Sputnik: You said that Russia has irrefutable evidence — not highly likely, as London has its own 'irrefutable' allegations — that the so-called chemical weapons attack in Douma was staged by a country that has positioned itself as among the most Russophobic. This country was named by [Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor] Konashenkov; we mean the UK. What proof will we provide of Britain's culpability and when will we do so?
Lavrov: You know, there is already plenty of evidence in principle. To begin with, this is the video from which it all began and which was probably the main reason and the main pretext for that feverish attack that the Americans, Britons and French staged, launching airstrikes at chemical weapons production and storage facilities, as they alleged. Probably, even an ordinary person can understand that if you know where a chemical weapons depot is located, bombing the facility means only one thing: creating a humanitarian catastrophe for those who live in the area.
The video clearly shows unprotected people, except, perhaps, some of them wearing gauze bandages, pour water on boys and some adults. When liberating this part of Eastern Ghouta, our military found two doctors who worked in this hospital and these doctors showed themselves on this video, talking about how some people broke in and began to shout: "chemical attack, you must immediately pour water on yourself! " And it was honestly said by those doctors, who did not hide their faces and who identified themselves.
By the way, I recently watched Euronews; if I'm not mistaken, they showed a woman who had everything — both face and the body — covered, there was only a narrow slit for her eyes. She did not give her name and she held two boys by the hand, saying that they were her children, who also found themselves in a situation where they had a headache and did not like the smell. She also began to sniff and she did not like this smell either. Then she concluded her speech with the phrase that afterwards the husband took the children to the doctor.
The question immediately arises, if it is possible to talk with this doctor and what the name of this woman is, who her children are, and so on. Therefore, the information we see should be analyzed very carefully, especially now. So that we could not be perceived as newcomers.
We presented all this quite concretely and extensively at a meeting of the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN Security Council. In response, we hear only one thing: blaming Britain for trying to do something wrong is generally beyond all limits and it is impossible to even discuss it, because it cannot be true.
I hope that all reasonable people see the difference in the arguments and the difference in what facts are laid out on the table and what facts are not presented at all.
Sputnik: An OPCW mission is currently working in Syria. What is the most true report one can hope for? What is the most true report you hope for?
Lavrov: Sturgeon are never fresh a second time. If the report proves to be a just and honest one, this will be enough. We are, of course, concerned about how a number of players are trying to impede OPCW activity. We have no doubt that there are professionals both in OPCW and The Hague, as well as OPCW missions.
But we also cannot exclude evidence that these experts and these honest scientists are being used for political purposes. The mission that went to Syria — you know that they have arrived in Beirut and they were to cross the border with the Syrian Arab Republic in the morning to meet consular representatives of the Syrian Foreign Ministry to obtain visas — they could not move at that moment because the airstrikes began.
Someone really did not want them to get to the area in question in due time.
Right now, they [OPCW experts] are in Damascus and they have sent a reconnaissance mission to the area to make sure that it is safe there. They were escorted by both UN employees and our military police in order to ensure their protection.
When they were in the area, shooting began from the part of the city where a few dozen extremists are still stationed. The extremists were clearly warned about who would specifically be sent to the area and for what purpose.
I mentioned that at an early stage of the current confrontation over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, both the French and the Americans were wondering whether they could send their experts along with those from Russia and the OPCW to see what happened there. And we said that we were ready and the Syrian government would be ready to support it. However, airstrikes were launched instead of an agreement being implemented. So we shall see what we shall see. Of course, we hope for honesty from experts both in the case of Syria and Salisbury, where the investigation also continues.
Sputnik: We will return to the Salisbury incident a bit later. Now let's focus again on Syria: can experts, roughly speaking, find anything deliberately placed or sprinkled around them? Can they get proposals to take it with them and test it? Is it possible?
Lavrov: I hope that experts still value their reputation and that they will be on alert. Nothing can be ruled out, given that the methods our Western partners are using now are in the below-the-belt category. I do not want to rule anything out, but I also do not want to blame anyone for anything without a reason.
Lavrov: Like Stanislavsky, I wanted to shout: "I do not believe it!" But as far as more human feelings are concerned, it is, of course, disgusting, when children are used for dirty tricks.
Sputnik: You have a lot of experience, including work at Russia's permanent mission to the UN Security Council. Can you imagine that this boy, Hassan Diab, and his father can appear in the Security Council and tell their story as witnesses? Or should they be given Syrian diplomatic passports for this? Will the world really hear these people given that they are key witnesses and participants in the events?
Lavrov: It would be useful, and of course, we would support such actions, which should first of all be taken by the Syrian government. Our Western colleagues often resort to such inclusions in the Security Council's agenda, where they discuss representatives of civil society from "the site," when it comes to the fact that there are witnesses to a particular action that is being considered.
Sputnik: So this practice does exist?
Lavrov: Yes. They bring representatives of various NGOs; they brought Syrians and Iranians (can't remember from which organization though), they host video conferences. So the existing technical capabilities allow the opinion of people who witnessed certain events to be brought to the attention of UN Security Council members during open sessions. Speaking of which, we will continue to insist on that, even in situations not related to Syria. Eyewitnesses would have the ability to address the Security Council members. But in this particular case, it is a Syrian government matter, and we would actively support such a proposition.
Sputnik: In any case, the father said that they're willing to go anywhere and testify to anyone.
Lavrov: Yes, I heard that.
Lavrov: Before the plans for the strike of the Western trio started to take shape, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Valery Vasilyevich Gerasimov clearly stated that if any military action taken by the so-called coalition harmed Russian army forces, it would be met by a tough and clear response. And we would not only see the rockets, but also their carrier as legitimate targets. It was said clearly and explicitly.
And, by the way, I'm stunned how some of our Western colleagues and some of mine, too, and some of our mass media turned their attention to our ambassador to Lebanon Zasypkin, who repeated what the Chief of the General Staff said. They tried to put words into his mouth, that if just one missile flew over Syrian territory from the coalition forces, we would sink ships and so on and so forth. The Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov had only warned that this would happen if Russian forces were harmed. After this, contact was made at the top level in the army, at the level of the generals, between our representatives and the heads of of the US-led coalition. They were informed of where our "red lines" were, including the "red lines" located "on the territory," geographically. And, in any case, the results show that these "red lines" were not crossed.
Speaking about the results of these strikes, they are also called into question. Our US colleagues state that all the missiles reached their targets, as did the French ones. Our General Staff has a clear picture; we watched everything in real time, live. We are ready to answer for the stats given by our military forces. If somebody states that all the 105 rockets reached their targets, they should present their stats. At least, proof that our analysis, our count has a basis in fact, which will be revealed by our military forces very soon, as I understand.
Sputnik: Very soon?
Lavrov: I hope.
Sputnik: 103 missiles were launched, 71 of them were shot down. Trump said that he called somebody to ask if all the rockets reached their targets, and the person on the other end of the line said "yes-yes, every one of them, Mr. President." Whom could he call?
Lavrov: I don't know whom, in such cases, the President of the United States calls. Our President doesn't have to call — he's reported to, when such things happen. And I would prefer not to meditate on the theme of relations inside the US Administration or how some officials in Washington treat the position and orders of their President.
Lavrov: The President spoke about this. We have no moral obligations now. We used to have moral obligations, we promised not to do that some 10 years ago, as far as I remember, at the request of our known partners, and we took their argument into account, that it would lead to destabilization, although (these air defense systems are) purely defensive. We nevertheless heeded their requests, but we don't have this moral obligation now.
Sputnik: You say that you don't like the standing inside the US administration, but nevertheless, with the current configuration, when the most sensible "dove" in the White House is "Mad Dog" Mattis, the circumstances are such that we're not far from a military clash between Russia and the US. How big is the risk of such a clash?
Lavrov: I still think that Defense Minister Mattis, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Danford understand the unacceptability of any actions which could provoke a direct military clash between Russia and the US. It's so obvious, that the military officials can't but understand it, and they understand it better than many others. When the politicians try to goad, if you excuse my blunt words, the leaders of their countries, insisting on more and more confrontation, including outright confrontation, they are not acting responsibly. They reach, or try to reach their inner political goals; the inter-party struggle goes on there, and this is reflected in Congress; there are speculations regarding the Russian agenda, with the understanding that Russophobia may serve as a basis for unity. But this campaign has ebbed. It was artificially fueled by the unprecedented sanctions, and relied on them to compel us to accept their conditions for the further development of the relations. This was naïve and short-sighted, to say the least. What do they talk about? [They say they] want good relations with Russia, but for this Russia should acknowledge all its sins and mistakes, in other words, they take their own impeccability as a starting point.
They maintain that only Russia is to blame for anything which is going on now, as it acts to countermine them and behaves as a revisionist power, undermining the existing world order. By this world order, they don't mean the UN Charter, they understand it to mean what they think they need to save; they're trying to save its dominance. I understand that several centuries ago, the historical West, as we call it, acted on its own accord in the world. Now that there are centers of power in Asia and Latin America, and actually the Russian Federation, which is one of the key players on the world arena now, they don't like that others are trying to stand up for their own interests. Notably, we don't stand for our interests uncompromisingly; we suggest looking for a balance of interests, reaching a consensus. However, they say that they are only going to talk when you concede that you agree with how the world is organized, by their rules. This is what it's all about. Speaking about the risk of a military confrontation, I feel absolutely confident in assuming that the militaries will not allow this, and of course neither will President Putin or President Trump. They are leaders, after all, elected by their people and responsible for their peace.
Lavrov: I didn't say that the campaign is declining; I said it's losing its momentum. You know, when a person runs 100 meters, or 10K, even better, a 42 km, he's breathing more and more heavily, but he keeps on running and running. So his strength leaves him in the end. I think we see the same process now, although those who want to play out this Russophobic campaign, also wish for it to gain momentum, but you can and you definitely will strain yourself. And you are absolutely right. I'm convinced that one should react with dignity. We can't but respond when our property is taken or our diplomats expelled — otherwise, it would mean we had no self-respect. But getting into quarrels, rows and brutality is not our president's style, and we are not going to do it. He's always looking forward, and it's very hard, if not impossible at all, to throw him off balance, and they try to do exactly this thing. They try to throw somebody off his stride, throw him off calmness, confidence, to ruin our plans that we should bring into life at home, and there are plenty of them. But I repeat one more time that when we are shouted at, a famous wisdom pearl comes to mind "Jupiter, you are angry, then you are wrong." However, one doesn't really see Jupiter there, but…
Sputnik: Yes, so complimentary. However, it was recently revealed that Trump has invited Putin to the White House. Has there been any update about the time and the place of the meeting, or its agenda?
Lavrov: We base our assumptions on the fact that during a phone conversation, which has already been revealed to the public, the US President extended this invitation and said that he'd be glad to welcome him in the White House and to meet with him during a return visit. And he broached this topic again on several occasions, so we let our American colleagues know that we don't want to seem intrusive, but we don't want to appear impolite either, and considering the fact that President Trump made this proposal, we assume that he'll make it more specific.
Sputnik: And then it all was left hanging in in the air?
Lavrov: Well, yes. The word got out.
Lavrov: President Putin is ready for such meeting.
Sputnik: Is this meeting being prepared or not?
Lavrov: Not yet. But if there will be any future developments, we'll definitely tell you. I'll just point out that after this phone conversation, Donald Trump mentioned several times, verbally and via Twitter, that they need to solve issues with Russia, that they want to enjoy good relations with Russia, which is better than not having good relations, and that only a fool would think otherwise. And we hear all that.
Sputnik: But at the same time Mike Pence said that the US will strive to achieve military supremacy in space, over Russia among others. Will it lead to an arms race in space? How does Russia intend to respond to this development?
Lavrov: For many years the United States has remained the only state to block negotiations proposed via a Russian-Chinese initiative at the disarmament conference in Geneva, on developing a treaty that would ban the deployment of weapons in space. This is not about preventing the militarization of space, as military satellites are already being launched by us, the US and other countries; this is a separate matter. But deploying weapons in space would be risky, and it would lead to unpredictable new threats. So we and the Chinese offered to make such treaty. Everyone is ready to begin negotiations — it would clearly be a difficult process, but we have a draft; it's pretty well-developed, and we're ready to discuss each of its points and willing to seek the wording that would gain everyone's approval and make the document ready for signing. The US alone blocks this undertaking. In the meantime, we perfectly understand the danger of this trend and, while the conditions for making a legally binding document come to a head, we advance the following political concept: we call upon everyone to declare that no country will become the first to deploy weapons in space.
As for the statement made by Mike Pence regarding the need for military supremacy in space, it is hardly surprising, considering the fact that the US refuses to take part in the talks I've mentioned. And they seek supremacy everywhere: not just in space, but on land and in the air as well. It is written in their doctrinal documents. So there's hardly anything new here, though I must point out again that using this logic in space will pose a serious risk for all of mankind.
Sputnik: At least for now, Americans do not feel any restrictions and just working on domination. Probably, Russia should also do so because there are no restrictions?
Lavrov: Of course we see what our American colleagues are doing and of course we do not have the right to turn a blind eye to it.
Sputnik: If we return to this theme of chemicals, albeit on English soil, this story with the BZ, does this intrigue you? According the newest information, we are told that BZ was artificially produced at a Swiss lab [samples] to check their professionalism, competence and so on. Something like this…
Lavrov: Well, it's explained that it was done on purpose to check the professionalism of those who will conduct this analysis. But I don't want to go into the details now. After all, most of the report is confidential. But it's well known that, when turning to the OPCW for technical support, the British didn't only give them a sample of the substance from the scene, but also said "here is the sample, find this chemical substance." So this was ordered. As for the OPCW experts who conducted this technical function, they confirmed that it was exactly the same substance the British told them about, but that the substance was in a very pure form, with a very high concentration, which means that it had been injected into this sample literally just before the analysis. If had been a couple of weeks old, it would have metabolized partly and had a different texture.
There are a lot of questions there, and we want to get answers for them. If what we are being told about this substance, this BZ, is true, explain this to us then. Probably, when such questions rise, we would like to look at the initial results of the analysis, not only from the lab in Spiez, but from the other three labs, where the samples were sent to at the same time.
It also became known that the OPCW experts didn't take the samples in places they chose, but those pointed out by the British.
Sputnik: Actually, from Britons' hands.
Lavrov: From Britons' hands or in their presence. Also, there was no independent examination of the patients by OPCW physicians, namely, everyone only relied on British doctors. And it would be good if Britons were transparent in their further actions and if they showed the results of their own investigations. But they keep the lid on everything, just as they earlier classified the Litvinenko case. So the questions are certainly accumulating.
We formulated almost five dozen questions, which are purely professional. In response, they say: "No, you first answer our questions." And they have one question, or rather two: "Was Putin ordered to do this or did you just lose control over your chemical arsenal?"
What chemical arsenal? The one which was destroyed and verified by the OPCW as having already been destroyed with the approval of the entire international community?
They began to lodge charges, with an assistant to the Prime Minister writing an open letter to NATO's Secretary General. Why on Earth? In this letter he gives the data, which, they believe, should convince everyone of the correctness of London's arguments and accusations against us.
Among other things, the letter alleges that a chemical weapons program in Russia was secretly carried out in the 2000s. Something was destroyed in line with the OPCW demands, but there was still a secret program, which was personally supervised by Putin. But if this is so, if they knew about it all the time — come to the OPCW and ring the alarm, demanding that we should be nailed. They were silent.
This letter also alleges that the method, poisoning people by applying poisonous substances to door handles, was designed with our know-how, and that it was a long time ago. But if they knew this when they immediately accused us of poisoning the Skripals? Why did they remember about the door handle only four weeks after the Salisbury incident, examining instead a taxi, a bench, or a restaurant. That is, it is another inconsistency which adds to more similar things.
Additionally, they allege the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff has kept an eye on Yulia Skripal's emails for year. But to claim this, one also need to monitor her emails. So in this case, the more they try to justify themselves, the more questions arise.
Lavrov: I do not claim that they have injected it, that they tried to mislead.
Sputnik: But they said it themselves, that they were injecting BZ.
Lavrov: Yes. But we want to understand how it fits the procedures, because what we now know about how OPCW was received in Britain at London's invitation and the way OPCW worked there — it all does not fit those very strict procedures outlined by the Chemical Weapons Convention. But we aren't accusing anyone. We asked several dozen questions and we want them answered. We want those answers delivered by adults and professionals, we want a professional dialogue. I don't know, maybe we'll have to wait until there are professionals in the British government. So far, our dialogue [with them] hasn't worked out.
Okay, but here's how things turn out: while the father, as they say, chose his ‘shady' way of life, Yulia [Skripal] definitely didn't expect that. It appears that she merely went there for a few days to ask her father's blessing for marriage, but things took a different turn. Now somebody writes letters in flawless English using her name, and, basically, she's gone missing. She is a Russian citizen; she didn't expect to stay there [indefinitely], she just renovated her apartment, she has a fiancé and a dog, her whole life. How did it happen?
I consider it simply outrageous. We've already sent several official notes demanding that we be allowed to establish personal contact with a Russian citizen, to ensure that everything that the British tell us in her name is true, because so far we aren't certain about it. And you know, it goes beyond not just ethical norms, but legal ones as well.
As for Sergei Skripal, as you've said, he chose his own path. As you know, he was convicted and served his sentence for about four years. And then a group of people who were spying for the US and Britain were exchanged for what we call ‘Chapman's group'. When that exchange took place, he was released and travelled to his new homeland, and was doing well for himself. So if anyone in the Russian Federation wanted to get rid of him — as they say now, we apparently were the only ones with a motive — why would we exchange him for our men?
You know, I have many friends in intelligence, and I value our relationship and their job. So when I hear now how some of our, shall we say, political analysts, regrettably claim that it's our sacred duty to eliminate defectors, it is insulting to the intelligence community of any country in the world, because in any intelligence service in the world, they will tell you this: if a man was exchanged, you can't harm him. Case closed. All intelligence officers know that.
Sputnik: I didn't imply that he should've been eliminated. He chose his way in life and his partners. It is these very partners who are now doing what they please with him. And as for Yulia… do promises get ‘exhausted' here?
Sputnik: Yes, you said that this Douma story was getting exhausted in many aspects. How about this case?
Lavrov: At least, if one analyzes the fact that they are responding to our concrete questions by brushing aside everything as fiction and repeating the same mantra that no one has the combined experience, or rather capability to produce such a substance, that no one has experience using such a substance unlawfully, and that no one has motives. That is what Boris Johnson says. And there too, you see a complete lack of domain knowledge. They could have asked or provided some professional documents after this month and a half. This so-called "Novichok," classification hasn't been used by us. It has been named so by the West.
So it is quite unclear, why no-one can provide the members of the British cabinet, including the Prime Minister, with this info.
Sputnik: There is also another global issue that is being widely discussed: the upcoming summit between the two Koreas, and President Trump claiming that he'll meet with Kim Jong-un in the next few weeks. The place for this meeting is being chosen, and Russia has even reportedly offered to hold it on its territory.
Lavrov: No, I haven't heard that. Maybe somebody is just fantasizing or speculating. Some European countries were also mentioned, along with Mongolia and a village located on the edge of the DMZ.
Sputnik: Are we ready to offer our [territory]?
Lavrov: No. I don't think that we should display initiative in this matter. Everyone is probably expecting this summit, because it is a step away from the prospects of a military crisis and military solution to the Korean Peninsula problem. And we dearly hope that the summit will begin the process of de-escalation.
Essentially, when less than a year ago in July, Russia and China came up with the roadmap concept, that plan involved establishing a dialogue between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States, and to create a framework that would allow them to discuss mutual grievances and concerns.
So people in Pyongyang are probably watching this development and projecting it on themselves. So while we need to pursue denuclearization, we must be realists and understand it will be a very difficult negotiation process. Because North Korea would want impervious security guarantees, especially considering Iran's example. It's hard to tell what form these guarantees would take, but it would've been an excellent solution. But like I said, first a dialogue needs to start; hopefully it will happen when the two leaders meet. Then they could move on to the very difficult work involved in discussing broader peace and security mechanisms in Northeast Asia, obviously with the help of Russia, China and Japan, just as the participants of the six-party talks agreed some time ago.
But we welcome the upcoming inter-Korean summit as well, which is scheduled to be held in April, and the upcoming North Korean-US summit, which, as President Trump said, will be held in May-June.
Sputnik: You talk about dialogue. But do you perceive yourself as old fashioned in the current situation? Trump says that he's going there not to engage in dialogue but to deliver an ultimatum. He already said that if things don't work out, he'll simply walk away. And yet you're thinking in terms of dialogue, so to speak. I understand that it's noble, but how realistic is it? I mean, he's operating with ultimatums.
Lavrov: We cannot wish for this meeting to fail. And I think that it's like a boxing match, when before the fighters enter the ring they weigh-in and boast, and then the fight begins. And afterwards they hug each other and congratulate each other.
I don't want to use a direct analogy here, but raising the bets before a serious talk is hardly anything new in international diplomacy. We shall see.