety net for them. But each case should be considered individually, of course.

In general, the work of the Central Bank, in my opinion, deserves support. It is related to both the improvement of the financial system and the calibrated policy regarding the key interest rate.

Lionel Barber: Mr President, I would like to go back to President Xi and China. As you know, he has pursued a rigorous anticorruption campaign in order to clean up the party, maintain the legitimacy and strengthen the party. He has also read the history of the Soviet Union, where Mr Gorbachev essentially abandoned the party and helped to destroy the country – the Soviet Union. Do you think that Mr Xi is right in his approach that the party is absolutely crucial? And what lessons do you draw for Russia? If I can just add, you said something interesting a few years ago about the breakup of the Soviet Union being the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.

Vladimir Putin: These two issues are not connected. As for the tragedy related to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this is something obvious. I meant, first of all, the humanitarian aspect of it. It appears that 25 million ethnic Russians were living abroad when they learned from the television and radio that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. Nobody asked their opinion. The decision was simply made.

You know, these are issues of democracy. Was there an opinion poll, a referendum? Most (over 70 percent) of the citizens of the USSR spoke in favour of retaining it. Then the decision was made to dissolve the USSR, but nobody asked the people, and 25 million ethnic Russians found themselves living outside the Russian Federation. Listen, is this not a tragedy? A huge one! And family relations? Jobs? Travel? It was nothing but a disaster.

I was surprised to see the later comments on what I said, in particular, in the Western media. They should try to live through seeing their father, brother or any other close relative finding themselves living in a different country, where a whole new life has started. I assure you.

As for the party and the party state building in China, this is for the Chinese people to decide; we do not interfere. Today’s Russia has its own principles and rules of life, and China with its 1.35 billion people has its own. You try to rule a country with such a population. This is not Luxembourg, with all due respect to this wonderful country. Therefore, it is necessary to give the Chinese people the opportunity to decide how to organise their lives.

Lionel Barber: Again a big picture question. I talked at the beginning of our conversation about fragmentation. Another phenomenon today is that there is a popular backlash against elites and against the establishment and you have seen that – Brexit in Britain. Perhaps you were speaking about Trump’s America. You have seen it with the AFD in Germany; you have seen it in Turkey; and you have seen it in the Arab world. How long do you think that Russia can remain immune to this global movement of backlash against the establishment?

Vladimir Putin: You should look at the realities in each particular case. Of course, there are some trends, but they are only general. In each particular case, when looking at the situation and how it unfolds, you should take into account the history of the given country, its traditions and realities.

How long will Russia remain a stable country? The longer the better. Because very many other things and its position in the world depend on stability, on internal political stability. Ultimately, the wellbeing of the people depends, possibly primarily, on stability.

One of the reasons, the internal reason for the Soviet Union’s collapse was that life was difficult for the people, whose take-home wages were very small. The shops were empty, and the people lost the intrinsic desire to preserve the state.

They thought that it could not get worse no matter what happened. It turned out that life became worse for very many people, especially at the beginning of the 1990s when the social protection and healthcare systems collapsed and industry was crumbling. It could be ineffective, but at least people had jobs. After the collapse, they lost them. Therefore, you should look at each particular case separately.

What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said, in the United States? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the elites and the overwhelming majority of the people.

Of course, we must always bear this in mind. One of the things we must do in Russia is never to forget that the purpose of the operation and existence of any government is to create a stable, normal, safe and predictable life for the people and to work towards a better future.

There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.

When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that the interests of the core population should be considered. Although those who have run into difficulties because of political problems in their home countries need our assistance as well. That is great, but what about the interests of their own population when the number of migrants heading to Western Europe is not just a handful of people but thousands or hundreds of thousands?

Lionel Barber: Did Angela Merkel make a mistake?

Vladimir Putin: Cardinal mistake. One can criticise Trump for his intention to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. It could be going too far. Yes, maybe so. I am not arguing about this point. But he had to do something about the huge inflow of migrants and narcotics.

Nobody is doing anything. They say this is bad and that is bad as well. Tell me, what is good then? What should be done? Nobody has proposed anything. I do not mean that a wall must be built or tariffs raised by 5 percent annually in the economic relations with Mexico. This is not what I am saying, yet something must be done. He is at least looking for a solution.

What am I driving at? Those who are concerned about this, ordinary Americans, they look at this and say, Good for him, at least he is doing something, suggesting ideas and looking for a solution.

As for the liberal idea, its proponents are not doing anything. They say that all is well, that everything is as it should be. But is it? They are sitting in their cosy offices, while those who are facing the problem every day in Texas or Florida are not happy, they will soon have problems of their own. Does anyone think about them?

The same is happening in Europe. I discussed this with many of my colleagues, but nobody has the answer. The say they cannot pursue a hard-line policy for various reasons. Why exactly? Just because. We have the law, they say. Well, then change the law!

We have quite a few problems of our own in this sphere as well. We have open borders with the former Soviet republics, but their people at least speak Russian. Do you see what I mean? And besides, we in Russia have taken steps to streamline the situation in this sphere. We are now working in the countries from which the migrants come, teaching Russian at their schools, and we are also working with them here. We have toughened the legislation to show that migrants must respect the laws, customs and culture of the country.

In other words, the situation is not simple in Russia either, but we have started working to improve it. Whereas the liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. The migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants must be protected. What rights are these? Every crime must have its punishment.

So, the liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do appear excessive to us.

They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles. I cannot even say exactly what genders these are, I have no notion. Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.

Lionel Barber: Does that include – this is very important, like you say – the end of this liberal idea, because – what else did you say – uncontrolled immigration, open borders, definitely, as you say, diversity as an organizing principle in society? What else do you think is just finished over in terms of the liberal idea? And would you say – if I could just add – that religion therefore must play an important role in terms of national culture and cohesiveness?

Vladimir Putin: It should play its current role.It [religion] cannot be pushed out of this cultural space. We should not abuse anything.

Russia is an Orthodox Christian nation, and there have always been problems between Orthodox Christianity and the Catholic world. This is exactly why I will now say a few words about Catholics. Are there any problems there? Yes, there are, but they cannot be over-exaggerated and used for destroying the Roman Catholic Church itself. This is what cannot be done.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that these liberal circles are beginning to use certain elements and problems of the Catholic Church as a tool for destroying the Church itself. This is what I consider to be incorrect and dangerous.

All right, have we forgotten that all of us live in a world based on Biblical values? Even atheists and everyone else live in this world. We do not have to think about this every day, attend church and pray, thereby showing that we are devout Christians or Muslims or Jews. However, deep inside, there must be some fundamental human rules and moral values. In this sense, traditional values are more stable and more important for millions of people than this liberal idea, which, in my opinion, is really ceasing to exist.

Lionel Barber: So religion, religion is not the opium of the masses?

Vladimir Putin: No, it is not. But I get the impression that you are detached from religion because it is already 12.45 am Moscow Time, and you continue to torture me. As we say here, there is no fear of God in you, is there? (Laughter)

Lionel Barber: This is history. I have waited a long time for this. I have got one last question. And thank you for your – go on please.

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead.

Henry Foy: Mr President, would you say – I was reflecting on what you just said: some of the themes you were referring to would echo in people such as Steve Bannon, and Mr Trump himself, and the groups in Europe who have come to power. Do you think if the end of the liberal idea is over, is now the time of the ‘illiberals’? And do you see more and more allies growing around the world to your way of seeing the human existence at the moment?

Vladimir Putin: You know, it seems to me that purely liberal or purely traditional ideas have never existed. Probably, they did once exist in the history of humankind, but everything very quickly ends in a deadlock if there is no diversity. Everything starts to become extreme one way or another.

Various ideas and various opinions should have a chance to exist and manifest themselves, but at the same time interests of the general public, those millions of people and their lives, should never be forgotten. This is something that should not be overlooked.

Then, it seems to me, we would be able to avoid major political upheavals and troubles. This applies to the liberal idea as well. It does not mean (I think, this is ceasing to be a dominating factor) that it must be immediately destroyed. This point of view, this position should also be treated with respect.

They cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they have been attempting to do over the recent decades. Diktat can be seen everywhere: both in the media and in real life. It is deemed unbecoming even to mention some topics. But why?

For this reason, I am not a fan of quickly shutting, tying, closing, disbanding everything, arresting everybody or dispersing everybody. Of course, not. The liberal idea cannot be destroyed either; it has the right to exist and it should even be supported in some things. But you should not think that it has the right to be the absolute dominating factor. That is the point.

Please.

Lionel Barber: You really are on the same page as Donald Trump. Mr President, you have been in power for almost 20 years.

Vladimir Putin: For eighteen years.

Lionel Barber: You have seen many world leaders. Who do you most admire?

Vladimir Putin: Peter the Great.

Lionel Barber: But he is dead.

Vladimir Putin: He will live as long as his cause is alive just as the cause of each of us. (Laughter). We will live until our cause is alive.

If you mean any present-day leaders from different countries and states, of the persons that I could communicate with, I was most seriously impressed by former President of France Mr Chirac. He is a true intellectual, a real professor, a very level-headed man as well as very interesting. When he was President, he had his own opinion on every issue, he knew how to defend it and he always respected his partners’ opinions.

In modern-day history, taking a broader view, there are many good and very interesting people.

Lionel Barber: Peter the Great, the creator of the Greater Russia. Need I say any more? My last question, Mr President. Great leaders always prepare succession. Lee Kuan Yew prepared succession. So please share with us what would the process be by which your successor will be chosen.

Vladimir Putin: I can tell you without exaggeration that I have always been thinking about this, since 2000. The situation changes and certain demands on people change, too. In the end, and I will say this without theatrics or exaggeration, in the end the decision must be made by the people of Russia. No matter what and how the current leader does, no matter who or how he represents, it is the voter that has the final word, the citizen of the Russian Federation.

Lionel Barber: So the choice will be approved by the Russian people in a vote? Or through the Duma?

Vladimir Putin: Why through the Duma? By means of direct secret ballot, universal direct secret ballot. Of course, it is different from what you have in Great Britain. We are a democratic country. (Laughter)

In your country, one leader has left, and the second leader, who is for all intents and purposes the top figure in the state, is not elected by a direct vote of the people, but by the ruling party.

It is different in Russia, as we are a democratic country. If our top officials leave for some reason, because they want to retire from politics like Boris Yeltsin, or because their term ends, we hold an election through universal direct secret ballot.

The same will happen in this case. Of course, the current leader always supports someone, and this support can be substantive if the person supported has the respect and trust of the people, but in the end, the choice is always made by the Russian people.

Lionel Barber: I cannot resist pointing out that you did take over as president before the election.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is true. So what? I was acting president, and in order to be elected and become the head of state, I had to take part in an election, which I did.

I am grateful to the Russian people for their trust back then, and after that, in the following elections. It is a great honour to be the leader of Russia.

Lionel Barber: Mr President, thank you for spending time with the Financial Times in Moscow, in the Kremlin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you for your interest in the events in Russia and your interest in what Russia thinks about the current international affairs. And thank you for our interesting conversation today. I believe it was really interesting.

Thank you very much.

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Lavrov’s interview for Zvezda network

April 22, 2019

Lavrov’s interview for Zvezda network

 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview for Glavnoye with Olga Belova programme on Zvezda network, Moscow, April 21, 2019

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Olga Belova: Mr Lavrov, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview today. Thank you for your time. We are recording this interview on the eve of the second round of Ukraine’s presidential election, so if you would allow me, we will begin with this subject, since it is currently making headlines. Against this backdrop we cannot fail but to recall the events that took place five years ago during the 2014 election in Ukraine. Since then the question of whether Russia had to recognise the outcome of the 2014 election resurfaces from time to time in the public space. What will happen this time around? Does recognising this election make any sense? We understand all too well that Russia has many formal and moral reasons to break up all contacts with the Ukrainian authorities.

Sergey Lavrov: Five years ago when the presidential election was called in Ukraine, it happened in the aftermath of an armed and anti-constitutional government coup that, for some reason, was carried out within a day after the signing of an agreement between the opposition and President Viktor Yanukovich. Moreover, foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France assumed the role of guarantors under this agreement that was also proactively backed by the US. But the next morning the opposition announced on Maidan Square that they had seized power and had formed a government of victors. This is when they began splitting their people apart. This agreement was signed on February 21, 2014, and if we recall its text, the first paragraph sets forth the need to form a “national unity government.” Instead, they established a government of victors, and started treating everyone else like losers. They put forward multiple requirements that ran counter to the interests of a significant part of people in Ukraine, including minorities such as Russians and Russian speakers. All this brought about serious problems and triggered a referendum in Crimea as a response to the threats made by nationalists to expel Russians from the peninsula and attempts to take over the Supreme Council building by force.

Let me mention one more event. In mid-April, that is before the election was called, but after the referendum in Crimea, Geneva hosted a meeting attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, yours truly, EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, and then acting Foreign Minister of Ukraine Andrey Deshitsa. At this meeting we agreed on a one-page declaration, and its key provision consisted of supporting the intention of the Ukrainian authorities to implement federalisation, that is to decentralise the country with the involvement of all regions. A representative of the new Ukrainian government that came to power in Kiev following a coup signed this document, guaranteeing federalisation with the involvement of all regions of the country.

But this commitment was instantly forgotten. Against this backdrop, when people started to state their intention to run for president, President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko was saying on every street corner that he was a “president of peace” and would settle the conflict in a matter of two or three weeks. It is for this reason that Western capitals, Paris and Berlin, urged Russia to refrain from making a statement rejecting the election outcome. We did refrain in order to give them a chance.

In early June 2014, President-elect Petr Poroshenko met with President of France Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of Russia Vladimir Putin, when they all attended celebrations of the allied Normandy landings. The very fact that Vladimir Putin took part in this meeting, proposed by France and Germany, attested to Russia’s commitment to peace in Donbass and protecting the rights of those who were firm in their refusal to accept an armed coup. We proceeded from the premise that Petro Poroshenko was primarily elected for this promise to resolve the problem peacefully. With this in mind, I would refrain from stirring up the past on this particular matter.

By the way, during the Normandy format meetings that followed, Petr Poroshenko proved that he was not a “president of the peace,” and was forced by the developments on the ground to sign the Minsk Agreements. Russia also believed that it was unacceptable for him to consistently fool his people, while also lying to his curators abroad, since they were irritated by Poroshenko “getting out of hand.” I am talking about the Europeans represented within the Normandy Format, namely France and Germany. When the Minsk Agreements were signed everyone let out a sigh of relief, considering that this created a clear path to peace, especially since the UN Security Council approved the Minsk Agreements, thus implementing them into international law. However, in this sphere as well Petr Poroshenko proved to be very apt in dodging responsibility, turning for protection to the US administration which does not encourage Ukraine to abide by the Minsk Agreements. The Europeans found themselves in an awkward situation.

This was a look at the past, but coming back to your question, we have seen electoral programmes released by Petr Poroshenko and Vladimir Zelensky. We see how they approached the run-off. I have the impression that what matters the most for them at this point is to attract voters by some kind of a constructive agenda in order to secure victory. This is what their efforts are all about. I would rather not draw any final conclusions on what Vladimir Zelensky’s policy will look like if he is elected president, which is a done deal as far as observers are concerned. I would refrain from paying too much attention to declarations coming from his campaign. We have to wait for the second round results when they will have to deal with real things instead of campaign slogans and propaganda. Only then will we understand what this person as president thinks about the millions of his compatriots who speak Russian, love the Russian language and culture and want to live according to their values and the values of the winners in the Great Patriotic War, instead of being guided by values that extoll Roman Shukhevich, Stepan Bandera and other Petlyuras.

Olga Belova: You said we need to wait for the president-elect to take actual steps. Everyone realises that it is imperative to sit down and talk no matter what happens. What should Kiev’s first actions, statements and steps be so that, to use your words, Moscow “gives them another chance” to a peaceful resolution of the situation?

Sergey Lavrov: Most importantly, the new or old government should be able to talk and reach agreements and to respect international law and Ukraine’s international obligations. Such obligations include an international legal instrument which is the UN Security Council resolution, which approved the Minsk Agreements. A direct dialogue between Kiev, on the one hand, and Donetsk and Lugansk, on the other hand, lies at the core of these agreements. This will be the key to success. To reiterate, we heard about the plans to continue the settlement in the election statements, in particular, on the part of Mr Zelensky and his staff, but this time with the involvement of the United States and Great Britain and without direct dialogue with the proclaimed republics − DPR and LPR.

When contenders for a post make such statements, they will then be somehow tied in with such a position in the future. I hope that life will make them realise that there’s no alternative to implementing the Minsk Agreements and, in any case, that there’s no alternative to direct dialogue with the people who represent an enormous part of your nation, if you still consider them to be such, of course.

Olga Belova: We see that so far no one has been talking to them, and there’s no direct dialogue with the republics. Recently, the DPR published the foreign policy concept which shows a certain dualism: on the one hand, there’s a commitment to the Minsk Agreements and, on the other hand, the Republic of Donbass recognises itself as an independent state. What does Moscow think about the dualism of this document? What is your vision of the future of that region following the elections?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t see anything unusual here, because these republics proclaimed sovereignty five years ago, in May 2014, responding to what we just talked about, namely, radical nationalists who came out with strong anti-Russian statements and launched an attack on the language, cultural and religious rights of ethnic minorities. It started a long time ago. These republics responded by declaring independence. Let’s remind our Western colleagues, if they ever take any interest in these unpleasant facts from recent history, that these republics did not attack the rest of Ukraine. The rest of Ukraine declared them terrorists. This, of course, is a stunning phenomenon in modern diplomacy and politics.

The rest of Ukraine was represented by the putschists who seized power in Kiev and launched an attack on millions of their fellow citizens demanding that they submit to illegal authorities. So, as I understand it, independence was simply reaffirmed in these doctrinal documents adopted in Donbass. But after this independence was declared five years ago in May − returning to what we think about the then elections and the election of Poroshenko solely because he proclaimed that his goal was immediate peace and an immediate agreement on resolving the Donbass problem by way of talks, Russia talked these republics into agreeing to a political process.

Political and diplomatic efforts were interrupted by the military actions of Kiev, which did not respect the truce and ceasefire agreement. There was the August offensive which ended badly for the Ukrainian armed forces and, most importantly, claimed a huge number of human lives, followed by the January offensive in Debaltsevo. Only after receiving a rebuff, did Petr Poroshenko sit down at the negotiating table. That’s how the Minsk Agreements were signed.

I was in Minsk and saw how the leaders of the four countries spent 17 hours at the negotiating table taking short breaks, mostly talking between themselves, and sometimes inviting us as experts to clarify certain fine points. It took considerable effort to convince the leaders of the DPR and LPR who were present in Minsk to give the go-ahead to the Minsk Agreements. We did it. We convinced them to once again demonstrate their willingness, even determination, if you will, to achieve peace with the rest of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the way the current Ukrainian authorities see our efforts is disappointing. Despite provocations, we will push for these agreements to be implemented. We are a country that is capable of reaching agreements.

Olga Belova: That is, if I understood you correctly, Moscow is still capable and willing to continue to influence the leadership of these republics? Are we going to push them to sit down and talk as best we can, or not? I’m asking this because the leaders of the republics have made it clear that they have parted ways with Kiev.

Sergey Lavrov: You said there was a dual decision to reaffirm independence and commitment to the Minsk Agreements. To a certain extent (I will not frame it in terms of a percentage), this is the result of our influence on them and our call for them not to follow the example of the Ukrainian authorities which break down and trample upon their own promises. We will continue to exert this influence. We have long been calling, above all, the Germans and the French, to realise their responsibility for Kiev’s behaviour, because the Minsk Agreements involve, above all, proactive steps on the part of the Ukrainian authorities. The Contact Group is the only format where Donetsk, Lugansk and Kiev sit down at one table with the representatives of the OSCE and Russia. It took an inordinate amount of effort to create it, primarily because Mr Poroshenko began to back pedal shortly after the Minsk Agreements had been signed, and refused to maintain direct dialogue with the republics. But we forced our Ukrainian colleagues do that. Although in practical work − the Contact Group meets every month −  and even more often than that the Ukrainian government outwardly sabotages everything that was agreed upon, be it security, separating forces and means, the political process, coordinating the formula for conducting elections or providing this region with a special status in accordance with the Minsk Agreements. There is an open and blatant sabotage. We need to understand how the election results will affect the Ukrainian delegation’s activities in the Contact Group, and what kind of people will be delegated there.

Olga Belova: Indeed, now everything depends on how the presidential election will end, including the situation in the Kerch Strait, which was endlessly brought up in the first part of the campaign, before the first round. How harshly are we ready to respond if another provocation is made, especially considering that NATO has declared its readiness to support Ukrainian warships if they undertake another breakthrough?

Sergey Lavrov: Morally and politically – maybe they will support it. But I do not see a situation where NATO ships will join these adventurers for a military provocation. I do not foresee such a situation, and, considering the information that we have, I have reason to believe that this has already been decided at NATO.

Olga Belova: So all the support they will be getting is just words?

Sergey Lavrov: Probably, as it was the last time, a condemnation, and once again they will come up with some new sanctions. As we have said many times, we have no problem with Ukrainian warships passing from the Black Sea to their ports in the Sea of ​​Azov. The only condition is to comply with the safety requirement for navigation along the Kerch Strait. It is a complex stretch of water, which is quite shallow and doesn’t go in a straight line and requires compulsory pilotage as well as coordination when it comes to the weather conditions. All ships — and there are thousands of them — stop at the entrance to the Kerch Strait, report to the channel operators, pilotage, recommendations, and, depending on the weather forecast, move on to the Sea of ​​Azov, as was done before Ukraine’s warships last November. They passed smoothly without any incidents.

In November 2018, Petr Poroshenko, obviously during the election heat, tried to create a scandal to have reason to appeal to the West again, complaining of Russia harassing him, and insisting on more sanctions. He is better at it than many others. So the warships tried to secretly pass through the Kerch Strait, trespassing into our territorial waters – the part that was Russia’s territorial waters even before the referendum in Crimea. What they did actually boiled down to probing the limits of those who ensure the security of the Kerch Strait and the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

I must note that among the numerous arguments our opponents seem to forget is the fact that the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea actually implies a so-called unimpeded passage through the territorial waters of a foreign state, including military vessels, subject to several conditions. One of them is the mandatory fulfillment of security requirements, which in this case was grossly violated. The second is that a coastal state cannot allow military ships to maneuver through its territorial waters. That is, you either pass complying with the rules or you violate the Convention. What they did was military maneuvers, trying to hide from our border guards. This much is clear to all without exception. I have no doubt about it.

That we have nothing to hide can be confirmed by a very simple fact.

In mid-December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to allow German specialists to observe the process to better understand what the hitch was and to study the conditions for passing through the Kerch Strait. Vladimir Putin immediately agreed. We reaffirmed the agreement and asked for their names and dates that would suit them. They made a pause, and then suddenly my colleague, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, said at a meeting in January when I reminded him of this that they wanted to bring French experts along.

I said that was new, but I was confident that our President would also agree to French specialists being on this study tour. But after some time, the Germans sent us the concept of their visit, which was not a single visit at all but involved establishing a kind of permanent observation mission, which would be associated with the OSCE mission in Donbass, and would also include Ukrainians. All of them would be staying in our territory doing I do not know what.

Olga Belova: You mean they actually wanted to come and stay there?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, they certainly wanted to stay. The Germans are usually very punctual and precise people. When Angela Merkel asked Vladimir Putin whether their experts could come and see, he said yes… Apparently, after that, they consulted with their big brothers.

Olga Belova: So they just thought it would be a good reason to enter and station their ships there?

Sergey Lavrov: Of course, but this is an absolutely hopeless story. At the same time, I can assure with all responsibility that if the Germans and the French still have an interest in visiting and seeing it firsthand, so as not to rely on the gossip that the Ukrainian side spreads, they are very welcome.

Olga Belova: You believe that Russia will not directly clash with NATO ships in the Kerch Strait because NATO will not have the courage to sail there.

But there is another place where Russian interests clash with those of its Western partners, which is Venezuela. Will Washington decide to stage a military intervention there? What do you think of this? If yes, how far is Russia ready to go in this region? Are we prepared for a direct and tough stand-off in the region that would culminate in a peace enforcement operation against those who don’t want this, provided that all legal formalities are complied with?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t want to bring up this scenario. I am convinced that Washington does not yet completely understand that its line regarding Venezuela has become deadlocked. They believed that the people of Venezuela would rebel against the incumbent government from the very outset, that they would be disappointed with the government’s inability to ensure the normal operation of the socioeconomic sector. Our Western colleagues took care of this: The United States froze the Venezuelan oil company’s accounts, and the United Kingdom impounded the country’s gold reserves. They hoped to stifle Venezuela using economic methods. When the crisis was in its early stage, they also organised humanitarian relief aid deliveries and tried to cross the Venezuelan border. Obviously, that was a very cheap show. Yes, they said all the options were on the table, but they obviously expected a blitzkrieg. However, they admit that no blitzkrieg took place. Indeed, the country faces a very complicated economic situation which was complicated and continued to deteriorate even before all this began. We repeatedly advised the government of Venezuela, at its request, how to launch economic reforms. Quite possibly, someone did not like this, and they also decided to halt this process, so as to prevent the situation from working in favour of the Maduro government. They decided to further stifle Venezuela by economic and financial methods. When the blitzkrieg petered out, when it became clear that the people of Venezuela had their own pride and a feeling of national dignity, when they became obviously insulted by a situation when, speaking from abroad, US Vice President Mike Pence noted that he was appointing Juan Guaido as Acting President, one should be very far from historical experience while hoping that the people of Venezuela would “swallow” this.

Today, when the Americans continue to say that all options are on the table, I don’t doubt the fact that they are assessing the consequences of an audacious military undertaking. It is highly unlikely that anyone in Latin America will support them. To the best of my knowledge, they are counting on one or two countries. I have no doubts, and I know that the Latin Americans have a great feeling of personal dignity. This would pose a challenge to all of them, all the more so as a righteous rejection of such a dictate has been accumulating for several months already, especially when the Americans de-mothballed the Monroe Doctrine and said it was quite appropriate to use this doctrine in the current situation.

On April 17, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said the United States was bringing its own version of freedom to the region. And what version of freedom does the region prefer? Would you like to ask them how they perceive their own freedom?

I hope very much that a line which stipulates talks and which is conducted by Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay and the Caribbean Community will prevail. President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro is ready for such talks, and he has repeatedly confirmed this in public. Juan Guaido emphatically and ostentatiously refuses, comprehending Washington’s support and counting on this support alone. It appears that he has copied the bad example of President of Ukraine Petr Poroshenko who also behaved in the same way with regard to the need for conducting a national dialogue that would involve all political forces, and he hoped that Washington would shield him whatever the situation.

Olga Belova: Washington says it is bringing freedom to the region. But what is it that we are bringing to the region?

Sergey Lavrov: We want international law to be respected in the region as well as in the world at large. This means that states build their relations via dialogue and a balance of interests takes shape. This also means that we listen to each other and want to negotiate mutually beneficial security, economic and humanitarian projects as well as projects in any other spheres, where countries and peoples operate. Our relations with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) rest precisely on this basis. We are finalising talks with the South American Common Market (MERCOSUR). There is an agreement with the Central American Integration System (CAIS) and a number of other sub-regional organisations.

We have even-handed and good relations with practically all the Latin American countries. We don’t force anyone to do things we would like to get as unilateral advantages. The entire US policy towards Russia comes down to the US ambassador in any country visiting, with envious regularity, government agencies and demanding that they don’t receive Russian delegations, nor send delegations to Russia, nor trade with Russia, nor buy anything from Russia, particularly military products, and the like.

You can’t conceal information in today’s world. We learn this the moment these “visits” occur, the more so that the Americans are not particularly hiding the fact. They publicly say: Don’t communicate with Russia. It is Russia along with Iran and Cuba that are to blame for what is going on in Venezuela. They demand that not a single Russian soldier be found in Venezuela because the US wants it this way: no one located outside of the Western Hemisphere has the right to be there at all. Our explanation that the Russian military are performing contractual obligations servicing military equipment that was supplied on fully legitimate terms way back in the 2000s are simply disregarded. The fact that the US military and other NATO personnel – Britons and Canadians – have filled Ukraine is not mentioned. It looks like they proceed from logic suggested by the saying “What is allowed to Jupiter, is not allowed to the bull.” This is rotten logic, very much so, and it will not help our US colleagues. I am quite hopeful that they will come to understand this. Yes, within some historically very brief period preceding the next electoral cycles in the US, they are likely to reap certain benefits because they are brazenly putting pressure on countries that are unable to resist them. But in the long term, increasingly more countries will proceed from the assumption that America is just an unreliable and impolite partner that is abusing its influence in the world. The UN Charter insists on sovereign equality of states. We build our relations precisely in this way.

I cannot refrain from mentioning the fact that the United States has recently added a frontal attack on Orthodox Christianity to the arsenal of its policy towards Russia. Given that the Russian Orthodox Church was a world Orthodoxy leader, the crazy gamble involving the conferral of autocephality on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, known today as the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a gamble undertaken by the Istanbul Patriarch Bartholomew, has been – we have enough facts to claim this – inspired and supported by Washington. Today Washington is engaged in tough diplomatic action as it works with other Orthodox Churches that have refused to support the Istanbul Patriarch’s self-willed decision. Its aim is to somehow make them recognise what has happened. This unceremonious and gross interference in church affairs is at odds with all diplomatic norms and international law in general. And this is deplorable.

We would like the United States to be a decent member of the world community. We are open to dialogue but their approach to relations is highly utilitarian and selfish.

They suggest that we and the Chinese cooperate with them when it comes to Afghanistan and North Korea because they are unable to operate successfully on their own there. And we accept this because a settlement in Afghanistan, on the Korean Peninsula and in Syria, on which we can communicate usefully, is also in our interests. We don’t dig in our heels and say that we will not negotiate on these issues if they don’t want to discuss other ones. Our position is more pragmatic. Russia is ready to work with all influential parties who see eye to eye with us and can help to achieve a settlement.

But generally their policy towards Russia is based solely on the wish to make us accept their unilateral domination and renounce international law. This is deplorable and cannot last ad infinitum. The Americans will be unable to sustain this course for long. They are antagonising a huge number of countries. So, it is in their best interests to come back to square one and start talking to all countries respectfully. Currently, they are doing this arrogantly, something that cannot help their interests.    

Olga Belova: We do need to talk, but so far talking to these Western partners of ours has been quite challenging. There is a saying: Those who do not want to talk with Sergey Lavrov will have to deal with Sergey Shoigu. This echoes what you have been saying. In your opinion, who is the main guardian of peace now, the military or the diplomats? What enables Russia to maintain parity: state-of-the-art armaments or the power of words? Who has priority at present?

Sergey Lavrov: When the Soviet Union was being dissolved, pro-democracy forces both here in Russia and in the West were ecstatic. There was a theory whereby the factor of strength in international relations was no longer relevant now that the bipolar world order was no more, the Cold War became a thing of the past, ideological differences faded away and we all came together on a strong democratic footing. This euphoric state persisted for several years. The situation was far from rosy of course, but as you may remember, in the 1990s Russia was young and proactive in its commitment to working with the US and NATO, all but deciding to join the alliance. However, disillusionment came very quickly. It dawned on everyone that behind the veil of these beautiful words the West meant only one thing: Russia was to give up on using the factor of strength in its policy, while the West would continue relying on it. Why was NATO still around after the Warsaw Pact was dissolved? How come we did not come together within the OSCE to transform it into a pan-European, Euro-Atlantic organisation without any western or eastern variants in order to address all questions without exception based on consensus? It did not happen. Of course, the plan they nurtured was to use Russia’s weakness in the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in order to achieve an overwhelming military and strategic advantage.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin has talked about this on numerous occasions. It became clear to us that our positive attitude towards the West was not reciprocal. The West continued to push NATO further east in violation of all possible promises, moving its military infrastructure to our borders, and there was no end in sight, especially when the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty. At this point, everything was clear. Decisions were taken, paving the way to the development of the weapons the President presented during his address last year to the Federal Assembly. Of course, it is highly regrettable that in today’s world no one will talk to you, unless you have a strong army and cutting-edge weapons.

Olga Belova: Has it become easier to talk?

Sergey Lavrov: When I was appointed to this post, the situation was already beginning to change. However, I would not say that talking was a challenge before, and that now things are easier. Unfortunately, the US, as our main partner, labelled Russia its “high-priority adversary,” as you have said. Later the US backtracked, and propelled China to this position. Later Russia was again on the list, and after that we were accompanied by China and Iran. They want to set their policy straight. They want to be in total control, but have yet to understand how this can be done. Sanctions work in some cases, but definitely not with Russia. They will not work with other countries that respect their history and identity.

We have no problems talking with the Europeans when it comes to relations with each specific country. There are challenges in our dialogue with NATO, since the US decided to convene meetings of the Russia-NATO Council with the sole purpose of lecturing us on Ukraine and other matters or criticising us for allegedly violating and dismantling the Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. We do not intend to attend any meetings of this kind in the future. If they want to have a serious conversation, they have to convene a Russia-NATO Council meeting at the military level. The outgoing Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, General Curtis Scaparrotti, recently voiced regret over the lack of military-to-military interaction with Russia that existed even during the Cold War. Better late than never. Let us hope that his successor in this position is receptive to this advice. This is what we hope for.

We have a very good dialogue with each country of the European Union. Yes, we sometimes happen to disagree. We have problems with the Baltic countries, with Poland, but we are ready to talk about them. Especially because the Baltic states are our neighbours, and we have good trade and investment cooperation in business. There are also security issues, because NATO is pushing its units into Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It is too close to our borders. At the same time, NATO is moving away from implementing the understandings we reached following the initiative of President of Finland Sauli Niinisto concerning flight safety over the Baltic. We responded to it; our military proposed ideas that would help allay concerns. It is possible to talk with everyone. On a bilateral basis, even the Baltic countries show interest: President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid has visited Moscow. We are talking in a neighbourly way about what we can do so that people can live comfortably and there would be no security concerns. But the collective platforms – NATO and the EU – are dominated by mutual responsibility: the Russophobic minority in the EU imposed sanctions on Russia, punishing us for supporting the will of the people of Crimea. This position of the European Union is now extended every six months, and no one can do anything, although individually, they assure us that the majority already understands that this is a dead end and something needs to be done. We are patient people, but as long as the EU as an organisation is not ready to restore all the mechanisms of our strategic partnership – we used to have summits twice a year, a ministerial council that oversaw more than 20 sectoral dialogues, four common spaces … All that was frozen because someone decided to try to “punish” us. Funny, honestly.

We are always open to honest, equal and respectful dialogue both through the military and through diplomatic channels. We have a very good tradition with a number of countries, in particular, with Italy and Japan, the 2 + 2 format, when Sergey Shoigu and I meet with our colleagues, the four of us. This is a very interesting format. It enables us to consider security issues through the prism of diplomacy and vice versa – purely military issues in foreign policy. We had such formats with the Americans and the British – but they froze them on their own initiative. But with the Italians and the Japanese, we continue these processes.

Olga Belova: I seem to understand why they froze them. Because when you two come to the negotiations, it’s simply impossible to resist you in such a duo.

Sergey Lavrov: Oh, don’t say that. We are modest people. Modest and polite.

Olga Belova: You’re modest and polite – but are you ready to give everyone a second chance, as with Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: Some do not need to be given a chance – they already rely on their national interests, not on what some foreign brother tells them. But if someone digs in their heels and expects an apology from us – well, we have nothing to apologise for. Our actions are guided by international law, and the UN Charter. We respect the right of any nation to determine its own future. This also applies to the rights of national minorities, in Crimea or anywhere else. We are always ready for dialogue.

The Ukies come to Paris to meet with their bosses

The Ukies come to Paris to meet with their bosses

April 13, 2019

by Le Saker Francophone for the Saker blog

Macron, the French president, always eager to take the center stage to show his dynamism, has received the two outsiders of the presidential election of Ukraine, Zelenski and Poroshenko, on the same day with 3 hours interval. On april 12th Zelinski is convened at L’Elysée at 3 pm then Poroshenko at 6 pm.

Le Monde, one of the few French newspaper to speak about that visit says: “It is Zelenski team who took the initiative for the meeting. For the young candidate, who see himself as an ‘Ukrainian Macron’ the interest is clear : to show its closeness with a president that is appreciated by the people of Ukraine, to show its international stature, and after being described as a puppet manipulated by the Russian, to show that his loyalty goes for the West… Mr Poroshenko has requested too an invitation and l’Elysée accepted it not to look as favoring one upon the other”.

The other media speaking about that visit is Sputnik France.

The French presidency said that the talks will be about bilateral relations and the cooperation in the frame of the Normandy agreement. No more details has been added. This vague declaration may hide some kind of “talks” that could be not politically correct enough to be publicly announced. One could think that the anglosionist system, whose Macron is a slavish representative, wants to “suggest” its instructions and conditions to the future Ukrainian president, especially Zelinski who got 30% of the votes for the first round while Poroshenko got only 16%.

Zelenski did not say anything about that planned meeting. Porochenko said that «the fate of the State, of security in Ukraine and in Europe too, in the whole continent, are at stake…and it is necessary to consider for some more sanctions against Russia”. Before coming to France, Poroshenko paid a visit to Merkel. But the spoke person of the German chancelier took the precaution to precise that it should not be seen as a support for the Ukrainian candidate.

The Western backers of Poroshenko looked puzzled by the high score of Zelenski, a guy they did not choose.

Johann Wadephul, vice president of the main party at the German parliament said “Ukraine cannot afford to bend on an unexperienced government, especially because of its conflict with Russia and difficult economic and social situation”.

After first saying that the USA will not interfere in Ukrainian election, Kurt Volker, the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, said “today the people of Ukraine has to choose. Do they want somebody who just oppose the system and promise huge reforms or somebody who may have disappoint them but who has done more reforms for Ukraine than anybody else since 20 years, and is able to face Poutine”.

Even with this backing, the chance for Poroshenko to win look weak and “the West could insist for the two contender to get an agreement. If Poroshenko falsify the results, Zelenski will have to stay quiet. It is one of the option. But if they consider that Zelenski could make a suitable president for Ukraine they could try to convince him to give a good political position to Poroshenko” thinks Rostislav Ichtchenko, president of a Russian think tank.

“Macron want to evaluate Zelenski and the potential consequences if he becomes president. Especially for his relation with Russia. Poroshenkko has been invited only to be polite with him as the European Union has been backing him those last years”, says Bogdan Bezpalko another Russian expert.

After the meeting, Zelenski declared to the Ukrainian media «What pleased me with Macron, what characterize him on the contrary of many politicians is that he has an excellent sense of humor. Then I am now not the only one”. And that they talked about “the most important problems in Ukraine, especially how to stop the war with Donbass”.

Of course The Kremlin reacted with irony to that convocation. Dmitri Peskov is curious to know how Arsen Avakov will denounce that French interference in an Ukrainian election with the same virulence as he denounces Russian interference. On her side, Maria Zakharova reminded that French and Western interference are not new in Ukraine, and that “…foreign ministers, including the French one, personally gave support to the Maidan demonstrators, in the very centre of Kiev». Then, to tease Macron she added “For some months we observe the Yellow Vets movement. Did you see Foreign ministers of other countries – europeans, arabs or americans – coming in the middle of the crowds to push them to take over the Elysée palace or to ask for the destitution of the government?”

Coincidentally, Hubert Fayard, the Donbass representative in France, has been arrested and put in custody for “procurement”. The story is unclear as “an Ukrainian woman he just met proposed to lend him some money”. The day after police searched his house and arrested him for procurement.

Gone with the Wind: The Disastrous Passion of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron

Gone with the Wind: The Disastrous Passion of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron

MARTIN SIEFF | 06.03.2019 | WORLD / EUROPE

Gone with the Wind: The Disastrous Passion of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron of France have run their once great nations into the ground as rage, frustration, poverty and fear erupt across the streets of Western Europe. But Merkel and Macron are not concerned: They have eyes only for each other. Their mutual regard and unlimited support for each other’s catastrophic policies continue unabated.

Merkel has been in power for more than 13 years and is old enough to be Macron’s mother. Macron is a neophyte of less than two years in power, though with an inflated sense of self-regard as ridiculous as the comic character of Mr. Toad in the British children’s book, “The Wind in the Willows.”

Merkel and Macron share the same assumptions, were raised up by the same forces and are endless feted and fraudulently praised by the same worthless pundits.

Both are arrogant elitist intellectuals. Both believe in stripping and shrinking the social functions and responsibilities of the state towards the weak and the poor. Both agree that the state should help and protect large national corporations and that ordinarily people rate a poor second to this: In fact they do not rate at all.

Both believe that they and their regimes represent the absolute perfections of human achievement and therefore must be replicated around the world, instantly if possible. Merkel looks to advance regime change to the east, across all of Eurasia. Macron in his faux-Mussolini style dreams of being the neo-Napoleonic wise leader of the Mediterranean, orchestrating the remaking of the Maghreb across North Africa and of the Arab Middle East.

Both leaders see themselves selfless, visionary internationalists and regard Presidents Donald Trump in the United States and Vladimir Putin in Russia with fastidious distaste because they presume to put the interests of their own peoples first.

Both Merkel and Macron have condescending contempt for their own peoples and believe the native populations of their countries need injections of millions of immigrants from around the world as quickly as possible. Neither of them cares a fig for the values of the Christian civilizations that built and embodied their nations for more than a millennium. Instead, they openly despise those who take their national heritage seriously.

Yet there is also a strange, even creepy mutual attraction between the aging German chancellor and the (supposedly) young and dynamic French president.

Neither of them ever had any children. Merkel likes to play the wise and experienced stateswoman to younger, callow world leaders who share her superficial fashionable assumptions. Barack Obama of the United States filled that role for her and Obama, whose ignorance of affairs outside the borders of the US was proverbial, eagerly appreciated her condescension.

As Obama left office, he memorably praised Merkel as his closest friend among world leaders. This comment, farcically, stunned British Prime Minister David Cameron whose spin machine had for six years pumped out the reassuring fairy tale that Cameron was the closest confidant to Obama and his trusted sidekick on the world scene.

Macron has always gravitated to older women. His wife is 24 years older than he is and they met when she was his teacher in high school.

In the United States and Britain, this kind of misalliance would have been fodder for the tabloid newspapers. The National Enquirer and the Daily Mail could have run with prurient speculations on the nature of their relationship for years. In France, where no human proclivity surprises people they take this kind of thing in their stride.

Still, for Macron the progression from his wife to Merkel is as consistent as Merkel replacing Obama with Macron as her admiring young disciple and/or favorite nephew.

However, the most enduring image that the strange Merkel-Macron pairing conjures up is an older one. Before World War II, the most enduring popular romantic movie of all time was made in Hollywood – “Gone with The Wind,” a tear-jerking melodrama of passionate love between privileged white racists in the Antebellum South before the US Civil War.

It is not at all too much of a stretch of the imagination to see Macron farcically replacing the chiseled features of Clark Gable as unscrupulous, rather fraudulent but always dashing gambler Rhett Butler and the imperious Kaiserin (Lady Empress) Merkel instead of British fiery, imperious beauty Vivien Leigh as the movie’s riveting pain-in-the-neck heroine Scarlett O’Hara. Like Kaiserin Angela, Scarlett, always, always had to have her own way.

In “Gone with the Wind” the tempestuous, virtually insane passion between Rhett and Scarlett survives as the entire society of the racist Southern Confederate Slave State crashes to ruins around them. In the end, the city of Atlanta burns, but the fiery passion of Rhett and Scarlett survives, even when they are apart.

The cities of France and Germany may well be burning soon as testament to the disastrous policies of “Rhett” Macron and “Scarlett” O’Merkel. But it is a safe bet that they will be even more oblivious to the consequences of their own actions. In the words of Rhett Butler that end the movie, neither Merkel nor Macron really gives a damn.

Photo: Flickr

Munich Conference Showed That America Is Losing Ground

Source

February 18, 2019

Munich Conference Showed That America Is Losing Ground

by Ruslan Ostashko

Translated by Scott and captioned by Leo.

The annual Security Conference, traditionally hosted by Germany in Munich, this time was not attended by neither the leader of Russia nor by the head of the United States. The latter was replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, who tried to convince the audience that America is strong. This came out not very convincing.

It has been 12 years since Vladimir Putin delivered his famous “Munich speech.” It was dubbed the starting point for a new “Cold War” between Russia and the West. A year and a half later an “Olympic war” commenced and ended with bringing Georgia to its senses despite it being pumped up by the “most advanced” American weapons. And going on further, everything following was deepening of the conflict.

Now, after 12 years, we can sum up some results. The first and the main result: a “unipolar world” has been destroyed. Flown in from Washington, the Vice President of the United States, of course, puffed up his cheeks. But his demands weren’t concerning Russia, but the European vassals of America, who reacted to Pence’s demands without usual enthusiasm. Here’s what was written on this by my friend and colleague Ivan Danilov.

“By and large, on the Munich stage, the world was shown a completely different America, its new image only seen so far by very few people: it’s an image of a Hegemon affronted by the entire world, which is experiencing mental suffering from the fact that its desires are no longer fulfilled like before. Pence presented Germany in particular and the European Union as a whole a fairly large list of grievances that cause irritation in Washington. Vice President of the US criticized the Nord Stream 2 and virtually accused Germany that support for this project, Berlin contributes to the increasing dependency of the EU on Russia.’We cannot protect the West if our allies depend on the East,’ he said. The European Union was required to immediately abandon attempts to circumvent American sanctions against Iran and possibly join them.”

The fact that Pence did not want to talk about cooperation, and demanded submission, has been noticed even by the American media. The New York Times wrote  that the Vice President of the United States “focused on the list of requirements for American allies.”

How exactly these same allies took Pence’s demands is clearly demonstrated in the title of the German magazine Spiegel: Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz Trumps Bauchrednerpuppe. l

“America is not the leader, it is losing ground,” the newspaper writes in response to Pence’s words that ‘the US has become the leader of the free world.’ If we translate from politically correct into Russian, the German journalists actually declared that the “king of democracy” is naked.

The Russian delegation, that had enough of the slogan “America is the strongest,” was adding fuel to the fire. This is what Deputy foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said:

“The West, with its self-conceit, self-aggrandizement, and its belief in the infallibility of its own approaches to civilization, world development, values, should stop and think for a moment: if you value your world order so much, can you increase the risks of your existence for the sake of the pursuit of ephemeral establishment of a universal, God forbid, New Order for the rest of the world?”

It sounds sarcastic and in its form and in its content. Actually, our delegation headed by Sergey Lavrov, focused on shaking the “Euro-Atlantic unity” in Munich. For example, the Russian Foreign Minister sarcastically pointed to the duality of the behavior of representatives of the EU. They were publicly stigmatizing Moscow, but in private whined about the fact that they needed the normalization of relations with Russia.

“Apparently, while this has not happened, they somehow have to be guided by their mutual responsibility and follow the course, which is fixed in the European Union under the pressure of an aggressive Russophobic minority. But we patiently explain our readiness to resume relations on an equal basis to the extent and with such speed in which it will be convenient to our partners.”

That is, the second result of the “Cold War 2.0” can be formulated as follows: “the US sustainable sovereignty over the EU is no more.” Sergey Lavrov used constructive terms to describe the situation:

“The common European house needs major repairs. The tasks are really large-scale. They can only be effectively addressed together, on a universal basis.”

The participants of the conference who listened to these words burst into thunderous applause. They only applauded more to Angela Merkel, while Mike Pence did not receive any applause at all.

*Clip plays*

I thank you for your attention, and I’m ready to answer your questions.

*Loud applause*

Finally, about the third result of the Cold War 2.0. It’s the fact that the plan to strangle Russia with the notorious “isolation” failed. Moreover, as admitted by the same Lavrov before leaving for Moscow, Russian diplomats would not mind a bit of “isolation.”

“We would even like to see some isolation, because the negotiations went back-to-back for more than two dozen meetings. Our entire delegation worked without a break.”

What is 12 years on the historical scale? Nothing. To destroy in such a short period of time all that the United States has built up over the decades since the creation of NATO and to the peak of its power at the beginning of the XXI century – is something remarkable. It will take another 12 years to compare the “overhaul” of the world order with the situation today. Do you have any predictions about what our country will achieve by February 2031?

«بلطجة» ترامب.. هل توقف التراجع الأميركي؟

يناير 25, 2019

د. وفيق إبراهيم

يوجِّه الرئيس الأميركي دونالد ترامب ضربات عسكرية واقتصادية وسياسية في كل الاتجاهات. فما أن يحل عليه الوهن في سورية حتى يظهر في اوروبا موجهاً لرؤسائها دروساً في الإخلاف وعلى طريقة الكاوبوي، مُحدثاً دوياً إعلامياً قليل الفاعلية على المستوى العملي..

لكنه لم ينسَ حديقته الخلفية أميركا الجنوبية مُستشعراً تحسناً في علاقات بعض دولها بروسيا والصين مسترجعاً صور التنافس التاريخي مع الاتحاد السوفياتي فينتابه اكتئاب مقرراً تعيين رئيس مجلسها النيابي صديق السياسة الأميركية، غوايدو رئيساً لفنزويلا وبديلاً عن رئيسها الحالي مادورو الذي يمارس سلطاته الرئاسية استناداً إلى انتخابات شعبية فاز بها مؤخراً. وهذا لم يعجب ترامب الذي يهدد بغزو عسكري لفنزويلا إذا لم يرحل طوعاً رئيسها الحالي، ويختفي إلى الأبد للإشارة فإن واشنطن تحاصر فنزويلا اقتصادياً وتمنع عنها كل أنواع المساعدات، فيما تحرض المخابرات الأميركية المعارضة الفنزويلية لإسقاط بادورو وتزوّدها بالسلاح والمال والمعلومات.

هذه عيّنة عشوائية من سياسات ترامب «العالمية» ويبدو أولها سببان: احساس الرجل أن إمبراطورية بلاده في حالة متفاقمة من التراجع في الدور السياسي وبالتالي الاقتصادي، أما السبب الثاني فرغبته في التحول قائداً تاريخياً ينقذ الامبراطورية فينتخبه الأميركيون لولاية ثانية. وقد يستطيع بهذه الطريقة أن يقود الحزب الجمهوري أو بعض الاتجاهات اليمنية المحافظة الجامعة بين مسيحية متطرفة وعبرية قديمة كما يردد في مجالسه الضيقة، وكذلك كقيادة تاريخية متواصلة.

للتذكير هذا، فترامب هو الرئيس الأميركي الوحيد الذي يتدخل في أكثر من ثلاثين دولة في أول سنتين من ولايته وبشكل صدامي مركزاً على بلدان الشرق الأوسط واوروبا والصين وروسيا وجنوب شرق آسيا واليابان، وكندا ومجمل أميركا الجنوبية، إلا أن استراليا بمفردها نجت حتى الآن من تحرشاته.

آخر إبداعات ترامب، قانون «قيصر» لمعاقبة سورية بشكل صارم بذريعة أن عسكرياً سورياً متمرداً نقل الآن الصور إلى المخابرات الأميركية التي تسجل تعذيب السجناء السوريين وقتلهم من قبل عسكريي النظام في سجونه.

للتنبيه فإن ترامب لم يفعل هذا الأمر حتى مع منظمة داعش التي أبادت علناً وبنقل مباشر من المحطات الأميركية والغربية عشرات آلاف الأسرى واغتصاب مئات آلاف الأسيرات.

لا بدّ أن ترامب نسي مدى تقدم التصوير التلفزيوني والسينمائي المفبرك في قطر وتركيا وبلاده، ومداها الأوروبي.. أما إعلانه تحويل العراق قاعدة لتحرك قواته في منطقة سورية وجزيرة العرب وحصار إيران، فبدا مدهشاً، ومثيراً لحيرة العراقيين أنفسهم الذين لم يخبرهم بهذا التطور، قبل مغادرته بلادهم خلسة، أي تماماً كما دخل إليها.

كما يحاول تحشيد الشرق الأوسط في قمة وارسو الشهل المقبل «لتدمير إيران» داعماً السيسي في مصر لتمرير صفقة القرن وإنهاء القضية الفلسطينية على أساس حلف عربي ـ إسرائيلي.

ولا يتأخر عن تزويد بعض القوى السياسية لضرب حزب الله والحشد الشعبي العراقي وأنصار الله اليمني فاتحاً مفاوضات مع طالبان في افغانستان وهي «ابنة القاعدة بيولوجياً»، وللتضييق على جارتها، روسيا. زارعاً أسلحة صاروخية وغير تقليدية في مجمل أوروبا الشرقية والبلقان باستثناء بلدين صديقين لروسيا هما أرمينيا وصربيا.

لكن هذه الاهتمامات لم تجعله ينسى منافسيه، روسيا التي يفرض عليها عقوبات والصين التي يعاقبها ويفاوضها. كذلك كوريا الشمالية التي يحاول إرضاء بكين بالتفاوض معها، بأسلوب عقد المهرجانات لا المباحثات اما عدوته إيران فلا يدخر وسعاً لإسقاط جمهوريتها بالحصار والتحشيد والتهديد بحرب، وتحريض الإيرانيين على إسقاط ما يسمّيه الغرب «جمهورية الملالي».

ولإظهار مشروعه بالسيطرة على الاقتصاد العالمي، رفع العصا بوجه ادواته في الخليج، منتزعاً آلاف مليارات الدولارات منها، وعارضاً عليها الاستيراد الحصري من بلاده، مع بعض الاستثناءات الاوروبية والتنسيق الإلزامي مع روسيا في أسواق الطاقة.

تركيا بدورها هي العضو في الحلف الأطلسي والأداة الاميركية منذ خمسينيات القرن الفائت يعاقبها اقتصادياً ويهددها سياسياً.

فهل نجا أحد من سياسات ترامب الضاربة في كل مكان؟

هناك دولة واحدة لم يقترب منها الرئيس الاميركي إلا من اتجاه تأكيد تميزها عن الآخرين وعمق صداقة الأميركيين لها وهي «إسرائيل».

والدليل أن ترامب هو الرئيس الأميركي الوحيد الذي نقل عاصمة بلاده الى القدس معترفاً بها عاصمة لـ»إسرائيل» لاغياً الاونروا واللاجئين الفلسطينيين في العالم ودافعاً باتجاه صفقة قرن لإنهاء قضية فلسطين والتأسيس لحلف عربي ـ اسرائيلي يستهدف إيران وروسيا والصين.

بالنتيجة أدت هذه السياسات الى استنفار اوروبي يحاول التميز عن الحلف الاطلسي بدليل ان المستشارة الألمانية ميركل نسفت كل مساعي ترامب لمنع تراجع امبراطورية بلاده، ودعت بعد اجتماعها بالرئيس الفرنسي ماكرون الى «عالم متعدّد القطب»، والحفاظ على مكتسبات التجارة المفتوحة وإصلاح المنظمات الدولية، وتأسيس جيش إوروبي مستقل.

هذا الكلام للمستشارة هو الاجابة الشافية لفشل دور ترامب العالمي، فاعترافها بالتعددية القطبية، إقرار بتراجع الإمبراطورية الاميركية، أما مبدأ التجارة المفتوحة أيضاً رفض لمفهوم الحمائية الذي يتبناه ترامب واعياً فيه الى إقفال الحدود الاقتصادية.

لجهة تأسيس جيش اوروبي فهو انقلاب كبير على الحلف الأطلسي الذي يشكل اداة الهيمنة الاميركية على العالم.

وبذلك تكون تصريحات ميركل هي الرد البليغ على استمرار تراجع الأحادية الاميركية مهما بالغ الرئيس الاميركي في الاعتداء على دول العالم. فالمسألة اقتصاد وسياسة وتحالفات ـصبحت تعبر عن نفسها بالصعود الصيني الاقتصادي والتقدم الروسي العسكري واتساع الدور الإقليمي لإيران الى جانب إصرار أوروبي على احتلال موقع في نظام تعددية القطب، أي تماماً كما قال وزير الخارجية الروسية لافروف منذ أعوام عدة عن نظام قوة عالمي يضم نظاماً رباعياً يجمع بين الولايات المتحدة وروسيا والصين وأوروبا.

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Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

FEDERICO PIERACCINI | 09.12.2018 |

Seven Days of Failures for the American Empire

On November 25, two artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, the Berdiansk and Nikopol, one tugboat, the Yany Kapu, as well as 24 crew members of the Ukrainian Navy, including two SBU counterintelligence officers, were detained by Russian border forces. In the incident, the Russian Federation employed Sobol-class patrol boats Izumrud and Don, as  well as two Ka-52, two Su-25 and one Su-30 aircraft.

Ukraine’s provocation follows the advice of several American think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, which have been calling for NATO involvement in the Sea of Azov for months. The area is strategically important for Moscow, which views its southern borders, above all the Sea of Azov, as a potential flash point for conflict due to the Kiev’s NATO-backed provocations.

To deter such adventurism, Moscow has deployed to the Kerch Strait and the surrounding coastal area S-400 batteries, modernized S-300s, anti-ship Bal missile systems, as well as numerous electronic-warfare systems, not to mention the Russian assets and personnel arrayed in the military districts abutting Ukraine. Such provocations, egged on by NATO and American policy makers, are meant to provide a pretext for further sanctions against Moscow and further sabotage Russia’s relations with European countries like Germany, France and Italy, as well as, quite naturally, to frustrate any personal interaction between Trump and Putin.

This last objective seems to have been achieved, with the planned meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 in Buenos Aires being cancelled. As to the the other objectives, they seem to have failed miserably, with Berlin, Paris and Rome showing no intention of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, recognizing the Ukrainian provocation fow what it is. The intention to further isolate Moscow by the neocons, neoliberals and most of the Anglo-Saxon establishment seems to have failed, demonstrated in Buenos Aires with the meeting between the BRICS countries on the sidelines and the bilateral meetings between Putin and Merkel.

On November 30, following almost two-and-a-half months of silence, the Israeli air force bombed Syria with three waves of cruise missiles. The first and second waves were repulsed over southern Syria, and the third, composed of surface-to-surface missiles, were also downed. At the same time, a loud explosion was heard in al-Kiswah, resulting in the blackout of Israeli positions in the area.

The Israeli attack was fully repulsed, with possibly two IDF drones being downed as well. This effectiveness of Syria’s air defenses corresponds with Russia’s integration of Syria’s air defenses with its own systems, manifestly improving the Syrians’ kill ratios even without employing the new S-300 systems delivered to Damascus, let alone Russia’s own S-400s. The Pantsirs and S-200s are enough for the moment, confirming my hypothesis more than two months ago that the modernized S-300 in the hands of the Syrian army is a potentially lethal weapon even for the F-35, forbidding the Israelis from employing their F-35s.

With the failed Israeli attack testifying to effectiveness of Russian air-defense measures recently deployed to the country, even the United States is finding it difficult to operate in the country. As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War confirms:

“Russia has finished an advanced anti-access/area denial (A2AD) network in Syria that combines its own air defense and electronic warfare systems with modernized equipment. Russia can use these capabilities to mount the long-term strategic challenge of the US and NATO in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, significantly widen the geographic reach of Russia’s air defense network. Russia stands to gain a long-term strategic advantage over NATO through its new capabilities in Syria. The US and NATO must now account for the risk of a dangerous escalation in the Middle East amidst any confrontation with Russia in Eastern Europe.”

The final blow in a decidedly negative week for Washington’s ambitions came in Buenos Aires during the G20, where Xi Jinping was clearly the most awaited guest, bringing in his wake investments and opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit, as opposed to Washington’s sanctions and tariffs for its own benefit to the detriment of others. The key event of the summit was the dinner between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump that signalled Washington’s defeat in the trade war with Beijing. Donald Trump fired the first shot of the economic war, only to succumb just 12 months later with GM closing five plants and leaving 14,000 unemployed at home as Trump tweeted about his economic achievements.

Trump was forced to suspend any new tariffs for a period of ninety days, with his Chinese counterpart intent on demonstrating how an economic war between the two greatest commercial powers had always been a pointless propagandistic exercise. Trump’s backtracking highlights Washington’s vulnerability to de-dollarization, the Achilles’ heel of US hegemony.

The American-led world system is experiencing setbacks at every turn. The struggle between the Western elites seems to be reaching a boil, with Frau Merkel ever more isolated and seeing her 14-year political dominance as chancellor petering out. Macron seems to be vying for the honor of being the most unpopular French leader in history, provoking violent protests that have lasted now for weeks, involving every sector of the population. Macron will probably be able to survive this political storm, but his political future looks dire.

The neocons/neoliberals have played one of the last cards available to them using the Ukrainian provocation, with Kiev only useful as the West’s cannon fodder against Russia. In Syria, with the conflict coming to a close and Turkey only able to look on even as it maintains a strong foothold in Idlib, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States are similarly unable to affect the course of the conflict. The latest Israeli aggression proved to be a humiliation for Tel Aviv and may have signalled a clear, possibly definitive warning from Moscow, Tehran and Damascus to all the forces in the region. The message seems to be that there is no longer any possibility of changing the course of the conflict in Syria, and every provocation from here on will be decisively slapped down. Idlib is going to be liberated and America’s illegal presence in the north of Syria will have to be dealt with at the right time.

Ukraine’s provocation has only strengthened Russia’s military footprint in Crimea and reinforced Russia’s sovereign control over the region. Israel’s recent failure in Syria only highlights how the various interventions of the US, the UK, France and Turkey over the years have only obliged the imposition of an almost unparalleled A2AD space that severely limits the range of options available to Damascus’s opponents.

The G20 also served to confirm Washington’s economic diminution commensurate with its military one in the face of an encroaching multipolar environment. The constant attempts to delegitimize the Trump administration by America’s elites, also declared an enemy by the European establishment, creates a picture of confusion in the West that benefits capitals like New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran who offer instead stability, cooperation and dialogue.

As stated in previous articles, the confusion reigning amongst the Western elites only accelerates the transition to a multipolar world, progressively eroding the military and economic power of the US.

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