Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with TASS News Agency, December 30, 2020
Question: The pandemic has changed people’s lives this year. However, instead of cooperative international efforts against the pandemic next year we will likely have a war of vaccines. Where does our strength lie? Will the pandemic become the touchstone for international relations? Who has reaffirmed their friendly ties with us amid the 2020 calamities?
Sergey Lavrov: Our strength is that Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a unique geostrategic position and considerable military-political, economic and cultural potential, has a peaceful and predictable foreign policy. We remain open to joint efforts, based on mutual respect, with anyone who is willing to reciprocate. The main task for Russian diplomacy is to create favourable external conditions for sustainable domestic development, which means that we must build up multifaceted international cooperation and create a “good neighbourliness belt” around the country in the broad sense of the word.
We are not playing zero sum geopolitical games, and we are not acting in the spirit of an archaic concept of spheres of influence. Quite the contrary, we are taking practical action to implement the idea that large-scale trans-border problems can only be settled through joint efforts based on the principle of solidarity.
Guided by this logic, we have provided assistance to countries that have been hit especially heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic at the bilateral level and through multilateral organisations. We are ready to continue cooperating with all interested foreign partners to comprehensively overcome the consequences of this common tragedy. Incidentally, this is what distinguishes Russia from some Western countries, which have not only tried to politicise the purely humanitarian battle against the pandemic but have also used it to punish “undesirable” governments, contrary to UN calls for at least the temporary lifting of some of the unilateral restrictions, which are complicating the sanitary and epidemiological situation in these countries.
In this context, it appears logical that even under these circumstances we have built up and strengthened our friendly cooperation with the overwhelming majority of countries in a broad range of spheres this year, including with our allies, like-minded countries and partners in the CSTO, the EAEU, the CIS, BRICS and the SCO.
I would like to use this occasion to reaffirm that we remain open to dialogue with our Western colleagues, provided, of course, they give up lecturing and the policy of blackmail and ultimatums. This would benefit both our relations with them and international security and stability in general.
Question: The New START will expire within a matter of weeks, and any possible extension, if coordinated, will only be temporary because the treaty was signed in 2010 when the situation was completely different. Other arms control agreements are not effective either. How far do you think the nascent arms race might go?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe you have taken note of what President Putin said during his annual news conference on December 17 that the arms race is already underway. Just take a look at the US military budget and the number of programmes it has to create or upgrade weapons. Washington’s objective is to ensure its military superiority in order to prop up its weakening global standing at all costs.
The arms control system has fallen victim to that destructive policy. The Americans have destroyed a number of vital agreements and are doing their best to promote initiatives that would benefit them alone. At the same time, they have shown complete disregard for the security interests of other countries.
The New START is the last international agreement that limits the nuclear missile potential of the world’s two largest nuclear powers and ensures predictability and verifiability of their activities in this sphere. I would like to remind everyone that it expires next February. We expressed readiness on numerous occasions to extend it as it was signed and without any preconditions for up to five years. This would maintain the current level of transparency in our strategic relations with the United States.
In addition, in light of the deteriorating global conditions, we call for Russia and the United States, which have special responsibility for international security, to launch talks on a new security equation that will take into account all current strategic stability factors and modern military technologies.
As of now, we will wait for the new US administration to determine its approach to the New START and arms control talks in general.
I would also like to remind you about the Russian initiative for lowering risks after the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. President Putin has put forth practical proposals regarding this. In particular, he reiterated our commitment to the moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles until US-manufactured missiles of similar classes appear in the respective regions, and called on the NATO leadership to consider the possibility of declaring a reciprocal moratorium and specific options of reciprocal verification measures. The ball is now in NATO’s court.