President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lavrov, we agreed today that the Foreign Ministry would present its views on the responses we received to our proposals sent to our US colleagues in Washington and our NATO colleagues in Brussels regarding security issues in Europe and their response to our concerns, primarily NATO’s endless and, in our view, most dangerous eastward expansion, now aimed at reaching out to former Soviet republics, including Ukraine.
I know that this analysis has been done. You also worked on it with your colleagues from other departments and ministries. Of course, I would like to hear both your analysis and your proposals on a response to the replies received from Washington and Brussels.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Mr President,
We have been working on your instructions since mid-December when we presented our initiatives to the Americans and to NATO member countries. We met with an American delegation and held a Russia-NATO Council meeting in mid-January during which we explained to our partners in detail the importance of our initiatives for resolving key security problems in the Euro-Atlantic Region.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked me for a separate meeting to clarify certain questions, and we had a meeting in Geneva. Several days later, on January 25, I believe, they sent us a response – a response from the United States and a response from the North Atlantic Alliance. We attentively studied these with our colleagues in the inter-departmental format.
We are primarily interested in a reply from the United States since it is clear to everyone who is playing the main role in resolving these issues in the Western camp. The US response consists of two parts.
In the first part, they respond to the three major issues that we outlined: NATO’s non-expansion; non-deployment of strike weapons that are a threat to us; and, in general, returning military and military-technical configurations in Europe to 1997 positions when Russia and NATO signed the Founding Act that raised the task of ensuring indivisible security for the first time.
The responses to these issues were negative and of course, we cannot be satisfied with them. They basically said the right of a state to choose unions and join or replace them overrides everything else and is not a subject for discussion, as it were.
We are reminding the Americans and our other Western colleagues that this right, formalised in OSCE top-level decisions at the 1999 and 2010 summits, the Russia-NATO 2002 Rome Declaration, and the Lisbon Declaration of the 2010 Russia-NATO summit, is not unconditional. This right is directly conditioned by other points that were supported, let me repeat, as a package by consensus.
The second part of the package basically says that each state’s right to choose alliances is limited by its own commitments not to enhance its security at the expense of any other state. And there is another point here, a very important one, which runs that no country, no group of countries or no organisation can dominate in the OSCE space.
Unfortunately, we are seeing an attempt by our NATO colleagues and the European Union, which is groping for its own place, to somehow have them alone determine the further progress of our continent.
Therefore, during the time between the meetings you had and the ones we had through the Foreign Ministry, I sent a special address to all our Western colleagues, drawing their attention to the fact that the obligations on the indivisibility of security are much more complex and complicated than they are trying to present them as they justify Ukraine’s joining NATO. They assure us, in parenthesis, that this is something that will not happen any time soon. We are well aware of how those assurances work.
I have received unsatisfactory responses; none of my fellow ministers have responded to my direct address. We have received two small papers – one from an official in the office of NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and another from an official in the office of Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The messages read: don’t worry, the dialogue must continue; the main thing you need to do is to ensure de-escalation around Ukraine.
I think this is exactly a neglect of the norm as stated at the top level which says that no organisation can consider itself the main and dominant one in the Euro-Atlantic Region.
So, we will continue to seek a concrete response from each country since all the documents I reported to you were signed under national status, and the responsibility for their content and the commitments under these documents must be accounted for at the national level.
This is about the first part of the response, basically the Americans, which does not suit us.
The second part is more constructive to a certain extent. It envisages rather specific measures to address the problems of land-based shorter and intermediate-range missiles after the Americans discarded the corresponding treaty. It also contains specific proposals on a range of measures to reduce military risks, confidence-building measures and military transparency.
Interestingly, almost all of the components the Americans included in their response reflect initiatives that the Russian Federation has been promoting over the past few years.
With regard to shorter and intermediate-range missiles, we have been waiting for a response to your address since September 2020, where you proposed agreeing on reciprocal and mutually verifiable moratoriums on the deployment of these types of weapons in Europe. Nobody ever responded.
The proposals from our General Staff, sent to NATO in 2020, included measures to move military exercises away from the line of contact between Russia and NATO and to agree on a minimum distance for the rapprochement of military aircraft and warships, as well as a number of other military-technical confidence-building measures. Those two have been left without attention.
As of today, however, we have seen some very specific responses to the initiatives we advanced earlier. The other side is demonstrating a willingness to enter into serious negotiations. It is clear that our initiative on European security, on security guarantees we put forward and are strongly promoting, clearly stating our fundamental interests in this, has given our Western colleagues a shake. This is why they are no longer able to just ignore many of our previous calls.
So, I would say we can consider further progress in these areas, but only while maintaining the integrity of our December 2021 initiative, maintaining an integrated approach. This approach is broader than reaching some specific agreements on industry-specific, isolated, secondary aspects of maintaining military security, important though they are; but above all, this approach is about the legal settlement of issues that generally threaten the Euro-Atlantic Region.
I am referring to where we started with in our initiatives, when you repeatedly emphasised, including during your recent telephone conversations and news conferences – we need to ensure indivisible security, including with regard to NATO’s non-expansion, non-deployment of strike weapons and returning to its 1997 configuration.
We at the Foreign Ministry are convinced that this approach must remain a priority. In developing a dialogue on some aspects that are of practical importance today, with our Western, primarily American colleagues, we will be seeking in parallel their responses to the legitimate concerns that we have raised and that you have repeatedly confirmed, including at the news conference with Emmanuel Macron. I believe you have very clearly described the potential for drawing Ukraine into NATO under these conditions, considering Kiev’s ambitions.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Lavrov, do you think we still have a chance of coming to terms with our partners on the key problems of our concern or is this simply an attempt to drag us into an endless negotiating process with no logical conclusion?
Sergei Lavrov: Mr President, you have said more than once – you and other representatives of the Russian Federation have said – that we are warning that an endless discussion on the issues that must be resolved today is unacceptable.
That said, as the head of the Foreign Ministry, I must say that there is always a chance. I am referring to your recent meetings with the US and French leaders; the Federal Chancellor of Germany is coming tomorrow; our colleagues are addressing me: the Polish Foreign Minister will be here tomorrow; the Italian Foreign Minister will come here in two days, and other meetings are being planned.
We have consistently conducted explanatory work; we are committed to explaining why we are right, and that we are ready to listen to serious counter arguments. That said, I think our opportunities are far from exhausted. Of course, they should not be endless, but I think we should still continue to pursue and build on them at this point.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Do you have a draft response to the documents that Brussels and Washington sent us?
Sergei Lavrov: Yes, it proceeds from the…
Vladimir Putin: I see. But has it been formulated, I mean this package?
Sergei Lavrov: It was formulated on ten pages.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.