May 5, 2022
Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov gave an interview to the Chinese news agency Xinhua. Here are some interesting tidbits, with commentary.
- What is at the root of the Ukrainian crisis?
NATO’s reckless expansion to the East was a key component of those actions, despite the political obligations to the Soviet leadership on the non-expansion of the Alliance. As you know, those promises were just empty words. All these years, NATO infrastructure has been moving closer and closer to the Russian borders.
No such “obligations” or “promises” were ever made. Gorbachev could not even recall discussing NATO expansion with the Americans. In fact, all agreements at the time explicitly state that NATO would expand East. And it could not have been otherwise — it was already abundantly clear that the Baltic states and several of the East European satellites would immediately wish to join. The Soviet leadership understood that and knew there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. They also understood that NATO was a defensive alliance. That’s one reason Gorbachev unilaterally scaled down Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe, allowing NATO to match the USSR in conventional weapons in Europe for the first time since the start of the Cold War. Yes, that’s right: during the Cold War, the Soviet Union maintained a larger conventional force in Europe than NATO. Maybe the US should have been harping all along how this is a threat and that it was being provoked by Moscow.
- Provoking the 2014 Revolution.
It is well-known that the United States and NATO member states have always viewed Ukraine as a tool to contain Russia. […] It was the collective West that first provoked and then supported the anti-constitutional coup d’etat in Kiev in February 2014.
It is true that some US commentators — Brzezinski comes to mind — thought that if the West somehow detached Ukraine from the Russian sphere of influence, then Russia would no longer pose a danger to Europe. Recent events indicate that he might have been right. However, it is also true that the US government has been quite careful when it came to Ukraine, for several reasons:
- Until 2014 there was simply no strong pro-Western, anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine. Survey after survey showed that Ukrainians regarded Russians as friendly, did not think they needed NATO membership (were, in fact, opposed to it), while also wanting closer economic ties with the European Union. The anti-Russian sentiment was unleashed by the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in Donbas, not vice versa.
- The US government was quite aware that Moscow regarded Ukraine with special wariness, and was, as a result, very ginger in its handling of Ukrainian politics. When Ukraine wanted independence from the USSR, Bush threw them in despair when he argued they should stick together with Russia. When NATO membership was mooted, the most US would agree to was to give the same standing with the alliance as it had given Russia.
- The “West” certainly did not wish to do anything to upset Putin. German, French, and Italian policy had been exceptionally friendly to Russia, to the point that they created the impression that they would allow Putin to do anything he pleased. There was no crisis or war in which Russia was involved — and Russia has spent all but one year of its post-Soviet existence at war — that the “West” thought sufficient to start distancing itself from its dependence on Russian gas, oil, petroleum products, or money.
- The 2014 Revolution was provoked by Russia-supported President Yanukovych, who withdrew from the trade agreement with the European Union and unequivocally signaled that he wanted to put Ukraine firmly in a position of dependence on Russia. Pro-democracy, pro-Europe, and anti-Russian demonstrators joined to protest this. The regime heavy-handed attempt to disperse them ended in violence, in which over a hundred people were killed by the security services, and that provoked further unrest until Yanukovych fled to Russia. There was no “Western” involvement in this beyond bland encouragement by a few visiting dignitaries and desultory phone conversations among Americans about who likely successors to Yanukovych could be. This was an indigenous revolt, and not a coup d’etat.
- Crimea and the war in Donbas.
Nationalists came to power in Ukraine and immediately unleashed a bloody massacre in Donbass, and set the course on the destruction of everything Russian in the rest of the country. Let me remind you that it was precisely because of this threat that the people of Crimea voted in a referendum for the reunification with Russia in 2014.
Crimea was invaded by unmarked Russian troops (at the time Putin denied they were Russian, but he finally admitted this several years later). They seized all local administration with the connivance of collaborators, and the Ukrainian navy defected to the Russians. The provisional government in Kyiv that had come to power after Yanukovych fled to Russia was unable to stop any of this because the Ukrainian army was badly trained and its loyalties were also suspect. The Russians conducted a phony referendum that nobody in the world recognized and annexed Crimea.
The situation in Donbas initially followed a similar pattern. Russian operatives fanned out to Donetsk and Luhansk, and used local collaborators to start organizing resistance to Kyiv. The leaders of this “resistance” were often Russian nationals with ties to the intelligence services. When Kyiv attempted to stop this, they fought back. Again, Kyiv’s military weakness was evident and there were some desertions, with equipment, to these “separatists.” The Russians attempted a similar strategy in Odessa, but it failed when pro-Ukrainian mobs chased away the provocateurs and besieged them. The building caught on fire (nobody is sure how), and even though most people were rescued by the “nationalists” (about 320), still about 40 perished in the fire. The provocateurs had local support in the police, which had stood by during earlier clashes between the two sides, and the police chief (along with several others) fled to Russia after the failure.
- The war in Donbas.
Over these past years, the United States and its allies have done nothing to stop the intra-Ukrainian conflict. Instead of encouraging Kiev to settle it politically based on the Minsk Complex of Measures, they sent weapons, trained and armed the Ukrainian army and nationalist battalions, and generally carried out the military-political development of Ukraine’s territory. They encouraged the aggressive anti-Russia course pursued by the Kiev authorities. In fact, they pushed the Ukrainian nationalists to undermine the negotiating process and resolve the Donbass issue by force.
After the initial failures of the forces loyal to Kyiv, several volunteer paramilitary organizations were formed. These consisted of a motley collection of football ultras, nationalists, neo-Nazis, and others with some military experience. They were the ones who engaged the “separatists” who themselves were very much like them except with Russian support. The Pentagon was sufficiently worried about the optics of these paramilitaries that they did not want to supply them with weapons. The paramilitaries, however, were relatively successful in checking the “separatists,” which led to the first cease-fires at Minsk. From this point on, it was a war of attrition — Kyiv eventually disbanded the paramilitaries, and brought some of the most effective ones under direct control by incorporating them into the defense forces. The Ukrainian army improved and started to recover ground in Donbas, which prompted an over Russian intervention which threw them back. This is when we got Minsk II.
In the negotiations, the West consistently pressed for Putin to negotiate directly on behalf of the “separatists” — the reasoning was that without his support they could not exist (and that much was revealed by the need for direct Russian intervention to save them). Putin refused, claiming he had nothing to do with the separatists. As a result, none of the cease-fires lasted: they simply could not last while Moscow was actively working to make sure they fail. The reason for that was simple: Putin needed the instability in Donbas as leverage against the Kyiv regime. He had no use for a peace there, on any terms. So while it is true that the West helped Ukraine in this, they are not the reason Minsk II failed.
It was not Kyiv that was trying to “resolve the Donbas issue by force.” In fact, by 2022, they had mostly contained it — the number of civilian deaths had plummeted over the past 3 years to an annual average of 25, and in 2021 there were months when no Ukrainian soldiers died there. In fact, the failure of the Donbas “separatists” to destabilize the regime was itself one of the causes of the Russian invasion — they were about to collapse, having made the rest of Ukraine dislike both them and the Russians because of the conflict.
- WMDs in Ukraine.
We were deeply concerned about the undeclared biological programmes implemented in Ukraine with Pentagon’s support in close proximity to the Russian borders. And, of course, we could not disregard the Kiev leadership’s undisguised intentions to acquire a military nuclear potential, which would create an unacceptable threat to Russia’s national security.
The rumor about the biolabs in Ukraine is several years old and was, in fact, originally created in the US. It made news at the time, and was investigated. The conclusion was that no weapons were being developed there, and that whatever assistance/supervision the US was providing was for safety and to ensure that Soviet-era bio research did not end up being loose on the black markets. This is very similar to American concerns with nuclear weapons from the former USSR. There is zero — zero! — evidence of Ukraine trying to develop nuclear weapons. One should recall that Ukraine voluntarily gave up the Soviet nukes (along with Kazakhstan) in exchange for guarantees for territorial integrity and sovereignty, which Russia is currently violating despite being one of the guarantors. The US was very worried about Soviet nukes being “orphaned” after the collapse of the USSR, and spent billions trying to help repatriate them to Russia where they could be secured. The idea that Ukraine would somehow be developing nuclear weapons is a total fabrication.
- Russia had to stop the “genocide” in Donbas.
In these conditions, we had no other choice but to recognise the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and launch the special military operation. Its aim is to protect people from genocide by the neo-Nazis, as well as to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine. I would like to stress that Russia is acting to fulfil its obligations under bilateral agreements on cooperation and mutual assistance with the DPR and LPR, at the official request of Donetsk and Lugansk under Article 51 of the UN Charter on the right to self-defence.
There was no genocide in Donbas. None. The Russian claims have been thoroughly investigated and shown to be baseless. About 3,000 civilians died (mostly during the first year and a half) because of paramilitaries on both sides tended to shell each other indiscriminately. Some atrocities were committed, again by both sides. This, in fact, was part of the reason Kyiv sought to disband the paramilitaries and bring them under control. When this was done in 2017, the killings of civilians essentially ended, with most remaining incidents coming from the separatists. Moreover, it’s important to note that this “genocide” happened only in the territories of Donbas controlled by the separatists/Russians — no such “genocide” was perpetrated against the very same people in the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk under Ukrainian control.
Are there Nazis in Ukraine? Yes. As there are in Russia (where they are actually more numerous), and in many Western societies, including the US. There are all sorts of fringe groups everywhere. The question is whether they are important socially and politically. The reality is that the ultra-nationalists and the Nazis in Ukraine are quite marginal. There might be several thousand of them in country of 44 million. When they went political, they could not get into parliament, and lost almost all their local elections (where they were supposed to be the strongest). The Ukrainians have repudiated their ideas by voting for a Russian-speaking Jew from Eastern Ukraine in an obvious desire to heal the country torn by the war in Donbas, and to reassure Russian speakers of their place in Ukraine. The “Nazis” the Russians are hunting are imaginary, which is even worse in a sense because they can now label anyone they don’t like a Nazi (which they have started to do).
The so-called DPR/LPR are entities that only Russia recognizes — nobody in the world accords these territories any status other than Ukrainian lands temporary under Russian control. There is no legitimization to be had from any statements by self-proclaimed heads of non-existent entities. Especially when they are Russians themselves.
- The war and Western involvement.
The special military operation launched on February 24 is progressing strictly in accordance with the plan. All its goals will be achieved in spite of our opponents’ counteractions. At the moment we are witnessing a classic case of double standards and hypocrisy of the Western establishment. By publicly supporting the Kiev regime, NATO member states are doing everything in their power to prevent the completion of the operation by reaching political agreements. Various weapons are flowing endlessly into Ukraine through Poland and other NATO countries. All of this is being done under the pretext of “fighting the invasion”, but in fact the United States and the European Union intend to fight Russia “to the last Ukrainian.” They do not care at all about the fate of Ukraine as an independent subject of international relations.
Whether the Russian plan involved losing 25,000 troops in 2 months of war, as well as invading but then retreating from Kyiv, I do not know, but if this is what “progressing strictly in accordance with the plan” means, perhaps the Kremlin would like to have a word or two with the planners. It’s also difficult to reconcile the total success of the “special operation” with the complaint that the West is prolonging the war.
The worst offender in this paragraph, however, is the second part. The typical Kremlin sleight of hand here is to deny Ukrainians any agency. The fact of the matter is that no matter how many weapons the West must send to Ukraine, if the Ukrainians do not wish to use them against the Russians, there would be no fighting going on. Weapons merely allow Ukrainians to do what they wish to do, which happens to be defending their country from a Russian invasion. How, exactly, is the West forcing Ukraine to fight? How does the Kremlin explain the hundreds of thousands of volunteers that stepped up to get the weapons that Kyiv distributed to them in the desperate first days of the invasion? Or the fact that once armed, these Ukrainians did not march on Kyiv to depose the supposedly hateful regime, but instead went to shoot at invading Russians? It is understandable that Moscow wants the Ukrainians to not be armed so they would just capitulate, but the fact is, if Russia withdrew from Ukraine tomorrow, the war would be over. It is the Kremlin that seems intent on fighting to the bitter end.
The Russians are conducting phony negotiations as well. Their demands about disarming Ukraine have remained consistent from the start of the war. This is the equivalent of unconditional surrender, and we all know that this sort of demand cannot be imposed except by a total military victory. The Russians are nowhere close to achieving that, and — partly because of Western support for Kyiv — they now never will. The problem is that even now Russia appears intent on gobbling up Ukrainian territory. They want recognition of their illegal annexation of the Crimea, as well lands they are about to annex in Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kherson. What, exactly, is the US/NATO supposed to be agreeing to here, and why?
- Atrocities and media coverage.
Second, it is essential that the Kiev regime stops cynical provocations, including in the information space. Ukrainian armed formations are barbarically shelling cities using civilians as living shields. We saw examples of this in Donetsk and Kramatorsk. Captured Russian servicemen are being abused with animal cruelty, and these atrocities are being posted online. At the same time, they use their Western patrons and global media controlled by the West to accuse the Russian army of war crimes.
The Russians want everyone to believe, contrary to evidence and reason, that the Ukrainians are destroying their own cities and people. There is something astonishing in the audacity of such a preposterous claim. There is literally video evidence of who is targeting these places, where the rockets come from, and so on. The supposed examples are just Russian propaganda points that were quickly debunked once made. The only instance of abuse of captured Russians that I am aware of ended up with Kyiv having the perpetrators arrested. Ukraine has zero interest in abusing POWs since they want Russians to surrender and they do not want to lose the moral high ground internationally.
As for the media, recall that it was Putin’s regime that totally muzzled any independent media in Russia, and criminalized reporting of anything contrary to what the official Kremlin line happens to be. Western governments have almost no levers with which to control “global media.” This is, in fact, a source of frustration to many people who wished for more credible coverage of the pandemic as well as, at least in the US, of the last presidential elections. In other words, the side that is shutting down internet access and is actively persecuting people for expressing opinions is blaming the West, which itself has remained wide open to all sorts of information and whose governments have basically no way of controlling what is said.
- Ukrainians moved to Russia.
uring the special military operation, the hotline of the Interdepartmental Coordination Headquarters of the Russian Federation for Humanitarian Response in Ukraine has received requests for assistance in evacuating 2.8 million people to Russia, including 16,000 foreign citizens and employees of UN and OSCE international missions. In total, 1.02 million people have been evacuated from Ukraine, the DPR and LPR, of which over 120,000 are citizens of third countries, including over 300 Chinese nationals.
It is astounding that Lavrov would admit that Russia has kidnapped over a million people (of whom about a quarter are children)! Russia has no authority whatsoever to “evacuate” Ukrainians into Russia, process them through “filtration” camps, or “accommodation facilities.” The Russians have also repeatedly agreed to humanitarian corridors only to harass and shoot at people who attempted to use them.
- Western sanctions.
The special military operation was used by the collective West as a pretext to unleash numerous restrictions against Russia, as well as its legal entities and individuals. The United States, Great Britain, Canada and EU countries do not conceal that their goal is to strangle our economy by undermining its competitiveness and blocking Russia’s progressive development.
The sanctions have solid international support, but most countries in the “collective West” had not been keen on imposing anything serious on Russia before the invasion. It was the invasion that proved to be the catalyst, forcing so many countries off the fence with respect to Moscow. Russia has very, very few friends in the world today — a couple in Africa, Belarus, Cuba, and North Korea — and even countries that are generally well disposed to Russia — China and India come to mind — have been very cagey with their support for Moscow, prefer to abstain in UN votes.
It is true that the goal of the sanctions is to strangle the Russian economy. That’s because the West has concluded that Putin’s regime is a danger to them all. Despite 30 years of massive appeasement of Russia by the Europeans and the Americans, Putin still opted to start a war. If there is no way to reason with him about it, if there is no way to rely on incentives to get him to change his policy, then the only sensible way to shorten the war is to deny Russia the ability to wage it. That’s what the sanctions are trying to accomplish. And they are working despite Russian bluster to the contrary.
- A global struggle.
Today we are not talking about a new “cold war,” but, as I said earlier, about the persistent desire to impose a US-centric model of the world order coming from Washington and its satellites, who imagine themselves to be “arbiters of humankind’s fate.” It has reached the point where the Western minority is trying to replace the UN-centric architecture and international law formed after World War II with their own “rule-based order.” These rules are written by Washington and its allies and then imposed on the international community as binding.
It is clear that the collective West’s efforts to oppose the natural course of history and solve its problems at the expense of others are doomed. Today the world has several decision-making centres; it is multipolar. We can see how quickly Asian, African, and Latin American countries are developing. Everyone is getting a real freedom of choice, including where it comes to choosing their development models and participation in integration projects. Our special military operation in Ukraine also contributes to the process of freeing the world from the West’s neocolonial oppression heavily mixed with racism and a complex of exceptionalism.
This is perhaps the most important part of the interview because it says that Russia sees the conflict in global terms rather than the supposed liberation of Donbas that they peddled as the motive. The fact that the invasion violated the UN Charter is beyond dispute — the UNGA said so. The fact that Russia is violating international laws daily, is also clear. The fact that it is perpetrating war crimes is becoming more evident with every inch of land that the Ukrainians liberate from Russian control. You can say whetever you will about US foreign policy, but Russia does not get to justify its atrocities with real or imagined sins the United States has committed.
The second part is even more ambitious. The world is not multipolar in any meaningful sense. At best it’s bi-polar (US & China), and maybe even unipolar (US, militarily, although China is catching up fast). The second largest army in the world proved to be an embarrassment, and Russia’s sudden isolation and creeping economic collapse shows which side the world will rally to when faced with an open aggression like the one in Ukraine. The US has significant clout around the world, and the difference is that — unlike Russia’s regional domination of its neighbors — it isn’t coming from the barrel of a gun. We can talk a lot about colonialism (and we should), but the notion that Russia is bringing freedom to the world is so fanciful that it reminds me of the glory days of the Soviet Union where it was liberating millions from incorrect “development models”.
- Future of Russia-Ukraine relations.
Speaking about Russian-Ukrainian relations, Russia is interested in a peaceful, free, neutral, prosperous and friendly Ukraine. Despite the current administration’s anti-Russian course, we remember the many centuries of all-embracing cultural, spiritual, economic and family ties between Russians and Ukrainians. We will definitely restore these ties.
No they will not. Russia’s invasion has forged a new Ukrainian identity, part of which is defined by hatred and opposition to Russia. In this, Ukraine follows Poland and the Baltic states. The use of Russian language will massively decline in Ukraine (Ukrainian language courses are oversubscribed already in Russian-speaking areas), Russian culture will be marginalized, the connections to the Russian Orthodox Church — severed, and the economy will be firmly oriented to the West. Putin has destroyed the myth of “brotherly” nations once and for all. And for at least two generations, there will be nothing but enmity toward Moscow in Ukraine.
Also, Lavrov is lying about what Russia wants for Ukraine.