Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday the talks with British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss were “a talk of a mute with a deaf.”
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Lavrov said he did not speak with Truss about bilateral relations that are “at the lowest point” because the British minister wanted to discuss the situation in Ukraine, the Russian-Belarusian military drill Determination-2022, the restoration of the Iran nuclear deal and Russia’s cooperation with China.
Lavrov said he informed Truss about the lack of progress in implementation of the Minsk Agreement on the Ukrainian settlement, the terms of the Russian-Belarusian military exercises and developing “balanced and mutually respectful” relations with China.
The minister added that they agreed with Truss there is a chance to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.
The Russian initiative on getting legally-binding security guarantees was also raised by Truss, the foreign minister continued, adding he reiterated verbally the request submitted earlier in written form, asking to explain how London understands the principle of the inadmissibility of strengthening security by weakening the security of others.
“To be honest, I am disappointed, we had a conversation between a mute and a deaf, we seemed to be listening, but we did not hear. At least, our most detailed explanations, in general, fell on unprepared ground,” he said.
Lavrov added that Thursday’s talks may have been held live because the only thing he heard during the two-hour conversation was the demand to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine’s border.
“All these two hours that we spent behind closed doors, we did not hear any other intonation than Truss’s bellicose tone at the news conference. The demands to remove Russian troops from Russian territory did not change in any way in response to our arguments.
“For a long time I have not participated in such diplomatic talks, which could be held on-air, by and large, because we have not heard anything secret, nothing confidential, trustworthy, only what regularly sounds from high stands in London,” he said.
To Truss’s remarks that Russia has to choose diplomacy, Lavrov said the country has been choosing diplomacy all these years while the West does nothing but threaten Moscow.
“We don’t want to threaten anyone, look at the public statements, no threats have ever been made anywhere. We are the ones being threatened, including by Minister Truss in her recent address to the House of Commons, and today she has reiterated (her threats),” he said.
The minister also said the current situation will achieve its climax when the Russian-Belarusian military exercises are over, then the West will say that it “forced Russia to de-escalation.”
“When Russian troops return after the end of the exercises in Belarus, the West is likely to make a big fuss, claiming that ‘the West forced Russia to de-escalation,’ although it will be ‘trade of air’,” he said.
The Ukrainian crisis is “a crutch” for the falling ratings of Western politicians, the minister said.
Truss threatens to cut Nord Stream 2 project
For her part, Truss took a very tough position, warning about “severe consequences” for Russia in case of “aggression towards Ukraine.”
Truss even said with a reference to the U.S. that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline “will not go ahead,” outdoing the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who visited Russia last month and used much more flexible wording when speaking about this project.
“As I said, Russia still has time to end its aggression towards Ukraine and pursue the path of diplomacy. But NATO is very clear – if that path is not chosen, there will be severe consequences for Russia, Ukraine and the whole of Europe.
“If (there is) to be a Russian incursion into Ukraine, the Ukrainians will fight. This would be a prolonged and drawn-out conflict. The U.K. and our allies will put in place severe sanctions, targeting individuals and institutions. And the United States has been clear that the Nord Stream 2 would not go ahead,” she said.
Truss also warned that the development of the humanitarian ties between Russia and Great Britain depends on the further situation around Ukraine.
Truss confirmed that Lavrov told her that Russia has no plans to attack Ukraine, but she said the words should be supported by actions, and that Russia has to withdraw its troops far from Ukraine’s border.
“Minister Lavrov has said to me today that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine but we need to see those words followed up by actions and we need to see the troops and the equipment that is stationed on the Ukraine border moved elsewhere because at present it is in a very threatening posture.
“I can’t see any other reason for having 100,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border apart from to threaten Ukraine, and if Russia is serious about diplomacy, they need to move those troops and desist from the threats,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov argued that even Ukrainian top officials have made calls not to panic and refuted statements about Russia’s preparing invasion, recalling remarks by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said the risks of Russia’s invasion are currently no bigger than before.
The minister said the West uses Ukraine as a tool against Russia, not taking into account the country’s interests, which are damaged by statements about Russia’s alleged invasion – investors are leaving Ukraine and businesses have closed over “invasion hysteria,” harming Ukraine’s economy.
He then said Great Britain and other countries send their troops to the countries neighboring Russia and to Moscow while demanding and trying to dictate what Russia should do with its armed forces on its own territory.
Lavrov then noted that the Russian army always returns to the places of permanent deployment after the end of military exercises, while NATO troops and weapons, once deployed, stay forever.
Truss opposed Lavrov by saying no country is undermining Russia’s security, that Great Britain, along with its NATO allies, is taking steps to be ready “in case of an incursion,” and that NATO has a “defensive nature.”
“My purpose here in Moscow today is to absolutely avoid that outcome and to work with Russia to make sure that we move ahead on talks with NATO. But that cannot come at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And it can’t come at the expense of NATO’s open-door policy,” she said.
Lavrov met those remarks skeptically, saying NATO “showed its ‘defensive nature’ by bombing Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.”
He also voiced concern over the actions of “the Anglo-Saxon countries” that have evacuated diplomatic staff from Ukraine, noting it could mean they are “up to something” and Moscow might have to evacuate its diplomats from Ukraine as well.
The two ministers then had a dispute about the 1994 Budapest memorandum, with Truss saying Russia must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine under the agreement, and Lavrov insisting on the absence of provisions obliging Russia to recognize “regimes that came to power through a coup in 2014 and discriminating against the Russian-speaking population.”
Truss ended by saying that while she is seeking to deter Russia from an invasion of Ukraine, she also came to pursue diplomacy, and there are further talks to be held.
“NATO put its proposals on the table to improve transparency, to improve confidence, I want us to take those talks forward,” she said.
Russia and the West can work together “to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Truss added.