Diplomatic Demagoguery – Fact-Checking Russian Diplomacy
An Overview of Claims Aired in Vladimir Solovyov’s 12 February 2021 Interview with Sergey Lavrov
“We are prepared for a breakup [with the EU] if the inititative comes from the EU. We, on our side, are calling the EU for cooperation, based on equality and mutual respect, just as Sergey Lavrov said”, the ministry explains.
Earlier, the head of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, declared in an interview that Russia is not excluding cutting ties with the European Union if Brussels introduces sanctions that might hurt sensitive sectors of the Russian economy.
Nevertheless, it is worth going through the individual disinforming messages aired by Russian state TV. A verbatim read-out of the interview of Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov to Solovyov Live was published on 12 February. EUvsDisinfo has summed up some of the main points forwarded in the interview.
Vladimir Solovyov: Why do you deny Navalny and his brother the right to rip off the French company Yves Rocher?
Sergey Lavrov: This is what I told High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. I said that we did not pledge to protect those who did commercial damage to an EU company, Yves Rocher.
The European Court of Human Rights concluded in October 2017 that the decisions reached by the domestic courts in Alexei Navalny’s criminal case on the Yves Rocher case were arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.
Further, it is worth mentioning that it is not just the EU calling for the release of Mr. Navalny. This week, on 17 February 2021, the European Court of Human Rights decided “to indicate to the Government of Russia, under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, to release the applicant [Navalny]… This measure shall apply with immediate effect.” See information from the Court here.
Vladimir Solovyov: Why has Europe decided that it can pose as a moral leader with a right to lecture us? Have they forgotten about the tragedy of Yugoslavia? And, speaking about Navalny, we can remind them about Julian Assange whom nobody is discussing any longer. You mentioned the three political prisoners in Spain, to which they have replied arrogantly that there are no political prisoners, only imprisoned politicians in Spain. Immediately after that, Carles Puigdemont remarked that there are not three but nine of them in Spain.
Sergey Lavrov: Incidentally, when all this happened, Carles Puigdemont and his associates were in Belgium, and several others were in Germany. The Belgian and German law authorities said the charges brought against them were politically motivated, but the Spanish authorities replied that they have their own laws, which must be respected. When I cited this argument during the meeting with High Representative Borrell, adding that we have our own laws as well, he started saying again that Navalny had been sentenced illegally, for political reasons, and that his rights had been infringed upon.
“Whataboutism” is a rhetorical trick to deflect attention from an unpleasant conversation. The situation around detained activists in Spain and Assange is discussed in European media, in political circles and as for Assange – in the UK courtroom. Russia continues to produce mock trials against Alexei Navalny.
Vladimir Solovyov: Did you know that the diplomats were being expelled?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, we knew this.
Vladimir Solovyov: It was not timed for Mr Borrell’s visit?
Sergey Lavrov: No, of course not. The decision was made when the identities of the diplomats who took part in protest rallies were established.
First, the rallies are not illegal: the Russian constitution, Article 31, guarantees the right to gather for protests. Second, it is common practice and in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961 for diplomats to observe political processes in the host country. Russian TV has aired surveillance video actually supporting the fact that the diplomats were merely observing.
Sergey Lavrov: Leonid Volkov said publicly many times that they would not request permission but would simply take to the streets. In itself, this is more than just a breach of the law; it is an action designed to humiliate the state. If you believe that taking to the streets in this situation is your professional duty, you are not diplomats but provocateurs.
Vladimir Solovyov: Plus, no one has canceled the pandemic restrictions yet.
This is a valid point. The police did, however, not attempt to make sure that social distancing was respected. Thousands of participants and bystanders were crammed together in small spaces, buses and cells.
Vladimir Solovyov: You also gave them a USB flash drive to keep them in the loop of [the protests] happening in Europe, didn’t you?
Sergey Lavrov: This flash drive can be updated literally daily.
“Whataboutism” again. The rallies might be un-sanctioned, but participation in them is not illegal.
Vladimir Solovyov: Well, they are demanding that sanctions be imposed on us, aren’t they?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, they are.
Vladimir Solovyov: I’m one of those who they want to see included on the sanctions list.
Sergey Lavrov: You are in good company.
Vladimir Solovyov: A good company, indeed. I will be the first journalist in history to be sanctioned against.
Sergey Lavrov: Not necessarily. That depends on what you call sanctions. RT and Sputnik correspondents cannot get an accreditation in Paris. I found out recently that one of our media outlets filed a lawsuit against the state for not being allowed to attend a news conference by President Vladimir Putin. Their argument was that, according to the law, if all the requirements are met, the accreditation must be provided. I’m not aware of these subtleties, but I know that this year’s news conference is being held in compliance with the pandemic requirements. It’s a fact that, without any coronavirus, RT and Sputnik, despite direct requests to the French government, were denied access to the Elysee Palace. Of course, we should also bear in mind the situation with Sputnik in Estonia, where criminal cases were opened against the journalists.
Russian journalists have no restrictions to work in Europe, several Russian media organisations are active in Brussels and in the EU’s Member States. One individual with a journalist background of the 177 on the sanctions list is Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of the Rossiya Segodnya Holding, which owns the state-controlled and state-financed Sputnik. In some EU Member States, Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik have violated national laws or rules for licencing.
Sergey Lavrov: The problems between us and the EU began a long time ago. They were testing our patience and good will. When the Baltic states and other East European countries were admitted to the EU in 2004, we asked them if they were sure those countries were mature enough to be admitted as responsible members of this progressive association. We were told that, of course, they still have some holdover phobias from their past in the Soviet Union, but rest assured that as soon as they become EU and NATO members, they will calm down and no longer have reasons for these phobias. Nothing of the kind. The exact opposite happened and they became the most zealous Russophobes and are pushing the EU to adopt Russophobic positions. On many issues, the EU position dictated by solidarity is determined by an aggressive Russophobic minority.
The EU’s criticism of Russia is based on Russia’s actions including its active approach to sow chaos and doubts. Russia is acting in violation of international law against several neighbouring countries, illegally annexing parts of Ukraine and Georgia within its international recognised borders and supporting separatist entities in Ukraine and Moldova. Russia has used military grade chemical weapons on foreign territories against political opposition and critical voices
Sergey Lavrov: I think he just came their way. It if was not Navalny, it would be something else. Clearly, he was being prepared for that quite seriously, if you think about preparations for the notorious film, which wouldn’t have been possible without the German authorities’ consent.
Vladimir Solovyov: Are you talking about personal data from the Stasi archives and Vladimir Putin’s photograph?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, that too.
A statement without foundation. The interviewer points to the elements of the film where President Putin’s years in former East Germany are displayed and hints that access to the Stasi Archives proves German state involvement. The archives are accessible for research and media.
Sergey Lavrov: Germany was one of those who pointed the finger at us, saying that no other country could have the Novichok production technology. When the Bundeswehr found the traces of a substance similar to Novichok in Navalny’s samples, we asked them how they had been able to determine this if they told us themselves that they had never conducted such research. No reply.
Military specialists in Germany validated the presence of a substance from the “Novichok” group. Their findings have been corroborated by independent laboratories in France and Sweden as well as by laboratories linked to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Sergey Lavrov: But the Germans, just as the French and Swedish experts who were allegedly asked to double check the results of German tests, and the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have not provided any information to us. They have refused to do this.
Russia has refused to open a criminal investigation into the case, and evidence should only be shared with the investigators. The open source joint investigative team Bellingcat/The Insider has performed an investigation into the attempted assassination and has established that a team of FSB officials performed the operation.
Sergey Lavrov: Just note that the point at issue is not Navalny. This is not just a coordinated Western campaign of deterring Russia, but a campaign of aggressive deterrence.
An unfounded claim, presented without any evidence.
Sergey Lavrov: I have talked with many [Western] ministers and other officials, as well as with members of civil society, who say that they don’t like what the West is doing.
Vladimir Solovyov: Are they afraid to say so?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, they are. They are tied to the dollar, investments, and the children whose studies abroad are paid for with the money they keep there. It is a major damper on the elite’s ability to speak their minds.
As with many complicated issues, several voices are heard in various contexts. Russia has vocal supporters in media and in decision making circles, both in the EU and in the Member States. The relations with Russia is a highly debated topic.
Sergey Lavrov: Any decent person can clearly see what is going on. Returning to why it’s Navalny and not anything else, this “case,” in today’s parlance, is a deliberate act. The date of his return and the date of releasing the film make it all too obvious. But, look, now that there’s a wave of attacks on Russia, no one is talking about the “poisoning.” What they are saying is that Navalny has been illegally convicted and must be set free.
The fact remains a fact. Russian authorities and services have been tied to the case. Individuals as well as one entity responsible for performing and planning the crime, have been identified by the Bellingcat/The Insider open source investigation. Alexei Navalny survived the attempted assasination and has returned to Russia, only to be – without due cause – imprisoned.
Sergey Lavrov: I’m sure that the United States does not need us to have good relations with Germany. The same goes for European countries. Britain doesn’t need this either. Just like the West didn’t need a united Germany at one time. The Soviet Union was the main proponent of a unified Germany.
An unfounded claim on EU Member States, UK and the US impeding the relations between Russia and Germany.
Sergey Lavrov: The West was very worried back then and reluctantly agreed on reunifying Germany. We operated on the belief that the German people have the right to be one nation which is its historical destiny as a nation. Here’s something (which is funny) about double standards. When I mentioned this at the Munich Security Conference in 2015 and said that we were doing it then deliberately, understanding the German people’s aspirations, and stressed that it would be important for other countries to treat Crimea’s reunification with Russia in about the same vein – as a manifestation of the people’s will. There was a referendum in Crimea, but there was no referendum in Germany.
The division of Germany was a result of the post-war occupation by the Allied powers. Crimea was a part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Russia ceded voluntarily from the USSR 12 June 1990 without making any claims for territories of other Republics of the Soviet Union. Russia has since then at several occasions in binding international agreements expressed support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine handed over its nuclear weapons after guarantees from the US, Russia, UK and France. As a UN Member State and a member of the OSCE, Russia is obliged to respect the territorial integrity of other sovereign countries. Russia and Ukraine had a bilateral agreement guaranteeing Russia’s access to the naval port at the city of Sevastopol. The Kremlin has violated all those agreements.
Vladimir Solovyov: Hence, the revision of WWII outcomes and the attempt to equate the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany.
Sergey Lavrov: That’s true. A fairly large portion of their elite is pursuing this policy. There are people who want Germany to lose its every chance to enjoy normal cooperation with us.
The decisive role of the Russian people in defeating Nazism is an undisputable fact. That does not exclude the fact that the Soviet leadership made Hitler’s aggression possible through the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and that the Soviet leadership exploited the alliance against Nazism to extend its territory and after the end of WII occupy the Baltic states and install communist regimes across Central and Eastern Europe. No other of the allied powers defeating Nazism made territorial claims on other countries.
Sergey Lavrov: Sanctions lead nowhere and cannot result in a change in our course on upholding our national interests.
Vladimir Solovyov: They lead to consolidation of our society.
The EU’s sanctions are not an aim in themselves, they are just a targeted tool to change the behaviour and revert Russia’s violations of international law in the case of the illegal annexation of Crimea and its aggression against Ukraine. The EU continues to be Russia’s largest trading partner, almost 40 percent of Russia’s export goes to the EU. Hundreds of thousands of Russians work in business areas that are directly connected to export to the EU. Russia has, on the other hand, introduced unfounded sanctions against the EU’s agricultural and food products with negative consequences for the Russian consumers.
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, however serious his title may sound, has no room for manoeuvre. He is acting within very tight limits.
The EU is a union of 27 sovereign states. The European Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union and tasks the High Representative to steer the EU’s common foreign and security policy and find consensus between the Member States. The HRVP also coordinates the EU’s common foreign policy tools such as development, trade, neighbourhood policy, humanitarian aid and crisis response, in his role as Vice-President of the European Commission.
Sergey Lavrov: Ukraine wants the Minsk agreements to cease to exist.
Ukraine is fully committed to the Minsk Agreements and to find a political and sustainable solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. On the first anniversary of the Paris Normandy Summit (8 December 2020), President Zelenskyy reaffirmed Ukraine’s readiness for a new stage of disengagement of troops, demining of new areas as well as for a next round of mutual release of detainees.
Vladimir Solovyov: But we put up with this for some reason. For some reason, we cannot just tell them that if they are not going to fulfil the Minsk agreements, then we will decide the fate of the Russian people there. It is our legitimate right to protect the interests of our compatriots.
Sergey Lavrov: We are protecting them. Not only in Ukraine, but also in the Baltics, and in other countries. This is not even helplessness on the part of the EU. I think it is a conscious policy of turning a blind eye to Russians being persecuted, be it the media or the Russian-speaking population.
Russia state media are repeatedly, and without foundation, claiming violations of the rights of Russian citizens abroad.
Vladimir Solovyov: Are we heading for a breach with the EU?
Sergey Lavrov: We believe we would be ready for this. We are neighbours. Speaking collectively, they are our largest trade and investment partner. Many EU companies operate here; there are hundreds or even thousands of joint ventures. When a business benefits both sides, we will continue. I am sure that we have become fully self-sufficient in the defence sphere. We must also attain the same position in the economy to be able to act accordingly if we see again (we have seen this more than once) that sanctions are imposed in a sphere where they can create risks for our economy, including in the most sensitive areas such as the supply of component parts. We don’t want to be isolated from the world, but we must be prepared for this. If you want peace, prepare for war.
The claim of the EU’s aggressive plans is unfounded. Russia should honour its international obligations and commitments as Russia, just as any other country, is subject to international law. Violating those laws must have consequences in an international rules-based order. The sanctions regimes are such a consequence, introduced e.g. after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression against Ukraine.
The EU will continue to engage in dialogue with the Russian civil society. The EU will continue to keep its doors open for Russian students, tourists, investors and journalists. The EU will continue to support civil society, culture, sports, etc., and to build bridges between our people and societies. The European Union will continue to monitor the Kremlin’s violations of the rights of Russian people and against Russia’s neighbours.
The European Union will also keep the diplomatic channels open for contacts with Russian authorities and continue its policy within the framework of the five guiding principles.
EDITS: Typos fixed; points 5, 13 and 14 edited for clarity.