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Russia’s role in mediating end to Israeli-Gaza war: ‘Slow but sure’

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Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov’s interview for the RT channel, Moscow, November 15, 2023

Question: If we can start with the war in Gaza. It’s now into its fifth week, thousands of people are dead, fatalities every day. How does the Russian Foreign Ministry see its role in facilitating an end to the violence?

Sergey Lavrov: There are several aspects to this problem, to this crisis. The immediate task is to stop hostilities, to stop any military activity and to take measures to resolve humanitarian problems, which are all over the place. This is an absolutely necessary first step.

When the Israeli reaction to the 7th of October massacre became known, we strongly condemn what Hamas did and at the same time we called immediately for measured response in full accordance with international humanitarian law, respecting the international requirements for treatment of hospitals, women, children, other civilians.

And as a first step, we suggested to the Security Council the draft resolution calling for immediate ceasefire, cessation of hostilities for humanitarian purposes. It was not supported, first of all, by the United States. Then the developing countries, members of the Security Council, proposed a softer version of a resolution calling not for a ceasefire but for humanitarian truce, which was also killed by the United States. They only were ready to say “a humanitarian pause” without any commitment to continue these efforts. “A humanitarian pause” was not something which the Arab and other Muslim countries and greater membership of the United Nations were ready to adopt. So they went to the General Assembly and it adopted the resolution, calling for humanitarian truce, but it is not being implemented. And the current activities in the Security Council indicate that there is still an interest in having something from the Security Council especially after the General Assembly has spoken. But the Americans are not going, at least as things stand now, they are not going to let go of anything except “a humanitarian pause” with no commitment to do something else after one time action. This is the immediate task. I still believe that this is doable.

Russia's role in mediating end to Israeli-Gaza war: 'Slow but sure'We leave to the authority of the United Nations, United Nations relief and work agencies in Gaza, the efforts to defend their mandates, which are also under huge threat. But when this immediate fight is over, with all the understanding that terrorism cannot be accepted in any form, and that response to terrorism must be fully in line with international humanitarian law, at the end of the day, as Antonio  Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations said soon after this started, the attack of Hamas took place not in a vacuum. The cessation of hostilities and stopping of violence, is of huge importance to the civilians, but in historical terms, in sustainable settlement terms the second aspect of this problem, which is much more important, the creation of the Palestinian state is unavoidable. And the discussions, which are taking place around the future of Gaza, most of them avoid concentration on the implementation of resolutions of the Security Council to create a Palestinian state next to Israel, coexisting with Israel in peace and security. Borders were indicated as being the 1967 borders, capital is East Jerusalem. All this has never been cancelled by the United Nations.

Question: Can I touch upon something you said there, the resolutions that were put forward by Russia twice as well, rejected, vetoed by the US. Do you think that was because Washington didn’t agree what was in those resolutions, or was it more to do with just rejecting anything that has Russia on it?

Sergey Lavrov: I think maybe both. Of course, these days, Washington is highly ideologized. And anything coming from Russia is taken as a hostile act, hostile initiative. But on substance, in practical terms, Washington doesn’t want to tie Israel’s hands. It works with Israelis, I know this, and tries to persuade them to be a little flexible regarding the supply of humanitarian goods, medicines, other stuff necessary for hospitals’ functioning, and also be flexible for letting the foreigners out of Gaza. But the key reason I believe is that Washington doesn’t want this to stop the way which Israel doesn’t like.

Question: The possibility of the conflict widening, going beyond those regional borders, it appears to be a growing concern. Some are anticipating the United States to confront Iran, with expectations that Moscow will then lend support to Tehran. Your thoughts on such a scenario?

Sergey Lavrov: Well, I think people who float this kind of scenarios, they really want to provoke a bigger crisis. Maybe this is what the Americans want. My president recently addressed the issue of international situation, giving a lot of examples showing that the Americans normally, whenever they come to a region of this planet, bring chaos which they believe they can manage. They bring victims among civilians. I don’t even want to mention Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria – none of these places where they declared that they want to bring democracy – none of these places is better off than when they interfered under the false pretext. Quite often, like it was in Iraq.

I believe that neither Iran nor Lebanon want any involvement in this crisis. They certainly have Hezbollah in Lebanon, an organization which is devoted to defending the Palestinian cause, the cause of Arabs in the Middle East. And they exchange ‘small fire’ with Israelis every now and then, but this was the case even before the 7th of October and the Resolution 1701, which determines the regime in Lebanon from the point of view of military and political approach – it has been violated both by Hezbollah and by Israelis repeatedly.

But there is no appetite from Lebanon and, as far as I can judge, from the recent statement of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, there is no appetite for any big war, unless provoked; unless Gaza is no longer considered as a place where Palestinians should continue to live. And I don’t see any appetite in Iran.

Yes, Americans say that some pro-Iranian armed groups in Syria and Iraq are trying to attack American military sites. This is reported by the media. And this is nothing new. There is nothing new in this because these groups believe that the presence of the United States in Syria is absolutely illegal and this is a statement of fact. The presence of the United States in Iraq also causes a number of questions because some time ago the Iraqi government and parliament decided that they discontinue the agreement, the acquiescence with the US troops present on their soil. But Americans still keep some 5,000 men there without any firm legal ground.

Maybe the groups, the fighters in Syria, in Iraq, some members of Hezbollah, being agitated by the fact that the Palestinians are treated the way they are, maybe they would be continuing to ‘bite’ Americans and Israelis here and there, but I don’t see any readiness, any appetite either in Iran or in any other Arab country for a big war in the region. The problem is that if this restraint is going to be considered as weakness and as a green light to do anything in Gaza, this would be a huge mistake.

Question: As the conflict plays out, different states have taken varying approaches to their relations with Israel. Some have severed ties altogether; some are fostering cooperation. Where does Moscow stand?

Sergey Lavrov: Well, we have never, during the last 30 years, tried to underestimate the importance of good relations with Israel and the importance of good relations with Israel’s Arab neighbors. And we played a role promoting peace on the basis of the final solution of this Middle East issue in accordance with the United Nations’ resolutions and decisions. We have been a member of the Quartet of International Mediators from the very beginning of the functioning of this structure. The only structure recognized officially by the Security Council as having the mandate to mediate.

We were co-sponsors of the roadmap drafted by the Quartet and endorsed unanimously by the Security Council, which provided the specific steps to create a Palestinian state, viable and secure, in (I think) 15 months or so. This has never been implemented. A resolution by consensus never have been implemented.

Then in 2007, I think, we launched another initiative, trying to update the roadmap and to give it some push, to give some push to the direct negotiations. We suggested to convene a conference on Israeli-Palestinian normalization and on the creation of the Palestinian state in Moscow. And this proposal was again unanimously endorsed by the Security Council resolution. Never implemented.

You know, we always understood, and President Vladimir Putin, whenever he visits Israel, whenever he receives Israeli leaders in Moscow, he always emphasizes that when he first came to that place, not being president, in his previous life, when he worked in St. Petersburg and had some business contacts with Israeli colleagues, he says, “When I saw Israel and its geography, I immediately understood why ironclad security was so important for Israelis.” And this was his conviction from the very beginning. And he never, ever gave any reason to believe that we underestimate the importance of security for the state of Israel. Not to mention that we, the Soviet Union, were instrumental in creating the state, but also in defending the state. With arms and weapons, and with some volunteers. Immediately after Israel was announced as a new state, it was under threat.

So we have always paid attention to this, but at the same time we were taking the stance and explaining it to the Israeli government that you cannot buy security, which we are convinced you need, by delaying and delaying the creation of the Palestinian state and by creepingly reducing the territory which was designed for the Palestinian state by the United Nations.

You know, at some point I thought we were very close, because when the Barack Obama administration was spending its last year, in summer 2016, I don’t think I reveal a secret – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Vladimir Putin and said that he would like to start direct negotiations with President Mahmoud Abbas, provided there are no preconditions. And at that time the Palestinians were very much upset with the settlement activities of Israel, which were expanding and some Palestinian homes on the its territory were destroyed and families thrown out, so the Palestinian administration at that time demanded as a precondition that this must stop. And when Benjamin Netanyahu asked Vladimir Putin to convey to Mahmoud Abbas that he would be ready for direct negotiations, but without any preconditions, President Vladimir Putin called President Mahmoud Abbas and delivered this message. And President Abbas said, “Since this is coming from you, my good friend, as a matter of exception and respect, I accept this offer. Let’s find a date(and this was July-August) in September 2016.” We immediately informed the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and nothing happened.

My point is that there were so many opportunities missed. There were so many attempts when a deal seemed to be close, so many attempts to replay the game. It became, you know, a kind of tradition on both sides. There were also some twists in the Palestinian position. It’s unfortunate.

But we keep our relations with both parties. Soon after the terrorist attack of the 7th of October, the President Vladimir Putin talked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to President Mahmoud Abbas, to the leaders of other Arab countries. Just yesterday he talked to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. We continue our contacts at the level of ministers. I spoke with the foreign ministers of Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia. And we will continue to push for the immediate goal – the cessation of hostilities for humanitarian purposes. After that we all must take a deep breath and think how we restore Gaza, how we make sure that no one is expelled from Gaza. That there is no movement into Egypt and into Jordan of all those who used to live in Gaza, because this is what worries our Egyptian and Jordanian friends. And this would of course ruin all the resolutions of the Security Council that Gaza is Palestine, together with the West Bank.

Question: An international pariah, that is what some have called, in the face of sanctions, Russia. Now, last month, you had the Belt and Road Forum in China, President Vladimir Putin was there, and it’s clear that there were a lot of countries willing to do business, wanting to speak to Russia. That’s what’s come out of that. How is the world’s biggest country isolated, as the West is saying, if that’s the case? Is it ignorance, or is it just a lack of knowledge about the geopolitical reality in the rest of the world?

Sergey Lavrov: I think this is the goal, which they loudly announced. Strategic defeat to Russia on the battlefield, isolate Russia, make it a pariah or a rogue state. What is worse, a pariah or a rogue state?

Question: I’m not sure which.

Sergey Lavrov: Anyway, they were calling us, you know, all names. They were announcing, declaring all kinds of goals to eliminate us as an influential player in the world arena.

You mentioned the Road and Belt Forum, where President Vladimir Putin was the main guest and spoke immediately after the host, the president of China; G20 summit, BRICS summit, many other events which Russia attended without any rights being curtailed. On the contrary, at the summit of G20 in New Delhi, a declaration was adopted by consensus which does not condemn Russia, not even mention Russia when it speaks about Ukraine and other conflicts in the world, which the West didn’t want to mention. They wanted and still want to Ukrainianize each and every agenda of each and every international forum, and this was never going to fly, and this is not flying already. The countries of the global majority, of the global South don’t want to allow the West to continue to decide each and every issue on this planet on its own in its own interests.

Question: Can I put to you as well, that was demonstrated at the Russia-Africa summit this year in St. Petersburg. With that in view, many analysts said it’s one of the main international events of the year. What impact has that had on Russia-African relations, and how do you see those relations, moving forward? What’s the focus for Russia?

Sergey Lavrov: This was the second Russia-Africa summit. The first ever was hosted in October 2019 by Sochi. Then, you know, the Coronavirus [pandemic] interfered and we could not convene the second one as we planned. But this year it became possible. Forty-eight countries were represented out of fifty; twenty-seven of them at the highest level, i.e. presidents or prime ministers. The attendance was very good and the quality of the debate was very interesting.

The debate indicated the awakening of Africa, though Africa awakened from colonialism long ago. But the most popular topic at the summit was that Africa does not want any longer to be a very rich continent which does not enjoy the richness it possesses, like in the colonial times, when most of the resources are being pumped raw into developed countries and then processed and sold with huge profit.

Actually, President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was giving an example of the world coffee market. The volume of it he estimated, which is, I think, confirmed by the World Coffee Organization, at some 460 billion dollars out of which Africa gets less than 30 billion dollars selling beans, not even frying the beans. Everything, from the processing is being done elsewhere. The coffee industry of Germany alone gets more profit annually than all African countries. And this is what bothers them. They say, we don’t want just to be given some free trade regime to sell our raw materials and natural resources. We want technology to be brought here. We want processing to be organized on the spot where you find the resources to process. And this was, I think, one of the key themes voiced at St. Petersburg Summit.

We agreed a declaration which has a very strong political message that we want the key principles of the international law to be respected, especially the principles of the United Nations Charter. There is one that the US and other Western countries never mention, namely, the principle which says the United Nations is based on the sovereign equality of states. Never ever when the Americans and Europeans invoke, for one or another reason, for one or another purpose, a UN Charter principle to justify some of their action or inaction, they invoke various. In one case, territorial integrity, in another case, the right of people to self-determination – but they never ever mention the principle of sovereign equality of states, and the Africans understand this, and they feel this.

We also adopted a plan of action for the next three years. We adopted several sectoral statements including one against bringing weapons to outer space, one on information security, and some others. It was created after the first summit, the Russia-Africa forum, which acts like a secretariat for the future. The leaders agreed that between the summits, between the second and the third summit, there should be Russia-Africa ministerial meetings taking stock of what has been done and what is necessary to do to implement the goals put by the presidents and prime ministers.

Question: Are you confident that we’re living or we will be living in a safe planet going forward? There seems to be so many conflicts breaking out. We have the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict seemingly resolved, but on so many other fronts

that’s not the case. Are things resolvable going forward? Are we overstating the danger right now?

Sergey Lavrov: No, I think we don’t. I think we do not overstate the danger. And I don’t think we yet fully understand the risks of further developments in the direction of more and more conflicts.

You mentioned Caucasus. The Americans and Europeans are trying also to drive a wedge between Russia and Central Asia. They would like to keep this chaos and the expectation that it would be manageable in the Middle East.

Question: And that’s an area where they’ve had no real interest in for a long time. It appears to be speeding up there, the Americans wanting to get a focus, a grasp on Central Asia.

Sergey Lavrov: Yes, exactly. The Eurasian continent, especially the Asian part of the Eurasian continent, becomes a powerhouse of the world economy. And the integration structures existing in Eurasia, they established close links between themselves, the Eurasian Economic Union with the Shanghai Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with ASEAN. The Eurasian Economic Union signed an intergovernmental agreement with China on harmonizing the Eurasian Economic Union plans with the Road and Belt Project.

And a few years ago, long before the current crisis, President Vladimir Putin suggested that this natural cooperation, natural cooperative processes should be encouraged without setting some artificial deadlines, goals. Let them, by working together, by talking to each other, understand where they have comparative advantage and what kind of voluntary division of labor profitable to everybody could be arranged.

President Vladimir Putin said, let’s call it Greater Eurasian Partnership. And he emphasized, which we continue to stress until now, that this partnership must be open to all countries and organizations situated on the Eurasian continent, leaving the door open to those who believe that they are masters of the universe.

But when they become sober, maybe they would understand the benefit of equality, mutual respect, mutually beneficial cooperation. If this takes place, then we will see what they will be able to tell us.

Question: US President Joe Biden recently said that it’s Washington’s mission to build a new world order for ‘humanity’. How do you interpret that?

Sergey Lavrov: Superiority complex and lack of analysis of the situation. The West was calling the shots in the world for more than 500 years, more than five centuries.

And this era is over. It will take time for this era to be replaced by multipolarity, which already started to take shape, because new centers of economic growth, of financial might, of political influence, military might – new centers appeared. China, India, Iran, the Gulf countries, Latin American integration groups, including CELAC. And they all want to have a better role.

President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva suggested that CELAC should really think of getting rid of total dependence on the dollar and think about their own currency. He suggested the same in BRICS. Not the BRICS currency, but to think about alternative payment platforms, because the way the Americans are abusing the role of the dollar with these unilateral sanctions, just canceling overnight all the principles on which they were basing their model of globalization and inviting everybody to join – the assumption of innocence, safety of property, inviolability of private property and of property in general, free trade. See what they have been doing to the WTO?

As soon as China started having an upper hand in the world trade and world investments, and China was winning over the United States on the American-made turf, immediately the WTO dispute resolution organ was immobilized. And it is still immobilized.

So the Americans invent the rules which they insist everybody must follow, as long as these rules serve the American interests. As soon as others become a bit more efficient than the USA itself, the rules are being changed.

So I think President Joe Biden had this in mind, because the post-Cold War era, which seemed to be end of history, but did not prove that this is going to be the case. This era is coming to an end because of these new world centers of economic, military, political power and influence.

And the process of shaping the new world order will take time. It might be a historic era, a whole historic era. The main thing, people say, well, the United Nations must be forgotten. It does not deliver. The reform of the United Nations is a must, if only because multipolarity brought to the key positions many new players who are not now represented in the Security Council as permanent members. And there are candidates whom we support as very strong candidates like India and Brazil for example, and Africa also. At the same time as Indian and Brazilian candidates are considered, African interests must be considered in the package.

The only problem of the Security Council is over-representation of the West. Six out of 15 are countries of the West, mostly NATO and other allies of the United States. So there could be no talk about adding new seats, new permanent seats for the Western countries, but the African, Asian and Latin American countries must be in.

But my last point is that what President Joe Biden meant when he said that they would be working on a new order for the entire humanity was again the admission that the expectations that now everybody goes Francis Fukuyama way. The liberal world order is dominating and everybody is saying “yes, sir”. These dreams did not come true. So now they need to develop something new but aiming at the same goal. Something new which they would call the shots for.

Our position is that as for the legal basis, we don’t need anything except the United Nations Charter. Sovereign equality of states, non-interference in domestic matters, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity but at the same time respect for the right to self-determination.

By the way, the contradiction between territorial integrity and self-determination was discussed in the General Assembly for many, many years. And in 1970, a declaration was adopted on the principles of the Charter as the basis for the relations between the states and since then nobody questioned that declaration. And on this particular seeming contradiction, the declaration stated: everybody must respect the territorial integrity of states whose governments respect principle of self-determination of people and by this represent the entire population living on a given territory.

In other words, I don’t think anybody could argue that after the coup in 2014, the neo-Nazis who came to power and whose first pronouncement was the elimination of the status of the Russian language in Ukraine – I don’t think these people represented Crimeans and the east of Ukraine where Russian language was the language of day-to-day life, of education, art, media and so on and so forth.

So all the principles are there. The main thing is that we have to make sure that they are applied in real life and with a multipolar system which is objectively shaping, with more players, the system would be more sustainable and with more players it would be easier to deliver the principles of the UN Charter into real life, easier and more efficiently than just relying on the people who reserved the right to interpret the Charter and to impose their own rules on others.

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