‘We won’t fight Ukraine, I promise’: Was this the fieriest interview of Sergey Lavrov’s career?
After 14 years in the job, the Russian foreign minister has probably heard every question. But then he was asked if Russia should demolish the Katyn war cemetery in retaliation against Poland, or imminently go to war with Ukraine.
Sergey Lavrov is used to defending his homeland against international lines of inquiry. But last week he was ambushed by different, supposedly friendlier interlocutors - two correspondents from the country’s tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, led by the former ‘bad girl’ of Russian journalism, war reporter and columnist Darya Aslamova.
Their lengthy sit-down chat produced likely the most colorful (and oddest) interview Lavrov has given ever since he was appointed Russia’s envoy to the UN back in 1994.
Aslamova suggests that Russia should recognize Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov: And then what?
Aslamova: Then we defend our territory that we recognized, help our fraternal nation.
Lavrov: And you want to lose the rest of Ukraine, leaving it to the neo-Nazis?
Aslamova: No. I think we should generally fight against the Nazi regime. They imposed a state of emergency against us. They attack our ships.
Lavrov: We are not going to go to war with Ukraine, I promise you that much.
Aslamova says that a “mirror response” to Poland’s legislation prescribing the demolition of Soviet-era World War II memorials should be the destruction of the Katyn cemetery, where thousands of Polish officers massacred by the NKVD in 1940 are buried.
Lavrov: Are you being serious?
Lavrov: It’s a pity. I hoped you were speaking in jest.
Second journalist, Andrey Baranov: Sadly, Darya is expressing a commonly held opinion among our audience. What do you think?
Lavrov: …I don’t think that would be a Christian act.
Aslamova: Are they acting like Christians?
Lavrov: Of course not.
Aslamova: Where is our diplomacy then, a mirror response? They do something bad to us, we strike back. Where is our dignity?
Lavrov: Our self-respect comes specifically from not descending to the level of these neo-Nazis.
Aslamova proposes closing the border with Georgia and breaking off all relations, unless it stops using NATO's help to train its troops, and halts the construction of a deep sea port with American help.
Lavrov: I am against a foreign policy that is built on the principle – you hurt us, so we take our ball and go home. If we follow it, then logically we have to break relations with the US and with the UK.
Despite acting every inch the reasonable diplomat among the calls to action, Lavrov did not neglect to launch a couple of barbs of his own.
On US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Lavrov: I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. I have the impression that he doesn’t even handle foreign policy towards Russia anymore. If it would be different, he'd know that we need to meet and talk. Dealing with Russia has obviously been delegated to John Bolton.
On UK defense minister Gavin Williamson, who said that Russia should “go away and shut up” after the Skripals incident in March
Lavrov: He is a man whose self-regard is layered upon an inferiority complex. I’ve been in his presence. It is a pity that such…[politicians] are chosen to represent Britain in the international arena...Also on rt.com World witnessing ‘unprecedented tensions’ & collapsed treaties but no threat of a major war – Lavrov
But as the questions grew more bizarre, and the exchanges became heated, Lavrov urged his interviewers, and world diplomats not to go full-Trump.
"Elegance might not be our distinguishing feature, but we would like to maintain what we understand as good manners," the foreign minister summed up.