S. Lavrov Press Conference: Excerpts Related to Ukraine [April 8, 2014]

Personally, I believe Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is one of the most competent diplomats on the international arena today. His arguments are always impeccably logical and backed up by facts. But from Western media coverage you would not know that. This pathetic brief was published by Reuters today. It took TWO people to ‘report’ and ‘edit’ that rather useless string of sentences. It tells you exactly nothing of either Lavrov’s arguments or his reasoning, while the press conference he gave was extensive, to say the least.

Call me crazy, but to me it seems – if I am in conflict with another state, shouldn’t I try to understand where they are coming from? Again, call me crazy, but if I am an American political analyst in Ukraine stand-off, aren’t I supposed to be analysing the enemy? I have yet to see one article in Western mass media in which the author goes through the labor of seriously researching the arguments Russian FM makes. These days, the furthest they go is, well, quoting White House press releases and statements made by Jen Psaki. And Jen Psaki gets her info on the crisis from Ukraine authorities. These ones:

pc-140408-kiev-brawl-01_32a65e741b04ae47ad01f398afba427aTrue story. She said so herself.

She leaves it up to journalists to get a read out from the Russians…

So while I wait for a Western journalist to actually publish a decent article with the read out from the Russians (if you find one, please leave link in the comments), here is my translation of today’s press conference.

Original can be found here, in Russian.

***

Q: Yesterday you spoke on the phone with John Kerry, US Secretary of State, after which Jen Psaki, State Department Spokeswoman, said that you had discussed the possibility of arranging a meeting involving USA, European Union, Russia and Ukraine to discuss current events in Ukraine. Is that so? If yes, when and where do you think this meeting might take place? In addition, Ms. Psaki also stated that recent events in Ukraine have been arranged by Russia. What is your response to that? Thank you.

SL: As far as who is orchestrating, and orchestrated, events on the ground in Ukraine – it seems as though our American partners are trying to analyze the situation by ascribing their own habits to someone else. I also heard that on top of Ms. Psaki’s statement Mr. Carney, White House Spokesman, also commented on the subject. According to him some demonstrations in South-Eastern Ukraine have been paid for, their participants aren’t locals and these events are being facilitated by outside forces. It sounded as though he went back in time and is describing events that took place on Maidan, downtown Kiev 5 months ago. As for who makes payments in this story, there have been enough leaks citing information that nobody ever disputed. Those payments are directly linked with the reasons for the deep Ukrainian crisis we are witnessing at the moment. For that reason, I leave statements of this sort on the conscience of our American partners. To say the same thing in Russian – don’t transfer blame from a sick head to a healthy one.

In regards to our discussions with John Kerry, as well as our German partners – yesterday I spoke with my German counterpart Mr. Steinmeier – and it’s true, we are ready to consider a multilateral format where each of the four sides is represented. According to Ms. Psaki’s statement, these talks can be held as soon as ten days from now. John Kerry and I did not speak of a set date because, according to our agreement, we first want to understand what the format of the talks will be, what will be on the agenda and what will be the rules or procedures if you will.

So when we speak of carrying out this procedure, it is important to keep two things in mind. Number one is who exactly will represent the Ukrainian side. Our American colleagues point to current representatives in Kiev. We don’t reject cooperation with them – a few weeks ago President Putin instructed our government and its Chairman to keep the cooperation channels in place when it comes to economy, social affairs, foreign policy bodies as well – yesterday I spoke with Andrei Dischitsa. But we remain firmly convinced – and our conviction has not yet been disputed by anyone – that you can’t achieve de-escalation and direct the situation towards national dialogue if Ukrainian government continues to ignore the interests of South-Eastern regions of the country. From the moment they took power, there hasn’t been a single positive gesture towards the South-East of Ukraine. On the contrary, these gestures were predominantly negative. They began by repealing the Law on Regional Languages, which in itself was a very clear signal to the South and the East, regardless of the fact that the action was vetoed later on. They ended with claiming that there will be no federalization, Russian language will not receive any special status and that ethnic Russians have nothing to do with Ukrainian statehood. All these signals – at a time when elementary respect towards the East and South doesn’t exist – were interpreted in those parts of the country as disregard of people’s legitimate interests. Refusing the dialogue was interpreted to mean that if people themselves don’t stand up for their rights, nobody else will. And only when this, absolutely lawful, indignation resulted in protests the government began hovering about and sending its emissaries to the East and South. This should’ve been done weeks, if not months ago, considering the fact that those who grabbed power in Kiev have been in charge since February 22nd. Therefore, any multilateral format for talks, which ignores the indignation of the East and South at how Kiev is acting towards them, ignores the legitimate interests of those people – makes it impossible to work effectively in any and all formats. We insist that the East and South of Ukraine must be represented in these procedures.

John Kerry asked me how this can be done and who will represent the East and South. There are governors there, as well as people’s public gatherings, when they declare their own governing bodies – how do we resolve this? Of course I don’t believe that the oligarchs, who were appointed governors of a number of regions, will demonstrate worthy representation of South-Eastern Ukraine. There is another criterion – Presidential candidates. Most leading political factions of Ukraine approved and nominated their Presidential candidates. Regardless of what one thinks of the upcoming elections, the candidates, who were approved by political parties, represent legitimate political forces of Ukrainian state. Undoubtedly, we shouldn’t probably include all candidates – there are over twenty of them – but those that represent leading political parties, leading regions of the country can definitely make up a representative group of politicians. They can be invited to multilateral talks and with the support of external players – Russia, EU, USA – finally begin national dialogue with the politicians in Kiev, or at least initiate the process which will lead to national dialogue. This process first and foremost has to result in Constitutional reform. This approach to forming the circle of Ukrainian representatives would be entirely in line with the statement John Kerry and I made after our talks in Paris on March 30th. I’ll remind in that statement we expressed our readiness to work with current Ukrainian government and in a wider effort with the Ukrainian people so as to achieve resolutions of issues like ethnic minority rights, language rights, disarming illegal paramilitary groups and conducting an inclusive Constitutional reform. And I would like to highlight the need to engage not only with the government, but also with the people of Ukraine. Thus political candidates from various parties represent a certain part of the people. This is how we should work on inclusive Constitutional reform – meaning all leading parts of society must be involved in the process.

So far, and here I move to the second aspect, which must be kept in mind, Constitutional reform is being conducted in secret. In the beginning of March notice came out that the government formed either a special group or a special commission working on the new Constitution – but there is absolutely no information about what exactly is being discussed and which concepts are being nominated as basis of this supremely important new document. I requested clarification from Andrei Dischitsa when we met on the sidelines of Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. I requested clarification also from John Kerry, considering that the American side is firmly involved in the process of preparing the new Constitution of Ukraine via its influence on Kiev. We didn’t get comprehensible clarifications. We only hear from either Yatseniuk or Turchinov that there will be no federalization, regions will be given some additional rights – but again, this is an arrogant approach. If you are really willing to give additional rights to the regions – invite those regions to the table, try to hear what they want, then commence negotiations. A lot of politicians are speaking out in favor of such an arrangement, not just in Russia but also in Europe and even Ukraine itself.

So the 10 days that American representatives estimate is required to arrange this multilateral meeting – is that based on the fact that Yatseniuk promised in public to complete Constitutional reform by April 15th? If so, I have a question: are they planning to call for this multilateral meeting after the new Constitution is already presented in Verkhovnaya Rada? This means to all the regions that do not trust the current government, Constitution will be presented as fait accompli. Russia will be invited to this meeting so as to use our presence there to legitimize the Constitution that nobody has seen as of yet.

These are our concerns, and I speak of them honestly in public because all too often the content of our conversations is misrepresented publicly by our American partners.

So these two aspects I mentioned – the make up of representatives from Ukrainian side, and the necessity of clarifying what is going on with the work on this new Constitution. When is that process going to become truly inclusive, as John Kerry and I agreed, and when is it going to be transparent? I think we are justified in seeking answers to these questions.

Q: Sergei Viktorovich, would Russia support a referendum on independence in South-Eastern Ukraine? And what would Russia’s reaction be if majority votes to split from Ukraine?

SL: I prefer not to diverge into speculation. Everyone knows it isn’t productive, especially when it comes to foreign policy and even more so at a time of various crises. I really wouldn’t like trends to repeat themselves. From the onset of Ukrainian crisis we warned our partners in Europe and the US that encouraging anti-constitutional actions is destructive. Warned them of the dangers of flirting with participants of activities directed against the government – including openly radical and extremist ones. And in the aftermath of anti-constitutional coup we called on everybody to honor the February 21 agreement. These calls were ignored. And now they tell us “Well, you know, what happened – happened. Let’s think about the actions we can take based on the events that have unfolded.” This isn’t serious politics. This is politics of fait accompli and it’s dishonest, because the forces that now advocate not looking back are the very ones that created the fait accompli. So instead of speculating ‘What if..?’, we want our partners to honor the agreements that were made. That includes the agreement from February 21st, with its inclusive constitutional reform, which respects the interests of all regions. All of this corresponds to the agreements that were reached and announced by both John Kerry and myself just a week ago. This is the way I prefer to act, rather than wait for negative scenarios to unfold.

Q: Sergei Viktorovich, the relationship between Russia and Afghanistan – how is it going to develop in light of recent statements and actions by NATO? Especially the helicopter project – is Russia going to call off its fee from the trust fund?

SL: The relationship between Afghanistan and Russia will not be affected. NATO authorities notified us, after internal discussions and considerations, that they decided to freeze a number of directions of our strategic partnership. That includes counter-terrorism, which in itself already points to the fact that the West is once again ready to utilize double standards in fighting terrorism. That also includes anti-narcotics projects, which again points to exactly how much attention they pay to our demands to finally push and thwart heroin aggression coming out of Afghanistan. Consider, for instance, that the volume of drug trafficking, since NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan, increased 40-fold. And they also notified us they are freezing the helicopter project. The goal of the project was to supply parts for Soviet- and Russia-produced helicopters Afghan military is using, as well as training staff to operate these machines. We’ve been told this project is terminated within the frame of Russia-NATO Council, which means deposits won’t be made towards the trust fund. But at the same time we are told that NATO, or individual country-members to be more accurate, are willing to cooperate, but outside of the frame of Russia-NATO Council. This, you know, is sort of like an ostrich position, rather hypocritical. I am not currently in the possession of practical details of implementing the project, so I can’t comment, but the parts, which were to be supplied to Afghanistan, were produced in Russia and supplied by Russian factories. Staff training was also conducted on our training facility in Novosibirsk. I believe the money Russian government contributed to these goals, back then still within the frames of Russia-NATO Council, can very well be used to support Afghan security forces in identical manner, but directly, as Russian contribution towards stability in Afghanistan.

Thank you.

Featured image borrowed from Belle News.

‘Brawl’ scene image borrowed from NBC News.

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