Question: Who has provoked the Ukrainian crisis? Was Moscow aware of the geopolitical, economic and reputational price it would have to pay for Crimea’s reunification with Russia? Do you think it was too high in the context of Russian-Ukrainian relations? Is there a lasting solution to the Ukrainian crisis?
Sergey Lavrov: The Ukrainian crisis was not incidental, but rather the result of systemic problems that have been accumulating in European affairs and international relations over the past two decades.
An unprecedented opportunity to create a Europe without dividing lines after the end of the Cold War, based on the principles of indivisibility, security and broad cooperation, has been lost. Despite Russia’s insistent urging and the commitments to create a community of nations based on security, which were undertaken at a high level in the framework of the OSCE and the Russia-NATO Council, the policy of unrestrained eastward geopolitical expansion controlled by Euro-Atlantic organisations has gained the upper hand in the West. The policy of interfering in the internal affairs of others and enforcing certain reform formulas, including militarily, has been widely used in Europe and the rest of the world. All these problems also influenced the situation in Ukraine.
We repeatedly warned our partners about the negative aspects of attempts to force Kiev to make an unnatural choice between “them” and “us” and between developing cooperation in the East or in the West. Unfortunately, these calls were left unheeded. The state coup that was staged in Ukraine in February last year led to the collapse of state power, with the ultra-nationalists who seized power in the country unleashing a bloody civil war and pushing the country to the brink of a split.
It’s obvious that the free expression of will by Crimeans, who voted in a referendum for declaring independence from Ukraine and for reuniting with Russia, was only a reaction to the events described above. Therefore, any attempts to question the Crimeans’ choice, which was made in full compliance with international law, were absolutely absurd. I’d like to remind you in this connection that many European countries considered it possible to recognise the independence of Kosovo even though no referendum on secession from Serbia was held. Developments in Donbass have clearly shown what fate would have befallen Crimeans had they not voted for reunification with Russia. No price is too high in this situation.
As for the possibility of resolving the Ukrainian crisis, our ties with our foreign partners show that even though we hold different opinions on the situation in that country, we agree that this crisis can only be settled peacefully, through the unconditional implementation of the February 12 Minsk Agreements. Success in this issue depends on finding a solution to the main problems under the framework of a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass. Ukrainians themselves must start searching, based on the Minsk Agreements, for mutually acceptable solutions to their problems and differences.
They can do this if they muster political will, which appears to be in short supply in Kiev. It is the unwillingness of the Kiev authorities to talk with the southeastern regions that is largely hindering the settlement process. This attitude also undermines the general efforts undertaken in the framework of the Normandy format. We hope that our German and French partners will work more consistently to encourage strict compliance with the Minsk commitments in Kiev.
Question: Where can the next colour revolution happen? Can it be Belarus?
Sergey Lavrov: I think you should direct this question to those who plan, finance and organise such geopolitical engineering projects. We are convinced that any export of communist, democratic or any other revolutions greatly damages the people of the countries where such experiments are staged. This practice is a major violation of international law, one that seriously undermines global and regional stability.
We believe it vital to reaffirm the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries as was laid down in the UN Charter and the OSCE Helsinki Final Act, including the unacceptability of subversive actions and support for the unconstitutional change of government in other countries. We believe that the Helsinki+40 process in the OSCE has paved the way for continuing serious discussions on this issue and on an entire range of issues pertaining to European security.
As for Belarus, any attempts to destabilise the internal political situation there are unlikely to be supported by the majority of Belarusian citizens. Evidence of this are the results of the presidential elections held last October, during which Belarusians spoke for internal political stability and for stronger ties with Russia, including in the framework of the Union State and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).