Iran-Russia Relationship: Requisites for Transition from Meager Tactical Actualities to Actualization of Deep Strategic Potentials

March 06, 2021

Iran-Russia Relationship: Requisites for Transition from Meager Tactical Actualities to Actualization of Deep Strategic Potentials

by Mansoureh Tajik for the Saker Blog

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim, “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. On March 12, 2001, a near-comprehensive agreement was reached between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation in Moscow. The agreement was signed by Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president at the time, and Vladimir Putin as the Russian president.[1] It has been in place for 20 years and is about to expire in a few days and needs to be either extended or replaced with another much more comprehensive and strategically-oriented long-term agreement. An important written message from Ayatullah Khamenei to President Putin was delivered by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the head of the Iranian Parliament, on Monday, February 8, 2021. It appears the latter scenario (i.e. a comprehensive long-term agreement) is inevitably the case.

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media in the West and anti-Iran Persian language channels immediately focused on insignificant marginal issues about diplomatic and health protocol oddities that surrounded the method of message delivery and ignored entirely the strategic significance of the message and its timing. The timing itself had a message to the US and the European countries who are behaving as if it were high noon in the West while dusk has already settled in.

Image reads: “Those who are inclined to compromise must know that [US of] America is entering dusk.” – Sayyed Ali Khamenei. Extracted from available here.

The actual content of the letter has not been revealed either by Ayatullah Khamenei or by President Putin. However, Amir Abdullahian who is the head of international relations committee of Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) and a special advisor to Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, and who also accompanied the team to Moscow explained the overall goal of the message and parts of its content on national television during a program titled “Special File” on February 14th.[2] He said (I translate):

“The subject of the message relates to our long-term outlook toward a sustainable foreign policy and protection of security and interests of our nation. It pays particular attention to mutual interests of Iran and Russia, which could in turn affect our relationship with Russia. Of course, this trip and Leader’s message could affect the calculus of three Western players in Barjam (JCPOA) as well as the [US] Americans in their behavior towards Iran.”

Elsewhere in the interview, he also emphasized:

“The Leader’s message was strategically important and was delivered at a correct time. I will speak about the details of the message and the Russians’ response at a more appropriate time but it will suffice to say that the Russian counterparts promptly reviewed and regarded the message with serious attention and it was of particular importance to [President] Putin… In less than 24 hours, we received the first reactions and feedbacks to this message when we were meeting with the Supreme National Security Council of Russia and high-level officials.”

In an evaluation session regarding the trip and the Leader’s message to President Putin, Javad Niki Maliky, a geopolitical analyst with Mashriq News [East News] – the full title of this news outlet is “the Sun always Rises from Mashriq [the East]” – explains:

“Just as the current order of global balance is disintegrating, a new order is rapidly and relentlessly forming. Only nations that have the following four attributes will be among the victors in any future order: 1) those who deeply understand this strategic shift and could correctly identify macro currents, movements, and equations; 2) those who have the belief, the will, and the capacity to play significant roles and to have shares in shaping future global orders; 3) those who have increased the breadth and depth of their strategic assets and have meaningfully operationalized those assets; and 4) those who have, based on the maturing of their assets, increased and solidified their strategic relationships and partnerships. The overall theme of the Leader’s [Ayatullah Khamenei’s] speeches regarding the shift in global order during the past few years has revolved around the above 4 axes and his message to the president of Russia could be understood and explained within the framework of the 4th axis.”[3]

As such, Ayatullah Khamenei’s letter to President Putin aims to solidify the strategic relationship and partnership that has already been established between Russia and Iran in accordance to the maturing of each country’s respective assets. As soon as the Leader’s message was delivered to President Putin by his Special Representative, who is also the current chairman of State Duma, and while the Iranian delegation was still in Russia, Ayatullah Khamenei’s Tweeter account in Russian read: “The era of post [US] America has begun.”[4]

The upcoming long-term agreement (likely a 25-year agreement), would be similar in many ways but potentially and qualitatively different in nuanced ways with what was reached with China. There are some critically important social and historical factors that would affect the quality of the relationship between Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia in a very fundamental way regardless of current and future formal agreements. These factors, in my view, are the basic requisites for a transition from meager tactical actualities between Iran and Russia to an actualization of a deep strategic potentials. I would like to address, very briefly, three of those factors in this essay and they include: 1) A shift in the perspective of Iranians regarding Russia; 2) A shift in the perspective of Russians about Iran; and 3) A religious approximation between Shi’a Islam and Russian Orthodoxy.

1) A Shift in the Perspective of Iranians about Russia

First a quick note about perspectives. A nation’s perspectives could both regulate and be regulated by its overall perceptions. To be sure, national perceptions are like individual perceptions but at a more complex hierarchical level. They are not rigid and have a dynamic and ever-changing nature to them. Some socio-political environments have nurturing effects that help promote individual and national thoughts and perceptions in the direction of maturing and evolving cultures. Other environments encourage cultural stagnation wrapped in an illusion of real movement, or hamster-on-the-wheel phenomenon. There are also some environments that aid human minds and societies in the direction of ever-devolving mental and cultural atrophies and decay. Therefore, the media and its role in shifting perceptions.

About a decade ago, if you had asked almost any older Iranian of any background or younger Iranians in middle and high school about Russia-Iran relationships, you would have been highly likely to hear “Qaraardaad_e Nangin_e Turkmanchaai” [the Nefarious Treaty of Turkmanchai] and “Qaraardaad_e Nangin_e Golestan” [The Nefarious Treaty of Golistan].

Even now when people are weary and/or dissatisfied with any agreement reached with some foreign power, or when a propaganda and smear campaign is leveled at Iran for reaching meaningful agreements with any power outside of those in the Western circle, you hear the opposing side, too, uses phrases like “worse than Turkmanchaai,” or “the second Turkmanchaai.” We heard these ad nauseam from Western-backed Persian-language loudspeakers and media outlets regarding the 25-year agreement with China and we are going to be fortunate enough to hear them again with any agreement between Iran and Russia. Turkmanchaai has, therefore, been a “nefariousness standard” by which to measure or falsely portray to the Iranian public how bad, shameful, or dishonorable a particular agreement is. In recent years, Barjam (JCPOA) has become the catchphrase to invoke similar sentiment.

A bit of history about that. Golistan and Tukmanchaai treaties, reached in 1813 and 1828 respectively, were two agreements according to which major portions of the Iranian soil were ceded to Russia by the incompetent kings of the Qajar dynasty and 13 years (10 +3 years combined) of wars of aggression by Russia waged against Iran during Romanovs. Specifically, the areas ceded included the Caucus region of what is now eastern part of Turkey, Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, 1360 kilometer of shorelines in Caspian Sea (approximately 20,000 square kilometer area of water), and 310 kilometer of shoreline in Black Sea (120 to 150 thousand square kilometer area of water).[5]

Before these two treaties, Iran (then Persia) and Russia had a formal and sustained relationship that had begun during Safavi Dynasty and went back to more than 300 years. The connection between the two nations was a strategic alliance of necessity against a common threat from an aggressive and ruthless power: the Ottomans. The Ottomans, for most parts but not always, were not only a menace to the security of Russia, but also were actively involved attacking Iran and the Shi’a and performing their “cleansing” acts. I provide more details about that history in the upcoming essays in Wilayat and Imamat series. For this essay, it is suffice to say that Iran-Russia alliance in earlier periods was based on common threat posed by the Ottomans.

Throughout the centuries, however, in multiple occasions and at very sensitive junctures, the Russians betrayed the Iranians and repeatedly broke the pledges and agreement they had made with them. There were different factors at play for this erratic behavior. One could point to conniving influence of some European powers especially the British over Russian ruling elites (the Europeans perceived a closeness between Russia and Iran as a threat to their own interests), progressive weakening of the Ottomans therefore diminishing of their threat, and Russia’s own expansionist and hegemonic dreams, especially under Romanovs with Peter I being the most prominent among them as the most prominent factors.[6]

These are, of course, painful historical facts. Naturally, any Iranian with minuscule amount of zeal, honor, and dignity would be disgusted and shamed and it is understandable that s/he would not look too favorably toward Russia given the experiences of the past 500 years. However, there is something more paradoxical going on here than simple facts of history. I extracted a map[7] from an Iranian news and information network, Raah_e Dana [or “Informed Path News Network”] and formatted, adapted, and annotated it (see below) to illustrate a specific point. The dotted yellow and pink areas of Iran were ceded to Russia. The dotted red and green areas plus the purple area (Bahrain) were ceded to the British.

If we add total territorial areas separated from Iran by aggressive means and mischief of foreign powers in the past two hundred years, for sure, the actual territorial loss caused by Britain is far greater than that caused by Russia. Qualitatively speaking the geostrategic importance of areas lost to Britain were not any less, if not more, than those lost to Russia. It is also important to note that even Golistan, Turkmanchaai, and Akhaal treaties between Iran and Russia were the handiwork of Britain. Furthermore, if we were to catalogue national calamities exacted upon Iran and the Iranians, the backstabbing, reneging of contracts and agreements, aggressions, and plundering of Iranians’ wealth and resources by Britain, France, and the US, and killing of half the Iranian population by starvation by Britain in particular, the West wins the race in shamefulness, malevolence, and aggression by a landslide.

By simply examining facts of history and separating them from historical fictions related to Iran’s interactions with foreign powers, Iranians should then be far more resentful of the Wes and less willing to cooperate with them than with Russia if those historical experiences were the deciding factors. How come such has not been the case? How come the number of person-hours by our statesmen in official trips and state-meetings (and even backdoor meetings) with a handful of Western powers –whose treacherous and criminal treatment of Iran and Iranians has been infinitely more widespread and deep— has been manifold (until recently) of that with Russians of any level, one might be curious to ask.

We will look at the short answers first and examine a few evidences next. The first has to do with a defunct perception of strength of the West and a perceived weakness of Russia. The second relates to an obsolete perception of relative “openness” of Western societies and a perceived relative “closeness” of Russian society. The third pertains to an outdated and crude perception of Russia as a “Godless” country.

A major shift in the above perceptions within the Iranian population occurred with the Islamic Revolution. The pace for various segments of the Iranian society to catch up with realities, however, has been different. Thankfully, global events of the past two decades have been great catalysts to speed up the shift in perceptions globally for everyone including various segments of the Iranian society.

In addition, a deepening and maturing of Iran-Russia relationship has occurred in these decades as well that could be justly attributed to the efforts of significant figures like Ayatullah Khamenei and Shahid Soleimani in Iran and to President Putin in Russia. I conducted a simple search in the archive regarding meetings with heads of states and high-level officials from 1368 to present. The following data[8] is simple yet telling. It is the search result for Russia and any of the Western triplets (US, Britain, and France):

97/6/16 [Sept. 7, 2018] – Meeting with President Putin

96/8/10 [Nov. 1, 2017] – Meeting with President Putin

94/9/2 [Nov. 23, 2015] – Meeting with President Putin

86/7/24 [Oct. 16, 2007] – Meeting with President Putin

85/11/8 [Jan. 28, 2007] – Meeting with Chairman [et al.] of Russia’s National Security Council

77/7/1 [Sept. 28, 1998] – Meeting with Chairman [et al.] of State Duma

Number of meetings with any head of state and high officials from the Western triplets: Zero.

It is quite clear to independent analysts that Russia has benefited greatly from the stewardship of President Putin than any other statesman in the history of the Iran-Russia relationships in terms of relative freedom from foreign influence. The Zionist entity wields some noteworthy influence but very soon that entity, too, will become a non-issue.

Amir Abdullahian’s candid interview (referenced above) highlights this “Putin phenomenon” this way:

“When we wanted to enter into talks with Russia regarding Syria, Shahid Soleimani told us, ‘I have worked with the Russians in Afghanistan and you must have dialogue with them and if the Russians are convinced of your logic and rationale, and know exactly how the mutual interests are defined, then you could see good results in working with Russia.’ I must say though that when I was working at the Ministry of Foreign Relations and during negotiations with the special representative from President Putin in Middle East relations, when I began to talk about Syria’s crisis, my impression was that you cannot work with the Russians. However, after working closely with them for 5 years, I must clearly state that Putin’s Russia is different from Soviet Russia and even different from Russia prior to Putin. This is what I could say in terms of attending to our own national interest and in our outlook with Asian and the Eastern domain.”

In another part of his interview, he provided additional clues but this time from the Iranians’ corner:

“Some, when they see an official going to Russia or China, they begin their allegations in virtual space claiming that, ‘See how these people are pushing the country in to the arms of Russia and Communist China!’ However, our motto of Neither East, Nor West means that in the political arena we will not be subjugated to any power [East or West]. In the event of looking out for our interests, we explore both sides. The legacy of the West, the history of the West with our nation, they created so many problems for us. With the East, we have the Turkmanchai and Golestan treaties, which are our bitter experiences from the previous eras.”

Evidence also shows that Ayatullah Khamenei is among the very few top Iranian statesman, religious scholars, and thinkers who has championed and promoted an in-depth, realistic, and nuanced look at Russian society, culture, and history compared to any other scholar and/or statesman close to his caliber in Iran. Just to illustrate by way of example, I have translated a part of his talk in a meeting with government officials during President Khatami’s administration on 1379/4/19 [July 9, 2000] for you:

“Here, our own television was showing images from CNN. We saw Yeltsin had climbed up a tank and was chanting slogans like, ‘No, we do not surrender to the coup!’ Then, he went to the parliament. But the coup organizers let Yeltsin, who was then sitting in protest in Duma, be. They did not go after him but they went to Gorbachev who was on vacation in Crimea and arrested him! And Yeltsin kept on shouting and chanting slogans! They created a media mayhem in the world and, of course, there was no traces of truth and reality to what they were saying! A few tanks appeared in the streets of Moscow but three days later, there was nothing. After three days, they announced they had arrested the coup organizers at night and in their sleep! The result from this coup was that Yeltsin who was the number two character practically became number one in charge!”

Right at that time, our foreign minister was visiting Central Asian Republics. Upon his return, I asked about his assessment and he said, ‘It’s clear that Yeltsin is in charge of the Soviet and not Gorbachev!’ It was also clear to the world that was the case. Then, the Republics demanded their independence one after another. For instance, Crimea would ask for its independence. Gorbachev would refuse but Yeltsin would say ‘We accept.’ Then, after two to three days, Gorbachev would accept it as well. Therefore, they had created a condition that Gorbachev would either feel compelled to pre-emptively agree and chant the same slogans so that he is not left behind; or, after a few days, he would follow the other one [Yeltsin] because the world-wide propaganda would not allow anything other than what Yeltsin was saying.

This trend had begun around the end of Khordad (3rd month in spring). After that, they brought up the issue of Gorbachev pulling out of the Party’s chairmanship, then the dismantling of the communist party, then the announcement regarding the defeat of communism – the exact things that made [US] Americans quite gleeful – and, finally, they spread the rumor about Gorbachev’s resignation. Right at that time, during an interview, they asked Gorbachev, ‘Will you resign or not?’ and he responded, ‘I am waiting for the [US] American secretary of state to come to Moscow to see what happens!’ The [US] American secretary of state came to Moscow and before making any contacts with Gorbachev, he went straight to Yeltsin. In main official meeting hall in Kremlin! That meant Gorbachev was finished! Three days later, Gorbachev resigned and Soviet disintegration was announced! This was a successful [US] American plot in the Soviet. That means, they were able to fully destroy a superpower with a very well-designed plot, a bit of money, purchasing some people, and extensive media propaganda; they were able to completely demolish it with a three-to-four-year plan and a six-to-seven-month implementation!”

“Of course, I must tell you that Russia, after disintegration of the Soviet, like they wished for, did not become the 2nd Brazil. They wanted to turn Russia into another Brazil – it means, into a 3rd rate country in the world – high production but afflicted with deep poverty and very little significant role in world’s politics. You look, where in the world the words and opinion of Brazil attracts anyone? They wanted to turn Russia into this but it did not happen. Why? Because Russia is a very strong and tough nation. Racially speaking, they are resilient people. Their progress in industry, in nuclear science, their scientists, their research works and other assets are quite noteworthy.”

“The plotters of these events (refers to the civil uprisings during late 1990s in Iran), too, were dreaming of similar dreams regarding the Islamic Republic. They were cutting and sewing for themselves. They cannot imagine that if the Islamic Republic of Iran were to face a similar fate as the Soviet, it becomes something like today’s Russia. No. They think Iran is a country at the level of Pahlavi era. That means, a level lower than Turkey! Because they imagine that there is no atom [nuclear research or bomb] here, no scientific progress, no 300-million population, no country as vast as Russia which even today is almost the largest country in the world. That’s what they are thinking!”[9]

The above sorts of detailed narrations and clarifications (and in simple terms for the public) are extremely effective in replacing shallow perspectives with insightful ones, especially at the population level. Even though these noteworthy forces counter a barrage of attacks in the past couple of decade or so, lots more work in all arenas are needed. These are other straight forward realities: Persian-language media (in all their forms from written books to children cartoons) available to the Iranians have been dominated by anti-Russia discourse. One can find something for everyone: For religious groups, the communist (read Godless) episodes in Russian history have often been emphasized. For the liberal-minded groups, some sorts of cultural rigidity and closed-system aspects have been highlighted. For national zealots, aggressive and expansionist dimensions of Russia’s past against Iran have regularly and artfully been flashed. For those who are quite distrustful, specific instances of Russia’s reneging on their pledges to Iranians have been put on display.

2) A Shift in the Perspective of Russians about Iran

For evidence on a shift in the perspective of Russians about Iran, I have to rely mostly on the publicly available information and reports of interactions that have revolved around socio-cultural, political, and security issues available to us here in Iran. This blog and the Saker’s writings and emails have been, by all means, invaluable sources of information, I must add. By design and their nature, these lenses allow a very limited point of view and cannot qualitatively compare to first hand empirical knowledge one gains by being personally present in a given society. Therefore, I apologize, in advance, to the readers of this essay and good people of Russia for the shortcomings of what I write.

I present segments of transcripts from video clips that are in Russian with Farsi subtitles. My translation here is of the Farsi translations of those segments which are in Russian. So, you could imagine this sort of flow inevitably gathers a good amount of verbal debris on its path. Nevertheless, for now, that is the best I could do and for the purpose of the points I am making, I think an illustration of approximate sentiments are adequate for now.

During a discussion panel shown in Rossiya 1 TV channel on the subject of a US Navy destroyer (I am guessing it is about McCain nav.-ship) which had accidently on purpose wandered into Russia’s territorial waters, Alexey Naumov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council (Russia) expressed the followings in that panel:

Alexey Naumov: “The American experts are saying it this way. They say that they are providing for the security of America. If they were moving near American borders, that is, if they were moving within 12 miles of their maritime, we, too, would have viewed it relatively positively. Also, let us remember how other countries react to American deception, especially Iran. This is an example of a good lesson for us. We remember how in 2016, the border patrols of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard brought the American navy personnel to their knees.”

Another participant: “They disarmed them and brought them to their knees!”

Alexey Naumov: “…this was while they had ‘accidently’ [he draws air quotes] entered into the Iranians’ water territories.

Another participant: “They had been ‘lost’! So long as we know.”

Alexey Naumov: “Next we remember how Iran targeted American bases in Iraq after General Soleimani was killed. But Russia behaves leniently. Sometimes they behave too leniently. But why are Americans doing this? Note that Americans do stupid things but we do not yield to their pressure.”

Another participant: “In fact, the issue here is what is it that we are proud of? What is the right thing to do? They violated our borders. Either we must shoot missiles at them in a way there wouldn’t be any damages like shooting one to the sky and one right behind its rear [other participants laughing], or we should aim straight for the deck.”

Alexey Naumov: “The violators must be arrested just as we do with others who violate our borders. Arrests would yield good results but the current anti-ship missiles do not operate this way.”[10] </blockquote>

In the above panel, based on the dialogue and the body language of the participants, one gets a distinct impression that they have a more positive view of Iran’s firm and decisive reaction when faced with the US infractions than what they perceive as Russia’s meek response. It is just human nature to root for the one who challenges a bully. It is rather simple.

A speech by the Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, aired more than a year ago again in Rossiya 1 TV channel, included the following segment in reference to Iran:

<blockquote> “… See how they [US] occupied Iraq. They easily walked into Iraq. Without any resistance. Nine Iraqi generals got a few million dollars and went to London and Iraq no longer had any armies. That is it!”

“But Iran, whose regime is being criticized; it is Shi’a; it is in control of the situation. The Sunni world does not have a leader but Iranians do. Imam Khamenei, and before him Imam Khomeini. Because of this, the regime is resilient. Because of this, this country is not like Iraq. They [the Iranians] do not go off the path. Why were there millions of people in General Soleimani’s [funeral] walk? He had the charisma of Dzerzhinsky and … [cannot figure the names] in one. He was faithful to the revolution and destroyed all the enemies of the Iranian revolution and was very famous. Then everything happened together in Iran. They are on at the top of the Shi’a world. The killing of their most important symbol caused the nation to cry for him. Even some people who may not have supported him before cried.”

“This country is [one of] the youngest countries in the world. [Few] countries are as young as this country. It has 80 million population and very soon it will reach 100 million in the next 20 years. Median age is 25 and 70 percent are young. They will all work. There is no need for them to be sent to violence. They can make bombs in their own country. That means, they are ready for everything. Today, this system is a great system.”

“But what do we do? We destroyed our own religion. We filled our priests’ mouths with molten lead! Do you get it?! We threw away our young people. We destroyed our whistle blowers. We threw away our intellectuals. They don’t throw away anyone but we chase away everyone.”[11]

Some of the statistics about Iran in the above statement are inaccurate but the overall tone reflects the speaker’s positive view regarding Iran’s religious leadership, sacrifices of commanders like Sardar Soleimani, diversity of views, and the Iranian society’s endurance. Iran’s positive, energetic, and youthful outlook, too, holds promises and could increase the potential for greater exchange between Iranian and Russian societies.

I have translated one last segment from statements made by another Russian expert on regional security and military issues that is reflective of a Russian perspective that gives a more labyrinthine character to Iranians in general and its leadership and the Revolutionary Guard in particular.

“But what is more interesting is that if there is a conflict, Iran has the capacity for extensive retaliation against the Americans in Iraq. The Americans in Iraq have less than 10,000 military men but what is the paramilitary force that enters the conflict? That is Hashd Al-Shaabi. With more than 100,000 organized force and 40 diverse paramilitary units and Shi’a, among which there are smaller units of Assyrian Christians and Yazidi groups. When something happens there, of course the Iranian military advisors are there, too. On the other hand, these forces are equipped with American arms which had been specially shipped to Iraq during Daesh presence. Abrams tanks 2, 3, and so on. Exactly here, the Iranians could retaliate.”

“If we had been in place of Revolutionary Guard commanders, we would have planned what to do with the Americans. But how do the Iranians manage things? [They say,] ‘There is no need to take anyone to any of the bases there. Why should we do something stupid like that?! Let’s put the pressure on them in Iraq and exactly there demolish American forces. And we will show them that two billion dollars they spent and a thousand of their forces did not benefit them even a bit. In Iraq, we were present and we will continue to be present.’ This is a real and great victory from the perspective of military relationships. [They say,] ‘Let the Americans try and imagine they could control [things] there [in Iraq].’”[12]

These discussions and dialogue demonstrate great potential for a positive and nuanced change in perspective of Russians about Iran and the Iranians and a fertile ground to cultivate a mutually respectful and non-transgressive relationship between the two nations.

3) A Religious Approximation between Shi’a Islam and Russian Orthodoxy

Taqrib_e Mazahib (or, Religious Approximation) is the term used to describe activities by the Islamic Republic of Iran especially Qom Seminary to bring together scholars, practitioners, and representatives from diverse religions and denominations of the world for an ongoing and meaningful discourse in order to improve knowledge and understanding among these religions and help improve the condition of humanity in all material and spiritual domains.

To shed some light on the history of the relationship between Shi’a Islam and Russian Orthodoxy, I bring here a short presentation by Dr. Muhammad Masjidjamei, a scholar and thinker who has been quite active in the area of Taqrib related to Russian Orthodox Church. He delivered his lecture titled “We and the Russian Orthodox Church: Iran Eurasian Reality of Russia,”[13] during a two-day conference held by the University of Religions and Denomination in Qom in Shahrivar 1393 [2014/8/25-26] on Evaluation of Eight Rounds of Religious Dialogue between Muslims and Orthodox Christians over Seventeen Years. Since it contains many key points and gives a mini-history of the interaction (up until 2014), I have translated all but the very first greeting lines:

“…Under current critical conditions in the region and the world crises, perhaps one could say extreme crises, we desperately need gatherings of this nature so that we could find solutions for current crises or at least ways to reduce them by relying on meaningful cooperation and sharing of thoughts and ideas. Part of the reason for current difficult conditions is a lack of serious discussion and counsel among those who have shared view points and interests. I very much hope this conference could offer a real platform for these sorts of cooperation.

It was midyear 1991 when I was sent to Vatican as an ambassador for my country. It was a few months after the occupation of Kuwait and right at the heels of disintegration of the Eastern Block and Soviet Union. These events had great impacts on Europe especially the relationships among various churches, in particular two major and quite different Catholic and Orthodox churches. Even a very short explanation about the transformative events between these two churches would take a very long time. But the most noteworthy point for me was that reached a realization about the logic and thinking behind the behavior of the Orthodox Church. At that time and under those critical conditions, the Church was in a rather passive and defensive position. To discover the root of this logic, I needed to study extensively their works be those of the church officials or the others or what related to their contemporary history , or the history, culture and beliefs and their harsh experiences with the communist regimes, or their position and grievances with the Catholic Church, the media, and other publications.

This was my first serious encounter with the realities of Orthodox Church. A church that in those early years in 90s few open ears in Europe were willing to listen to what they had to say. The strong waves of criticism against communism was so fierce and widespread that no one was willing to see a single positive point in the Eastern Block of that time. The Orthodox Church, too, was being viewed as part of the ruling socialist system and was perceived to have been at the service of the system. The reality was that this distorted view and these sorts of propaganda had influenced the thinking of the Muslim World. The war of the Balkans and Bosnia was fueling it even further.

The reality was not at all like what was being portrayed. Probably, Iran realized this point faster than any other Muslim country and began to have a more open and active policy with Orthodox churches. At the height of the Bosnian war, many meetings took place between our ambassador in Sarajevo and Late Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle. In addition, several meetings took place between some of our political and religious representatives and the bishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Kuharic, and the bishop of Sarajevo, Puljic, who had just become a cardinal.

What was important here was that Iran understood rather quickly that to solve the Bosnian problem, or at least to reduce tensions, first and foremost the venue of religion was instrumental, and secondly, Orthodox Church had the most fundamental role in this and should not be neglected because of negative propaganda. As such, Iran, in establishing relations with Serbian Orthodox Church was a maverick and a leader among the Islamic countries. So long as I remember, from among the Western countries, [US] Americans and the British tried to establish relations with Serbian churches much later.

It was more or less around this time, as well, that Iran realized the great importance of Russian Orthodox Church as a historical and cultural identity of Russian nation, as a reality that could help expand and deepen the reciprocal relation between the two nations (Iran and Russia), and in the internal scene, as a catalyst to improve the relations between the Russian Muslim minorities, the Russian society and the Russian State. This was especially critical since there were problems in Caucus and Northern Caucus regions. The sort of problems that kept on accumulating and getting worse.

In fall of 1993, I took a trip to Moscow and met with late Russian Patriarch Alexy II, There I became closely familiar with different sections and teachings of this church. Following that, the Russian Orthodox Church representative to Iran was assigned and the bilateral dialogue and relationship started and have continued to this date.

Even though Iran has had great many dialogues with many churches, its dialogue with the Russian Church has remained one of the most systematic, sustainable, and institutionalized one today. This demonstrates the importance of the relationship between the two and the resolve on both sides to continue this relationship. So, the question now is how this relationship could become even more active and constructive. What additional potentials does it have?

Russia is a Eurasian reality. This reality existed throughout ups and downs of history whether it was during the tsars, or the socialist rulers, or thereafter. And it will continue to exist in the future. The problem of the West with Russia, to some extent, is due to this very historical and identity reality. They want a Russia that is European not Eurasian. A Russia whose policies and politics are played within the European frameworks and by their standards. Russia wants to be Russia and remain Russia. From this perspective, this country, too, is parallel in line with everyone and all countries which want to have a life according to their own culture and identity.

In addition, Russia is one of the few countries that stands up to multi-faceted Western dictatorship. The clearest sign of this is seen in Russia’s Middle East policies in the aftermath of Arab springs. Another important point is that the Eurasian characteristic of Russia and its look towards Asia makes it a weighty Asian component in international relations. No doubt, a closer cooperation with Asian countries as well as China and India makes this share weightier and to the benefit of all Asians, us, and Russia itself.

Here, I cannot count all the points that relate to Eurasian reality/nature of Russia and its many significances. But I could very summarily say that it [Russia’s Eurasian nature] is to the best interest of us and all independent countries which want to rely on their own culture and potentials in life. What is important to remember is that Russian Church, both directly and indirectly, is the most significant cornerstone of this reality. Orthodox churches, including Russian churches, are far more eastern than the Catholic and Protestant churches. This is an intrinsic characteristic of this church.

We should not forget that Russia is the largest country in the world and has within it many diverse people, religions, and cultures and to be sure, Russian Church has its own unique place. This does not mean that other religions and cultures are pushed aside. Islam and Islamic culture, too, is an important reality and part of Russian identity. Also, the Eurasian characteristic of Russia, to a notable extent is due to its Islamic heritage as well. Besides, if Russia wishes to have independent policies in the international arena free of Western domination, it needs, at the least, receptive co-thinkers. For sure, among the Muslim nations, there are countries which can and want to stand besides Russia but this is possible only if the Muslim minority in Russia have a suited status. From this perspective, acknowledging other religions and groups, including Islam, is a necessity for Russia. Although a great portion of this attention relates to the state and the ruling system, Orthodox Church can play a significant constructive and facilitative role.

It is for certain that a cooperation between Iran and this Church is very valuable, nay, extremely valuable. Also, this cooperation can be instrumental in remedying takfiri thoughts and extremist groups in Russia. Parts of the causes of takfiri thoughts go to a lack of depth in understanding the religion itself. Without a doubt, Iran, for the richness of its religious, philosophical, and spiritual thoughts is one of the most suitable countries to help fill these gaps.

It is rather difficult to put all potential areas of cooperation in one short article. Certainly, scientific and academic cooperation is one of them. Right now, there are so many Western religious texts written by either formal religious figures or non-religious thinkers and translated into Farsi. However, you can rarely find authentic translations of Orthodoxy texts that have been written by the Orthodox themselves. This is also true of research in Christianity. Many books and manuscripts about history, culture, and beliefs of Protestant and Catholic churches are written but the Orthodoxy texts are quite sparse.

Another key point is the existence and continued presence in Middle East of Christians who are mainly Orthodox. They are part of the history and culture of this region and have had much greater impact on literature and culture of contemporary Arab societies relative to their numbers. However, the upheavals of Arab spring have shaken up their positions as well. This is while their presence in the region, for various reasons, is positive and beneficial to a social and cultural balance and prevention of a polarization in these societies. If they had played a more active role, takfiri thought would not have found an opportunity to expand and monopolize the scene.

Fortunately, the Christians in the region, especially the Orthodox, do not have evangelical tendencies which is an important point because such situation itself prepares the ground for salafi thoughts. Without a doubt, cooperation and co-counseling between Iran and Russian church, and other churches in the region, could help reform the conditions. If such relation had existed at the beginning of Syrian crisis, the overall condition of the country and the situation of its Christians would have been much better than what it is now.

Indeed, the areas for cooperation is far more than what has been mentioned here. Given the circumstances of the two countries and international and regional realities, when this cooperation starts, new opportunities will also emerge. What is important is that both sides must, having taken into account the actualities and the limitations, must pursue their collaboration and cooperation with serious will and make progress.”

It might be interesting for you to know that the exchange between Iran and the Russian Orthodox Church went on for several years before Sardar Soleimani could convince President Putin to commit Russia’s military to Syrian war as a practical step to block the spread of takfiries. The Church had already been convinced!

To wrap up the essay and put things succinctly, cooperation between Iran and Russia regarding Syria was only a pilot test and shifts in the Iranian and Russian nations’ perspectives have already occurred. However, a lot more media products, people-to-people exchange and interactions in socio-economic, scientific, and cultural fields are also needed to help promote a more insightful and culturally mature public perceptions on both sides.


[1] Center for Research of the Islamic Republic of Iran Majlis [Parliament]. “The policies pertaining to the agreement between the Islamic of Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation based on mutual relationship and principles of cooperation.” The Date of Approval: 1380/10/16 [Jan. 6, 2002]. Available in Farsi online at:

[2] Entekhab News Site, Video Archive, “Explanation by Special Advisor to the Head of Majlis regarding Qalibaf’s trip to Moscow.” 1399/11/22 @ 22:41, News Code: 602070. Accessed online at:

[3] Niki Maleki J. (1399). “Why the Leader’s Message to Putin is important.” Mashriq News, the Sun always Rises from the East, Bahman 21, 1399 [Feb. , 2021]; 18:57; News Code: 1179189. Accessed online at:

[4] Mashriq News, Trans. from Farsi: “The Important Tweet from the Russian Account of the Publication Office of the Revolution Leader’s Works.” 20th Bahman, 1399, 14:36, News Code: 1178619. Accessed online at:

[5] Golistan and Turkmanchaai Treaties

[6] Karami J (1397 HS [2019]). Trans. from Farsi: “Iran and Russia in the Passage of History: Security Environment and the Issues of Threats and Alliances.” Quarterly of History of Foreign Relations, No. 75, Summer 1397, Pages 65-97.

جهانگیر کرمی، “ایران و روسیه در گذر تاریخ: محیط امنیتی و مساله تهدید و اتحاد.” فصلنامۀ تاریخ روابط خارجی، شماره 75، سال نوزدهم، تابستان 1397، صص 65 تا 97.

[7] Rah_e Dana Information Network. Trans. from Farsi: “Turkmanchaai, a Nefarious History in Auctioning off the Homeland.” 1396/2/12, 15:29, News ID: 1096763. Accessed online at:

[8] List of official visits from heads of states with the Leader of Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. Accessed online on March 2, 2021 @ 12:00 noon; at:

[9] Sayyed Ali Khamenei. “Speech during visit with officials and members of government of Islamic Republic of Iran” on 1379/4/19 [July 9, 2000]. Accessed online at:

[10] KavoshMedia, What They Say About Us. “Iranians disarmed and brought American navy personnel to their knees.” 2021/1/11 @ 13:01:28 Tehran Time, Original in Russian Language. Accessed on line at:

[11] Tabnak Javan News Agency. “Nuanced View of the Leader of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia about Iranians.” 1398/12/8 [Feb. 27, 2020] @ 18:09; News Code: 14130.

[12] Kavoshmedia. “Russian expert’s view regarding Iran’s great victory in Iraq,” aired on Rossya 1, Posted 24/11/2020 @ 4:30 UTC.

[13] Masjidjamei M. “We and Russian Orthodox Church: Iran and Eurasian Realities of Russia.” University of Religions and Denominations, Publication date: 1393/6/12. Accessed online at:

FM Sergey Lavrov gave an extensive interview to the RBK Media Holding – Communication between Brussels and Moscow has completely fallen apart


FM Sergey Lavrov gave an extensive interview to the RBK Media Holding – Communication between Brussels and Moscow has completely fallen apart

February 20, 2021

A good sub-title for this interview could be “Lavrov Unplugged”.

A quote from the transcript (which incidentally was available faster than any other transcript from the The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation ):

“… when it became clear that Russia did not want to live in the house of “a self-appointed boss,” all these complications began to emerge.


All this started when this signal was not perceived (to be more precise, Russia was seen again as a “hoodlum” in the world arena and they were again going to teach it “good manners”). In any event, the West began its ideological preparations, for its current actions, at that time.”

Video in Russian without subtitles or English voiceover as yet.

Question: There is a feeling that the West is very annoyed by the appearance of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. At first, they were very aggressive and wouldn’t let it go. When I talked with Minister of Trade and Industry Dmitry Manturov, he called it “the vaccine war.” Now the opinion has changed. Is this about the quality of the vaccine or is politics involved in this?

Sergey Lavrov: I think it is possible to use the logic of the Russian proverb that can be translated into English as “love it so but mother says no.” Western experts know that the Sputnik V vaccine is definitely one of the best, if not the very best. Otherwise, there would not be such a stream of requests for it, which is growing geometrically.

On the other hand, they realise that the spread of Sputnik V and other Russian vaccines that will soon enter the international market, will enhance our authority and status in the world. They do not want this to happen. But they have come to realise that their first response was simply outrageous in the context of the facts and medical science. When President Vladimir Putin announced the development of the vaccine in August 2020, the offensive was completely undiplomatic. Their response just betrayed their irritation, you are perfectly right.

And now many countries (the Czech Republic and others) are saying they can’t wait for the certification of the vaccine by the European Medicines Agency. In Hungary, they believe they are ready to start vaccination and supplies are now underway. The number of requests from Europe is steadily on the rise. Just the other day, Prince Albert II of Monaco sent a request for the vaccine for the entire population of his principality.

After independent agencies published their scientific evaluations, the West had to admit that the vaccine was good. Yet, attempts to discredit it continue.

Just yesterday I read a somewhat ambiguous statement by President of France Emmanuel Macron. He put us and the Chinese into the category of those who are trying to gain advantages in the world arena at the expense of their medical achievements. The day before yesterday, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen spoke with an emphatically negative connotation about the supplies of the Russian vaccines to foreign countries.

We must follow the correct position of principle, first voiced by President of Russia Vladimir Putin, notably, that we were the first to develop the vaccine, and we will continue to increase its production. This is not easy, we do not have enough capacities, and this is why we are negotiating with India, South Korea and other countries. At the same time, he said we are open to the broadest possible cooperation.

There is one more important point. When this issue was discussed at the UN the other day, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the countries that have this vaccine or have the money to buy it, not to forget about the poor. In the meantime, attempts are being made to accuse us of trying to gain geopolitical favour by supplying it abroad. This is an obvious discrepancy. It is clear that the West is poorly prepared for this discussion.

Question: So, it’s about the same as when President Putin said at the Davos Forum that the world cannot continue creating an economy that will only benefit the “golden billion,” and we are actually accused of supplying the vaccine for the benefit of the “golden billion.” Still, are they talking about the vaccine like this just because it was made in Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t see any other reason, because no one even tried to conduct a medical or a scientific test. They just said right away that it was impossible just because it’s impossible, meaning that “no one can do this that quickly.” It was only in October 2020, when the West said they would be able to report on their achievements. President Putin announced in August that the Russian-made vaccine was ready for rollout.

Unfortunately, I often see that the response to everything we do, say or offer is, at best, questioned right off the bat. Usually, they say that “the Russians are playing their geopolitical games again.”

Question: EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, who was here recently and met with you, said that Russia is distancing itself from the West. At the same time, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said we are open to cooperation with Europe. You said we are ready to break up, but we are not breaking off our relations. What really stands in the way of normal relations between the EU and Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: A biased attitude, by and large. I worked with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, a good colleague of mine, when he was Spanish Foreign Minister. Now many, in an attempt to give a controversial dimension to the High Representative’s visit to Russia, forget how it all began. In May 2019, Mr Borrell said: “Our old enemy, Russia, says again ‘here I am,’ and it is again a threat.” We then asked his protocol service to confirm what he said. We were told that it was a figure of speech and that he was misunderstood. However, this attitude shows.

We are seen as a stranger. In my interview with Vladimir Solovyov, replying to his question as to whether we are ready to break off with the EU, I gave an affirmative answer because there are no relations to talk about. As former US President Barack Obama once said (although he said it about the Russian economy), relations have been “torn to shreds.”

Indeed, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement [between the EU and Russia] entered into force in 1997. It contained a number of declarative goals for moving towards common economic, humanitarian and cultural spaces. For many years, we used a mechanism of summits, which were held every six months in Russia and in the EU alternately. In fact, our entire Government held annual meetings with the European Commission to discuss the participants’ responsibilities in the context of over 20 sector-specific dialogues. We were building four common spaces and roadmaps for each of them. These were 100 percent substantive and specific projects. It was all destroyed, just like the Partnership and Cooperation Council, within which the Russian Foreign Minister and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy reviewed the entire range of relations. This disappeared long before the Ukraine crisis.

Many in our country are just waiting for a chance to pounce on the Russian Government’s foreign policy. We are being asked how we can say that we are ready to break off with the EU when it is our largest trade and economic partner. If we take the EU as a collective partner, it is our largest partner in terms of gross trade. For example, in 2013 (before the Ukraine events) Russia became a WTO member. From that moment, our trade relations were built on the principles advocated by that organisation rather than the EU’s principles. As a single trade bloc, the EU also participated in the WTO. We traded with member countries based on WTO guidelines. If you think the EU is a valuable trade and economic partner, here are some statistics for you: in 2013, the United States was the EU’s biggest trading partner with about $480 billion, followed by China with $428 billion and Russia with $417 billion. That is, these numbers are of the same order of magnitude. Where do we stand now? In 2019, EU’s trade with the United States stood at $750 billion, with China $650 billion, and with Russia at about $280 billion. In 2020, it was $218 billion, if counting with Great Britain, and $191 billion without it.

The reason? It’s the sanctions imposed by our “valued” and largest economic partner for reasons that have never relied on any facts whatsoever. At least, no facts have ever been presented to us. We understand Crimea. We understand Donbass as well. It’s just that the EU admitted its inability, or perhaps, unwillingness, to prevent the anti-constitutional coup with an open Russophobic slant and chose to turn things upside down. Brussels shifted the blame to us and imposed sanctions on Russia rather than the putschists, who, by and large, spat on the guarantees of the European Union, which signed the corresponding agreements, totally ignoring, as I said, the fact that the actions of the government, which they supported, were openly and violently anti-Russian.

Question: Without the events in Ukraine, would our relations with the West have sunk to where they are now?

Sergey Lavrov: It is difficult for me to talk about this. After all, later there were other events linked with the accusations of “the poisoning in Salisbury.” No facts were presented. We were not allowed to meet with our citizens. No evidence was offered. Everything was similar to what is happening now with the alleged poisoning of Alexey Navalny.

Question: It seems the West is looking for a pretext to spoil our relations.

Sergey Lavrov: They are looking but there are many pretexts: it’s always possible to use something as an excuse to put the relationship on the required track. But it’s not that they want to spoil relations. I don’t think this is their main goal. They want to bolster their self-esteem. Now they are starting to act like the US, revealing the mentality of an exclusive group of states. I quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. When asked why they continue discussing sanctions against Russia and what goals they had achieved by imposing sanctions, he replied that he didn’t believe sanctions should be used for any purpose. What matters is that they don’t leave any action by the Russian Federation unpunished.

The concealment of facts that could somehow confirm accusations against us started long before the crisis in Ukraine. We can recall 2007 – the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in the hospital. There was a coroner’s inquest. Later this trial was declared “public.” In George Orwell’s logic, in Britain this means a “secret trial” during which no inquisitorial procedures of the secret services may be presented. You know, these are system-wide problems.

I listed what we used to have in our relations with the European Union. Nothing is left now, not even sporadic contacts on some international issues. As regards the Iran nuclear programme, we are taking part in the work of the collective group of countries, which are trying to somehow put this programme back on track. This is not part of our relations with the EU proper. In the Middle East, we have a Quartet of mediators consisting of Russia, the US, the EU and the UN. In other words, this is multilateral cooperation rather than our relations with just the EU.

With regard to who is taking steps to prevent our relations from further decline, at least a little, we were thinking about that when Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was getting ready to visit Moscow. He suggested cooperating in healthcare and vaccines. We have already discussed this here. As a Brussels institution, the EU will hardly be allowed to contact Russian agencies or companies independently regarding the vaccines. We would sooner cooperate directly with the producers of AstraZeneca, as this is already taking place.

On the eve of Mr Borrell’s visit, we invited his experts to make a joint statement on the Middle East by the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Our positions are nearly identical on the matter and we thought it would be appropriate to urge the Quartet to resume its activities and call for direct Palestinian-Israeli talks, respect for the relevant UN resolutions, and so on.

We gave them a page and a half text that was easy to approve after the first reading. Several days prior to his arrival, we were told that “it did not work out.” I will reveal a secret because this is a blatant example. I asked Mr Borrell at the negotiating table: “What about this statement? Why didn’t it work out?” He started turning his head all around. It was clear from his reaction, and he confirmed this later, that nobody had even told him about it. These are the people that deal with what some of our liberals call “relations with the EU.”

Question: Concluding this theme, I’d like to say that as a man born in the USSR, I understand that during the Soviet-Western confrontation we had different ideologies, economies and so on. Later, I thought that everything was the same on both sides. They were for democracy and we were for democracy; they had a market economy and we had a market economy. So what are the differences? Why do we fail to find a common language to this day? I thought we found it in the 1990s? Why did we find it then?

Sergey Lavrov: We found it at that time because nobody in the Russian Federation disputed the answer to the question of who was ruling the show. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has talked about this many times. We decided that was it – the end of history. Francis Fukuyama announced that from now on liberal thought would rule the world. Now there are attempts to push this liberal thought to the fore again in a bid to gain international influence. But when it became clear that Russia did not want to live in the house of “a self-appointed boss,” all these complications began to emerge.

Initially, having become President, Vladimir Putin and his team tried to convey this message through diplomatic signals that educated and smart people would be bound to understand. But nobody listened. Then the explanations had to be made politely but openly in the Munich speech. All this started when this signal was not perceived (to be more precise, Russia was seen again as a “hoodlum” in the world arena and they were again going to teach it “good manners”). In any event, the West began its ideological preparations, for its current actions, at that time.

Question: Regarding the sanctions. Bloomberg posted a news item today that new sanctions against Russia are planned concerning the Nord Stream 2, however, they are not going to be tough but rather “soft.” On the other hand, they report that the Americans want to thwart the Nord Stream project but without irritating Germany. Where are we in this situation?

Sergey Lavrov: We are a country that completely complies with the contractual obligations undertaken by our companies that are part of the project, along with the EU companies that joined it. The current situation is largely due to a decision taken by what we call the European Union, a decision that proves beyond doubt what sort of alliance it is. A few years ago, when the Poles, and others sharing their attitude, attempted to impede the Nord Stream project, the Legal Service of the European Commission was asked for legal advice, official opinion. The service presented a document which stated in no uncertain terms that the investment project had been launched long before amendments were made to the EU’s gas directive, the Third Energy Package. That’s it. Period. This issue should be closed for any person who has respect for the law. But no, the European Commission took this opinion and launched its own quasi-legal procedure which resulted in the conclusion that the project had indeed been launched much earlier, yet it fell under this third energy package and the gas directive. That’s what kind of a partner we have in this “relationship.”

This is about how we can “pounce” on them and express readiness to break relations with them when they are our main economic partner – that’s what kind of a partner they are. Meanwhile, now Germany alone is fighting for the project.

And in fact, Joe Biden’s administration will not cancel anything which was done by Donald Trump except for leaving the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Democrats are returning there now.

The NATO defence ministers meeting has just ended. But there was no let-up in US demands to pay 2 percent of a country’s GDP for defence needs, i.e. for purchasing US weaponry. There was no backing off the demands on Europe regarding Nord Stream 2 – to stop participating in some matters that undermine European security. They see it better from across the ocean, right? This is about who is the boss. Europe also wants to run the house but it was taken down a peg. The situation around Nord Stream 2 is straightforward.

For now they are saying publicly that bargaining is underway and possible agreements between Washington and Berlin are being discussed, including that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline may be allowed to be completed and even start operating. However, if at the same time gas transiting via Ukraine is going to be falling, then Nord Stream 2 must be shut off. I cannot decide for Germany, however, it is obvious to me that this proposal is humiliating. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said at his meeting with parliamentary party leaders, this is yet further evidence that they want Russia to pay for their Ukraine geopolitical venture.

Question: Do we have to pay for this geopolitical project?  Why do they think we have to pay for it?

Sergey Lavrov: Because they don’t feel like lashing out on it. They need the Ukrainian regime for the sole purpose of constantly irritating Russia and finding new reasons to support their Russophobic policy. They want to weaken anything around us – Belarus, Central Asia, and now also the South Caucasus, as they got nervous after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s successful mediation mission between Armenia and Azerbaijan: why was this done without them? They are now trying to infiltrate this region and step up their activities there. All of that has nothing to do with the Cold War-era ideology of a showdown between the two systems you talked about a few minutes ago. It has to do with the fact that our Western partners are unwilling, unprepared and unable to speak on an equal footing, whether with Russia, China, or whoever. They need to create a system where they will be the boss regardless. This is why they are taking an increasing dislike to the United Nations since they cannot have total control of it.

Question: Do you see the EU as a monolith, or as something more loose, with certain processes unfolding inside and some countries, no matter what, starting to talk about their willingness to be friends with Russia? In the case of the sanctions, the key figures behind them are, strange as it may seem, the Baltic States, which do not play a prominent role in the EU but, for some reason, everyone is listening to them.

Sergy Lavrov: It sounds inappropriate to refer to the EU as a monolith a mere couple of months after Brexit. This “monolith” is not the same as before. If you mean a monolith in a figurative sense, my answer is no. Quite a few countries are maintaining relations with Russia. The visit of Josep Borrell was the first trip by an EU official of this level to Russia in three years. In the same three years, about two dozen ministers from European Union member countries have visited Russia. We are having a great dialogue, without wasting too much time on confrontation and moralising. Indeed, all of them do have their assignments – a couple of sheets of paper from which they read a script approved by the “party committee” in Brussels.

Question: Do you mean they bring a notebook with instructions with them?

Sergey Lavrov: Certainly. They do not dare to veer off course. This, for example, goes for Alexey Navalny, or the Skripals as in the previous case, or human rights. Now scientist Yury Dmitriyev from Karelia is in the spotlight. They flatly refuse to accept evidence of his involvement in crimes, like pedophilia. They read from their notebook and I would adduce my arguments to the contrary and describe our vision of this or that situation and wonder why we cannot obtain evidence on the Navalny case or the Skripal case. In response they simply read again from their notebook. Apart from this discipline induced by the bloc member states’ solidarity, we discuss things normally. Yes, the EU sets the terms on which [its member countries] participate in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), while we are trading with these countries in the WTO on the terms that were agreed on for Russia to join this organisation. But the EU has nothing to do with this cooperation in trade and investment activity, except for its attempts to restrict trade and economic ties with the sanctions.

You mentioned the Baltic States. Indeed, they run the show in this respect to a great extent. I have talked to your colleagues about this on more than one occasion. When in 2004 there were hectic activities to drag them into the EU, Russia and Brussels maintained a very frank dialogue. The President of the European Commission at the time was Romano Prodi. In 2005, the objective was set to move to visa-free travel.

Question: Nobody has any memories of this today.

Sergey Lavrov: We remember this when we reply to those who ask how we dare say that we are ready to break relations with the EU. You mentioned the Baltic States. We had long been negotiating an updated version of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU, which the EU terminated in 2014. It was expected to go a bit beyond the boundaries of the WTO rules and allow us to negotiate additional trade preferences. At one time there was an objective to establish a free trade zone, but this has long since fallen into oblivion. However, there were plans to update the agreement in order to liberalise trade even more, in addition to the WTO rules. In 2014, they ceased to exist – another example of breaking down our relations.

A visa-free travel agreement was also finalised back in 2013. We had met all of the EU requirements: we agreed that only people with biometric passports would be eligible for visa-free travel and that those who violated EU entry rules or any other EU rules while in an EU country during a visa-free period would be subject to readmission. We signed the relevant agreement. Everything they asked for, and that suited us, was done. Later, when it was time to sign the agreement and then ratify it, the EU said: “Let’s wait.” It did not take us long to learn why they had said this, all the more so as they did not try to conceal their motives. This Brussels team decided that it was politically incorrect to approve a visa-free travel agreement with Russia prior to offering it to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

Question: In other words, Russia was made dependent on other countries?

Sergey Lavrov: It sure was, at the Baltic States’ initiative. This is also important for understanding the nature of our relations. This is an attitude from people who decided that they were European, which is not at all the case. Russia sees Europe in all its diversity. If the “party committee” in Brussels does not like it, we cannot force them to.

Question: Europe stretches at least to the Urals.

Sergey Lavrov: Correct. In 2009, when Jose Manuel Barroso was President of the European Commission, we held a Russia-EU summit in Khabarovsk. Our European colleagues arrived later in the day. We went out for a walk along the embankment. We were showing them around the city and Mr Barroso said: “It’s amazing. It took us 13 hours to get here from Brussels, and it’s still Europe.” This is the key message behind the slogan “Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific.”

Question: I’m going to ask you about one other country, Belarus. There will be a presidential summit on February 22. President Lukashenko will come to Russia. Recently, Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei gave an interview to the RBC media holding and mentioned Belarus’ multi-directional foreign policy. Do you think we have managed to work well with Minsk on integration? What should we expect from these talks?

Sergey Lavrov: The term “multi-directional” should not be used as a profanity. Most normal states want it. Russia, too, has used a multi-directional approach as the basis of its foreign policy since 2002. In our understanding, a multi-directional approach is possible only if based of equality, respect and a balance of interests, as well as mutual benefit. This is the only way it can work.

First, they threaten us with sanctions, and then the same people are saying that we “had it coming” and impose unilateral restrictions on us, and then say that we are “bad” because “we are looking to the East.” Everything has been turned upside down.

Russia is a Eurasian country. We have close contacts with Europe, which have been cultivated for centuries, before anyone even thought of a European Union, and the Europeans fought and competed against each other. By the way, we often helped them achieve peace and fair outcomes in wars.

Question: We even saved the monarchies?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, and they are aware of it. The republic in the United States, too, to a certain extent.

However, our European neighbours have severed almost all of our ties and left only sporadic contacts on international crises that are of interest to the EU in order to keep a profile on the international arena. In many ways, the EU is driven by a desire to be seen as an important operator in Syrian and other matters. If we are not welcome here, we will simply continue to work with our other neighbours who are not prone to whims like that.

Objectively, our trade with the EU is almost half of what it was in 2013. Our trade with China has doubled over the same period.

Question: Back to Minsk. What can we expect from talks between President Putin and President Lukashenko on February 22?

Sergey Lavrov: There are some who want to interpret Minsk’s words about the multi-directional nature of its foreign policy as proof of its “unreliability” as a partner and ally. I do not think so.

In the Council of Europe, of which Belarus is not a member yet, we advocate the CoE establishing relations with Minsk. We supported the accession of Minsk to a number of Council of Europe conventions. We have always been in favour of Belarus enjoying normal relations with its western neighbours. I’m not sure what the CoE will do next. Russophobia has swept over most of the EU countries, and the most “violent” ones are in charge of the agenda.

I read the remarks by President Lukashenko (not all his interviews, but they were cited) to the effect that he sees no obstacles to deepening integration. Progress will depend on how President Vladimir Putin and President Lukashenko agree on things.

There are two more days to go before the talks. I don’t think we should be speculating on the outcome of the summit. We will know everything soon.

Question: Recently, US President Joseph Biden said the United States will no longer be “rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions” (ostensibly, Donald Trump did this). How can we build our relations now? Are there subjects we can discuss with Washington? Are they ready to talk with us?

Sergey Lavrov: These comments on who is rolling over or will be rolling over in the face of someone’s actions illustrate a very deep split in US society. It reached a level of personal enmity that is aggressive and contrary to American political culture. The politicians did not particularly mince their words during previous presidential campaigns or prior to elections to Congress, but I don’t remember anything comparable to what is being said now.

Our liberal media promote a tough pro-Western line. In looking for objects of criticism in Russia, they are infringing on the threshold of decency and getting personal. They are very crude, and behave not like journalists but like inveterate propagandists, accusing others of propaganda.

The fact that the New Start Treaty was extended in time is a very positive step. This shouldn’t be overrated, but it shouldn’t be underrated, either. In his election speeches Joseph Biden mentioned his willingness to extend it, but these were election speeches after all. His promise could be interpreted differently later, but he extended this important document for five years without any conditions, like we suggested. If this had not happened, there would not have been a single instrument of international law, not only in Russian-US relations but in the entire range of multilateral ties, that contained any restrictions in the sphere of disarmament, arms control and nuclear weapons non-proliferation.

It is very important that just a few days prior to February 5, 2021, the date the treaty was extended for five years, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and US President Joseph Biden reaffirmed their intention to promote talks on strategic stability in these new conditions, in their first telephone conversation after the US presidential election. The situation has changed substantially since 2010: We and the Americans have acquired new weapons some of which are covered by the treaty. We announced this last year. We said that they must be taken into account. Some other weapons are not covered by the treaty – they are basically very different because of their physical characteristics.

Question: Are you talking about hypersonic weapons?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, the United States also has such weapons. Hypersonic weapons are partly covered by the New START Treaty, if these are ballistic missiles.

The New START Treaty already covers some weapons systems, so we now have to include these weapons systems in the Treaty for the next five years and see how all this will be verified. But it does not cover some weapons.

The United States has developed a new system called the Prompt Global Strike (PGS). By the way, this system implies a non-nuclear strike. We have suggested negotiating all issues without exception that have an impact on strategic stability and the legitimate interests of the contracting parties.

Question: Did they agree to this? Are they ready?

Sergey Lavrov: In October 2020, we submitted draft joint understandings to the Trump administration. This rough outline shows how we can sit down and start negotiating the agenda. We have received no reply from them. Instead of addressing this matter, Marshall Billingslea, the Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, mostly made vocal statements that the United States was all for it but that the Russians did not want to do this.

When I spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, I reminded him that Russia had submitted its proposals to the Trump administration, which dealt with this matter and many other issues, including cybersecurity and concerns over interference in each other’s domestic affairs. We would like to get back to them, and to hear the Biden administration’s opinions in this regard. We realise that they now need some time to settle down in the White House and the Department of State. I hope that this will not take too long.

There are still some questions on disarmament, for example, the lineup of participants in the disarmament process. The US position on China, approved by Donald Trump, remains unchanged; the same concerns a number of other matters.

Regarding multilateral talks, first of all, this should not annul Russian-US agreements because we have several times more nuclear weapons than other nuclear countries. Second, if we make this a multilateral process, then all prospective participants, primarily the five nuclear powers, should reach a voluntary agreement. We will never try to persuade China. We respect the position of Beijing, which either wants to catch up with us or proposes that we first reduce our arsenals to China’s levels and then start on the talks. All circumstances considered, if this is a multilateral process, then we will get nowhere without the United Kingdom and France. The Trump administration insisted that China should take part and at the same time said about its allies that they were the good guys, literally. This sounds funny. Apart from the complicated and lengthy disarmament process, we do not have so many promising spheres where we can cooperate constructively.

Question: Does this mean that their vision of the issue is entirely different or that they are reluctant to negotiate?

Sergey Lavrov: They think that they are the boss, and this mentality is still here and it determines the perception of their enemies. So far, they have not designated China as an enemy, but they have called us an enemy a couple of times. Democrats have an additional motivation for expanding this policy. Their position is that, supposedly unlike with Donald Trump, they will be “no Russian tail wagging the dog.”

Question: Don’t you think that Democrats have come to power with the intention of taking revenge against Russia, and that they will implement Donald Trump’s anti-Russia plans that he failed to accomplish in four years.

Sergey Lavrov: They made such statements during the election campaign. Joe Biden and his supporters said openly that the Trump administration had gone soft, that it was constantly making advances and working for the Russian intelligence. Donald Trump said that he was conducting the toughest policy with regard to Russia. He said that he liked Vladimir Putin, but he introduced more sanctions than all of his predecessors taken together.

We are also witnessing a cowboy-style showdown there. But this is normal for US politics, especially today. Disagreements between liberals who considered liberalism an irreversible trend have become aggravated to the greatest possible extent. Donald Trump, who did not like liberal principles and approaches, suddenly took over. He tried to think more about the basic interests of the American founders, the people who moved there (and it has always been a nation of immigrants), and who accepted its laws. So, the big question is whether people should remain loyal to the country that has accepted them, or do they want to erode its principles?

Question: Should they try to fit in?

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, and they want to be the boss. Everything boils down to this once again.

Question: Karabakh, the subject of that. Fortunately, the war is over and a peace agreement has been inked. We covered extensively the role Russia and Azerbaijan played. I have a question to do with Turkey. I was in Azerbaijan during the war and heard many people say that the Azerbaijanis are supportive of the Great Turan idea (a state that covered the territory from Turkey to Central Asia). Is Moscow concerned by Turkey becoming a stronger state?

Sergey Lavrov: This opinion is entertained by a portion of the society. I’m not going to give a percentage of how many people support this idea. I’m not sure many of those who informed you about this really know what “Great Turan” is all about.

The relations between Turkic-speaking peoples have become an integral part of cooperation between Turkey and the corresponding countries, including Azerbaijan and a number of Central Asian states.

There is the Cooperation Council of the Turkic-Speaking States, in which we participate as observers. A number of our republics are interested in contacts with it and are promoting their specific projects.

There is TURKSOY  ̵  the International Organisation of Turkic Culture. There’s also the Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic-Speaking Countries. All of them have been functioning for a long time now. They draft their own plans and hold functions. Their cooperation is mainly based on cultural, linguistic and educational traditions.

Speaking about the Great Turan as a supranational entity in a historical sense, I don’t think that this is what Turkey is after. I don’t see how former Soviet and now independent countries can be supportive of this idea in any form. On the contrary, their foreign policies and practices focus on strengthening their national states.

Turkey has its interests which include its fellow tribesmen who speak the same language. We also want the Russian World to communicate. We have created an extensive network of organisations of our compatriots living abroad; we are opening Russian World centres at universities in different countries with purely linguistic, educational and scientific goals.

The Centre for the Russian Language and Culture created by the Russkiy Mir Foundation was recently closed in Krakow. This is an obvious step for Poland, as well as for the Baltic States, which are fighting everything that is Russian. Ukraine followed in their footsteps and shut down several media outlets and imposed a language ban. We are well aware of all this. We will keep raising this matter at the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the corresponding UN agencies. One cannot pretend that this comes with the “growth” and the “coming of age” of the Ukrainian nation, which, as they say, is an “ill-fated” one. The Ukrainians claim that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great. In that case, they should be responsible for the orders they introduce. The EU, and Germany and France as the Normandy format participants, avoid performing their duties when it comes to “educating” Ukraine in terms of making it comply with the Minsk agreements, and this has become a chronic behaviour pattern which does not reflect well on Germany or France.

Question: It was announced that Ukraine was recognised an unfriendly state. How will this affect relations between us?

Sergey Lavrov: This is just a descriptive attribute. What’s friendly about it? Russian schools are being closed, customers and shop assistants are not allowed to speak their native language, and the Nazis are burning Russian flags.

Question: This is reminiscent of the Baltic States 20 to 30 years ago.

Sergey Lavrov: Back when the Baltic States were about to be admitted to the EU, we asked the Brussels bureaucrats, the Eurogrands, whether they were sure they were doing the right thing. The problems that are at odds with the membership criteria persist, including non-observance of the rights of the Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia. We were told that the Baltic States are phobic of Russia (war, the so-called occupation, etc.), the EU will bring it into its fold, it will calm down and ethnic minorities will be happy and contented. Things turned out the other way round. The Russians were not granted any rights, and statelessness is still there.

Question: Let’s go back to Turkey: Ankara’s stronger position, its active role in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, President Erdogan’s visit to Northern Cyprus (which a Turkish leader has not done for quite a while). What does Moscow think about it?

Sergey Lavrov: As far as Turkey and Northern Cyprus are concerned, we see it as Ankara’s relations with its “fellow countrymen.” I have not heard about Turkey refusing to honour the UN obligations accepted by the conflicting parties. These obligations include seeking a mutually acceptable solution and creating a bicommunal bizonal federation. There is a discussion of whether the federation will be strong or weak. But there is no disagreement about the fact that it must be one state. Although not so very long ago, it was the common opinion that the entire project would fail and they would have to create two states. We understand that Ankara is interested in Cypriot Turks living in equality and their rights being observed. We support the idea that the same motives with which Turkey explains its actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, including with respect to hydrocarbons, should determine its dialogue with Greece and Turkey.

On February 17, 2021, I spoke with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias who told me that on January 25, 2021, he had had a probing conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. They did not iron out all issues. But it is good news that a dialogue was established. They agreed to continue it. On February 18, 2021, I spoke with Mevlut Cavusoglu. We continued sharing opinions following the telephone conversations between President Putin and President Erdogan on Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and our bilateral relations. New power units of a nuclear power station are under construction; the TurkStream project is ongoing. There is much common ground between our countries when it comes to energy.

In October 2019, the first Russia-Africa Summit in history was held in Sochi. A record number of heads of state and heads of government attended. In the course of the preparations for the summit, we reviewed the development of our relations with African countries and the current state of affairs, including from the perspective of expanding our presence on the continent which political scientists consider to be the most promising in the long term. We reviewed other countries’ presence in Africa. Since 2002, the number of Turkish embassies in Africa has increased from 12 to 42. Turkey’s trade with the region is estimated at around 20 billion dollars a year and Russia’s trade is around 15 billion dollars. This is to say that Turkey has an eye for potential.

Question: Perhaps Turkey is disappointed with the EU because nobody accepted it?

Sergey Lavrov: I believe it could partially be the case. In its contacts with the EU, Ankara continues to insist that the EU promised it accession. Turkey is spreading its wings and gaining weight despite the existing economic problems at home. Turkey mainly goes on by accumulating its national debt but this model is widely common around the world.

Question: 2020 is the year of the pandemic. During such times, countries should join forces and help each other. Do you think that this was the case? Or did the world fail to put aside disagreements and rally together even when it came to the COVID-19 infection?

Sergey Lavrov: Now this conversation is back to square one. There are no ideologies anymore. But this ideology-based, politicised perception of the Russian vaccine was not a very good signal. The Sputnik V vaccine was announced in August 2020, many months after the G20 summit (March 2020) where Vladimir Putin strongly advocated cooperation in vaccine production. Even then, we were ready to create joint scientific teams. But Western countries and their companies, unwilling to help competitors, did not respond to that proposal. So much for unification in this purely medical field.

There is also the humanitarian sphere. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made calls during the pandemic to suspend all unilateral sanctions in fields directly affecting food, the supply of medicine and medical equipment, in order to alleviate the suffering of the population in countries that were under unilateral sanctions (regardless of their reasons). There was no reaction from the initiators of those sanctions (primarily the US and the EU). Also, there was no response to President Vladimir Putin’s proposal, at the G20 summit, to create ‘green corridors’ for the period of the pandemic, to move goods under the most relaxed rules – without tax, duties, tariffs, delays, or special customs inspections.

We are all in the same boat, and it’s not so big. Some forecasts say this situation will continue for a long time, and the coronavirus will be a seasonal infection, and it is not at all the same as the flu or other diseases, so we will have to use precautions permanently, use PPE. This realisation should somehow prod countries to more open cooperation, especially those that up until recently had some doubts.

True, there have been some good shifts. One of them is the United States’ return to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Some hotheads in Washington believe that, now that they have returned, they will make others do their bidding. There are fewer than 50 Chinese people in the WHO Secretariat, 25 Russians, over 200 Americans, and more than 2,000 NATO representatives. The past US administration said China was manipulating the WHO. That is not true. Otherwise, we are admitting the complete helplessness of 2,000 NATO members who should be the majority in the WHO Secretariat.

Nevertheless, there are some positive results though. This problem has been recently considered at the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. It is important now to focus on equitable collaboration within the WHO. Besides the attempts at carrying out “soft coups” and establishing their own rules in the organisation, hardly based on consensus, an idea has been suggested to move the main decision-making on global health policies outside the universal organisation. We have been pointing out this tendency for some time now – the one to replace international law with a rules-based world order. As it turns out in reality, those rules boil down to working out all decisions in a circle of those who agree with you rather than in a group with universal representation where you have to argue your case and search for balances and compromises. And then you just present the decision as ‘the ultimate truth’ and demand that everyone respect it.

This underlies the Franco-German initiative for a new multilateralism and some limited partnerships in the West. For example, Paris has launched an International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. Under this non-universal, non-UN partnership, the EU creates the so-called ‘horizontal’ regime of sanctions to be imposed on anyone that France-initiated partnership points at. A similar sanctions regime is being created for cybersecurity. Instead of any open-ended discussion, the French are promoting some partnership to defend freedom in cyberspace. This is another example of rules on which ‘order’ will be based.

There are attempts to start similar groups outside the WHO. But people’s health is not a field where one can play geopolitics. Unless there is a conspiracy behind this to reduce the population of the Earth. Many are now starting to develop such theories and concepts.

The Nurse’s Tale – “How We Poisoned the Skripals”

By David Macilwain

Alison McCourt 845f0

Forget all those conspiracy theories about the “Skripal Hoax”, tales of doorknobs and toxic perfume bottles, “GRU agents” and Salisbury cathedral. Forget too the stories of “Novichok” and “BZ” and the Institute for Statecraft, of Bellingcat, Chepiga and Mishkin.

These attempts to explain or to conceal one of the biggest criminal mysteries of modern times may now be forgotten, in the light of new and definitive evidence from a prime source – the Chief of Nursing for the British Army, Colonel Alison McCourt.

Seemingly imbued with team self-confidence at having pulled off the most successful covert operation since 9/11, Colonel McCourt has outed herself to a Salisbury local radio station as themystery nurse who first attended to Sergei and Yulia Skripal when they passed out on a  bench in The Maltings at 4.15 pm on Sunday 4th March.

Ten months of enquiries as to who this nurse was have yielded nothing, as following the possibly life-saving care Alison McCourt and her daughter Abigail afforded the poor Skripals, they slipped out of sight and mind, like the poisoning victims themselves.

There was a very good reason for this. Had the credentials and position of Nurse McCourt emergedat the time, questions may have been asked; not the right questions of course, but obvious questions such as why someone with Colonel McCourt’s experience had failed to diagnose the symptoms of nerve-agent poisoning so as to warn emergency and hospital staff of the contamination dangers from contact with the patients.

At the time, on Sunday evening, there was however no apparent knowledge that such a nerve agent was responsible, and in fact this was not public knowledge for another 24 hours. The local Salisbury Journal treated it as “the possible first case of Fentanyl poisoning in Salisbury”, going on peoples’ observations of the Skripals, and statements of emergency services.

Colonel Alison McCourt was appointed Chief Nursing Officer of the British Army on 1st February 2018. This followed a CBE for her work in charge of the field hospital set up in Kerry Town in Sierra Leone in October 2014 to fight the Ebola outbreak. She would have been acutely aware of the dangers of infection and contamination, and necessity for great care in approaching people displaying unusual symptoms and incapacitation. While the symptoms and treatment for Ebola and other “biological agents” may be different from those of nerve agents and related chemicals, the similarity in the precautions necessary is similar.

Reflecting this relationship it is no surprise to discover that Porton Down was closely involved in dealing with the Ebola outbreak and in “Operation GRITROCK” as the UK’s campaign in Sierra Leone was called. As commanding officer of this deployment and operation of the “22 Field Hospital”, Lieutenant Colonel McCourt would certainly have worked in close coordination with Porton Down, whose experience in dealing with Ebola dates back more than 40 years, at which time its function was research into Chemical and Biological Weapons, their development and countermeasures.

Nowadays Porton Down is rebadged as the DSTL – Defence Science and Technology Laboratories – and described in benign terms in a Government hand-out – “the truth about Porton Down”. Apparently focused on countering certain rumours and conspiracy theories about its activities, it says (and I must include this!):

Alien Bodies: No aliens, either alive or dead have ever been taken to Porton Down or any other Dstl site.

Cannabis Cultivation: Dstl and its predecessors do not and have never grown cannabis at Porton Down.

But on the subject of this particular conspiracy and the Ebola connection, it says:

“DSTL has an active research programme on Ebola and played an important role in the UK’s support to Sierra Leone during the recent outbreak. DSTL’s scientists provided advice on the biological and physical aspects of the virus, as well as deploying highly skilled research scientists to the diagnostic laboratory at the Kerry Town Ebola Treatment Unit.”

Following the success of the campaign by November 2015, the running of the UK facilities in Sierra Leone was taken over by Save the Children, and Colonel McCourt returned to the UK, where:

On promotion to Colonel in Dec 2015 she assumed an appointment in the newly established Senior Health Advisors department and has been the lead for Assurance and now Health Strategy in that area.

Given her home base is at Larkhill, one of a number of military-dominated towns in the “Salisbury Plains” area, that include Tidworth  – home of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, Warminster and Porton, one can assume that one of McCourt’s roles would be as liason between military health facilities at Porton Down and Salisbury District Hospital. In fact one can hardly imagine otherwise. SDH has had a covert relationship with Porton Down since the fifties, and specifically over Porton Down’s Sarin testing program.

Before her deployment in Operation GRITROCK, Alison McCourt had twenty years’ experience running field hospitals with QARANC, including two stints in Southern Iraq, in Bosnia and Kosovo. Interestingly in 2001 she helped set up a joint US-UK hospital in Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, at the same time as James Le Mesurier of White Helmets notoriety was there setting up a local “security force”.

So what happened? How is it possible that a dedicated nurse as competent and as experienced as Colonel McCourt, awarded the highest distinctions and made Chief Nursing Officer for the British Army, could be engaged in such egregious malpractice?

As McCourt’s true actions on that sunny Sunday afternoon in March remain unrecognised by the media and public, and unacknowledged by Government and its agencies, we need to go over the details of that crucial event, as they were reported by the Times on May 3rd, and accessible on the Police Federation website noted above. This is the relevant extract:

Offering new details on the March 4 attack, a source with knowledge of the case revealed that the first person to respond to the Skripals when they passed out was an off-duty army nurse who had worked on the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The nurse, a commissioned officer who has asked to remain anonymous, treated them before the emergency services arrived, and was vomited on but is not thought to have suffered novichok poisoning.

The treatment of patients thought to have been subject to nerve agents like Sarin and VX is comprehensively described in this document from the Royal Army Medical Corps. The first and most important action of the responder is decontamination of the victim, before making any contact, both to prevent further absorption of the agent by the victim and to prevent any effects on the responder.

Without sufficient protective gear, or self pre-treatment with antidote, the danger to any first responder is enormous. Abigail McCourt’s description of “putting the (victims) in the recovery position”, leave alone giving mouth to mouth, can mean only one thing, as her mother would never have allowed her daughter to be so endangered; she clearly knew there was no danger – at least from exposure to a highly toxic nerve agent.

Lieutenant Colonel McCourt first deployed to Iraq at the very beginning of the US invasion, at a time when there was much talk of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons, even though they appeared to have largely been destroyed by 2003. Whether she encountered any cases of chemical poisoning at that time is unknown, but as the RAMC journal shows this was an essential aspect of training for soldiers in general. The use of a Combo Pen of antidotes developed at Porton Down for emergency treatment of nerve agent victims also remains an essential part of that training, and of a soldiers’ equipment – even when off-duty.

But let’s not beat about the bush any longer, or get too taken up with speculation on the specifics of the Skripals’ poisoning. The questions of when they were initially poisoned, where and by whom, and with what drugs or chemical agents may never be revealed. What matters for this case is that the UK government’s story, on which multiple punitive actions have been taken, resulting in an unknown number of innocent deaths in Syria and elsewhere, is false on ALL counts.

First, the Government claims the poison contamination was on the Skripals’ doorknob, and it was this that was sampled by the OPCW. The whole story of the GRU agents’ trajectory is about their visit to Sergei Skripal’s house, around midday, and four hours before they were given “treatment” by Chief Nursing Officer McCourt. This is NOT possible.  Had the Skripals made skin contact with a lethal nerve toxin like VX (Novichok remains a theory at this point) and survived for four hours with no antidote, then they would certainly have recovered consciousness within days after suitable hospital treatment.

The only alternative explanations for the serious symptoms as described, with Yulia unconscious and apparently needing an emergency tracheotomy, all rule out any possibility of Russian involvement while incriminating part or all of the UK leadership, military and intelligence services in an elaborate conspiracy. By her own admission, Colonel McCourt was a party to this crime, and present in the area where it took place – in Salisbury Maltings shopping centre. The two Russian tourists accused of the attempted murder were long gone however, as Luke Harding notes:

At 1.50pm the suspects were seen at Salisbury station, going through the ticket barriers on their way back to London. Nobody paid them much attention. By the time Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found collapsed on a park bench in the centre of Salisbury later that afternoon, the poisoners were gone.

It won’t matter how many files are destroyed and identities changed in the corridors of GCHQ and Whitehall, in a desperate attempt to disclaim this crime as a rogue operation – as is currently being done by the “Two Eyes”; the game is up.

And perhaps as a final act of penance and service to the nation, Colonel Alison McCourt will come forward to tell “the Nurse’s Tale” – at a full public enquiry into this monstrous crime against humanity, and her co-conspirators will bear the consequences.

Operation Nina – A Conspirator’s View


There’s never a shortage of commentators reporting on how Russia planned the attack on the Skripals, or how Syria planned its chemical weapons massacres. So let’s just turn the tables on these prejudiced and blinkered proponents of the Western narrative…

The current impasse between the UK and Russia, initiated by the Skripal poisoning on March 4th and crystallized by the identification of two Russian “suspects” this week, calls for new thinking. Despite what appears to most Russians as the complete exposure of the UK’s dirty game, where its “smoking gun” evidence has been trashed by the appearance of the two “guns” on Russian TV, the UK’s leaders and their dutiful media remain unrepentant.

Worse than that, the “spycatchers” are re-invigorated with passionate Russophobia, full of indignation over the “brazen appearance” of their assassins on the BBC’s nemesis, RT.  After they spent so many months combing through 11,000 hours of CCTV footage to put together a picture of the men, whose recorded movements almost coincided with the location and movements of the Skripals, it would be vexing to see that work squandered in less than a week.

Or so it might seem.

But before we feel too sorry for those unnamed individuals who finally found the proverbial needles in the haystack of Russians visiting Salisbury, albeit, at rather a quiet time, we might consider this inconvenient detail: “Novichok” was found on swabs taken at the City Stay Hotel on MAY 4th.

This, of course, was only two months after the attack on the Skripals, when the nerve agent might have been considered “fresh” and possibly dangerous; more recent re-testing found no trace of Novichok, though it was suggested this was because all of the substance had been removed on the swabs in May. Yes.

Given that no-one at the hotel reported being affected by Novichok, one must conclude that police had already identified Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov by the end of April, as Russians who had flown into London on that snowy weekend in March, and who had visited Salisbury while staying at City Stay Hotel.

But before we waste time speculating how and why it took them another four months to release the mug-shots of the suspected “GRU agents”, we should consider how much earlier the two Russians may have been under suspicion as the possible culprits and purveyors of the Nina Ricci perfume “Nouveau Truc”.

If authorities assumed the assassins had come from Russia, with the extensive monitoring and searching capabilities now available to them, might Petrov and Boshirov (their real names) not have been identified within days?

But now here’s the rub.

Accepting that the “Novichok” poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal did NOT take place, neither as claimed by the UK from contact with a Novichok-smeared doorknob, nor in fact from any contact at all, we should now logically consider if these two Russian guys were identified before they came to London.

This is not some “conspiracy theory” – because it’s clear that there was a conspiracy. And with every new piece of “evidence”, and every repetition of the original false and fabricated claims against Russia this conspiracy becomes deeper and more malignant.

It is often useful when accusations are made against countries of – for instance – military expansionism, to reverse the protagonists; would the US be happy to see Chinese warships “maintaining freedom of navigation” between Cuba and Florida? While building military bases in neighboring countries and installing anti-missile defense systems in them?

So in considering the attack on the Skripals, and the apparent connection with false-flag chemical weapons attacks in Syria, it is useful to take what we may call a “conspirator’s eye view”.

Despite the credulity of Western media and its audience in the fabricated stories of chemical weapons use both in Syria and in Salisbury, there is now no alternative but to count these Western populations amongst the victims of a massive conspiracy by the UK and its allies; one that threatens to even exceed the criminality and deception involved in that “Mother of all Conspiracies” that launched the Imperial Wars of Terror seventeen years ago.

Considering this conspiracy, or operation – as it may appear to those who planned and executed the whole deception – from their perspective, opens up a whole new line of inquiry, and interest in past events that may have otherwise been overlooked. It may also take us into a realm of human psychology that is highly discomfiting, and for which it may be better to pretend that this is simply an academic inquiry.

A “what if the Skripal poisoning was staged by GCHQ to frame the Russians and provide a pretext for sanctions, because of their support for the Syrian government?” inquiry. But just remember this is a pretense.

First, we must assume that this operation was well-planned, and at least some months in advance. While considerations of the coming Russian Presidential election and the World Cup Football may have figured, along with Russia’s resistance in Ukraine and on its borders, the key driver behind “Operation Nina” (as we may choose to call it after the UK’s choice of “perfume”) must surely have been the situation in Syria.

This became quite clear when Theresa May delivered the “first use of a chemical weapon in Europe since WW2” accusation against Russia, timed as it was so cleverly only weeks before the staging of the Douma gas attack. Rather than simple guilt by association – supporting the “murderous Assad regime” – Russia could now be framed as a collaborator and user of chemical weapons.

One need only look at the rise in toxic Russophobia, and support for extreme measures against Russia which are entirely unjustifiable, to realize just who benefits from this framing of the West’s chief bugbear, and thus who might consider such an operation.

Russia’s enormous commitment to restoring peace and justice in Syria for the last seven years, and dedication to diplomacy and negotiation, with military action as the last resort, has been completely obscured by the NATO campaign of disinformation and subversive action, and to an extraordinary degree.

Clearly from the conspirators’ point of view, “Operation Nina” and the concomitant “White Helmets” and “Doctors Under Fire” operations in Syria have been a resounding success – even though the presumed goal of regime change still eludes them, whether in Damascus or Moscow. Certainly in terms of intent, and what the opposing parties stood to gain from assassinating Sergei Skripal there can be no argument – Russia only stood to lose, a little or a lot, while the UK and its allies stood to prevail both militarily and politically in their own interests, however morally repugnant and legally unjustified these were.

So we have the motive, and know the details of the bizarre method; what of the planning?

Is it possible that the unwitting Russian “agents”, whose visit to Salisbury has now become the clincher of the UK’s Novichok case, were actually lured to the vicinity of Sergei Skripal’s home, with the conveniently placed chemical weapons labs at nearby Porton Down? Without doubting the innocence of Petrov and Boshirov over any involvement in the BZ attack on the Skripals, might we consider if they were on a different mission, and victims of a “honey trap” not involving women?

This possibility – including their comment that “a friend suggested we visit Salisbury” could explain their slightly evasive and unconvincing answers on why they returned to the city for a second time. While we know that they weren’t caught on CCTV walking along Wilton Road “near the Skripal house” because that was their destination, it’s fair to ask why they chose to walk that way rather than the road north to Old Sarum, which they professed a desire to see.

Old Sarum is about two miles from the city center, so Petrov and Boshirov could have easily visited the site. But perhaps their friend had a different recommendation, and one they understandably would be reluctant to reveal – a venue which appears to be about the same distance from the center, along Wilton Road.

If this explanation for some anomalies in the Russians’ story is true, then it has an ironic twist; at the same time as they were striding off down Wilton Road, the final moves of the conspiracy to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter were taking place back in the city center.

The exact circumstances and timing of the attack – presumably on the park bench on which they were discovered incapacitated – may only be known to those who set it up, but we may be sure nothing was left to chance. This is in contrast to the apparently haphazard behavior and conflicting reports afterward, despite some serious preparations just beforehand.

To anyone familiar with Salisbury, its proximity to the largest Chemical and Biological Weapons research facility in Europe ranks alongside its ancient cathedral and prehistoric sites as a subject of interest, if not as a destination. For some in the past, it proved a final destination, as revealed at an inquest in 2003, fifty years after the death of a MoD guinea pig, RAF volunteer Ronald Maddison, from Sarin poisoning.

The UK government and its agencies will, of course, assure the public that “nowadays” Porton Down is merely involved in research into protection and defense against other states’ chemical, biological and nuclear agents. It gave similar assurances to the 3000 odd volunteers in the ‘50s, telling them they were helping to develop a cure for the common cold, as drops of Sarin were put on their skin.

It seems that nothing much has changed, except that in those days – like Soviet propaganda – no-one really believed Whitehall’s bland reassurances or imagined that Porton Down was full of harmless boffins working for the common good.

What has changed is that the “elite” at the helm of today’s conspiracies has become supremely confident in its ability to deceive the public into believing whatever story best suits their special interests. As is illustrated by the whole crazy “Novichok” story – which has appeared as barely believable even to those who would readily blame Russia for it – the public can now be made to believe in anything, and with conviction.

And so it seems that as in Mossad’s motto – “By way of deception though shalt wage war”; this has become the modus operandi for the UK and its allies in their war on Russia and Syria, and anyone else standing in the way of their hegemonic and demonic ambitions.


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