Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at Leaders of Russia management competition, Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at Leaders of Russia management competition, Moscow (19 March 2022)

In a perhaps unexpected venue – meeting with finalists of a competition in which participants manage a company going through a crisis in a simulated reality – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in his capacity as Chairman of the competition’s Supervisory Board, delivered an important speech against what he sees as the context of events occurring in Ukraine from late February 2022 onwards. Essentially Lavrov’s speech refers to actions and policies of the West towards Russia since the 1990s and the role Ukraine has been shunted into, as a puppet tool to intimidate Russia, threaten Russian security and ultimately weaken Russian sovereignty with the aim of opening up the country to Western influence and infiltration and splitting it up into weaker, poorer states. Despite Russia’s attempts to be friendly and to cooperate in tackling regional and global issues and problems facing Europe, the Northern Hemisphere and ultimately the whole planet Earth, the West and especially the United States has consistently egged on Ukraine in its antagonistic behaviour towards Russia and Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov gives detailed examples of the way in which Ukraine has either ignored its obligations to Russian-speaking Ukrainians and other Ukrainians belonging to various ethnic minorities in its territory or pursued an aggressive and bullying stance towards its minorities and to Russia. He notes the discriminatory language policy of Ukraine towards Russian, Hungarian and other minority languages. He mentions the ongoing harassment by Kiev of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics since 2014 when those republics declared their independence, to the extent that terrorist-style infiltration (including outright violence) by Ukrainian military forces or neo-Nazi units embedded with them in those republics has resulted in 14,000 deaths of DPR and LPR inhabitants, and Kiev’s recent decision to boost its forces by 120,000 troops along the de facto border between Ukraine and the rebel republics. Once Ukraine began shelling the republics in early 2022, with preparations for a later invasion, Russia took quick action: Moscow recognised the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and launched a military operation into Ukraine to defend the republics. Within a historical context such as this, outsiders should not be surprised that Russia decided to invade Ukraine with the aim of demilitarising and deNazifying Ukraine, at least at the latter’s military level; rather, we should be surprised that Russia took so long to react – eight years and 14,000 casualties later.

Since Moscow’s military campaign began, the Russians have uncovered an extensive bioweapons programme in which some 30+ military biological research laboratories run by the US Department of Defense were established in various cities throughout Ukraine. The Russians have also taken note of the virulent anti-Russian propaganda operation operating in the West to demonise all things Russian and to portray the Russian campaign as a failure that will damn Russian President Vladimir Putin and encourage the Russian public to overthrow him as leader.

Lavrov invited his audience to ask questions and their queries ranged from the practical and the specific (for example, how Russians living in former Soviet republics can travel to Russia) to the general (for example, how Russia and other nations can pursue international relations and return to cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully). To all these questions, Lavrov gave detailed answers and reiterated the Russian desire to work towards peace and solving global problems with other nations.

Lavrov’s speech is important in that it lays out succinctly the historical environment over the past 30 years in which actions taken by Ukraine, aided and abetted by the US, NATO and the EU, have culminated in a situation of weakened national and regional security in Europe, political instability and economic crisis in Ukraine, and heightened fears of a major world war – World War III, indeed – affecting much of Europe and leading to the use of nuclear weapons by both Russia and the West and their respective allies. It is also significant in that it publicly signals a change in which Russia conducts diplomacy with the West: Moscow is not likely to become more aggressive or hostile but the Russians are definitely less likely to tolerate Western aggression and insolence, and will find ways of circumventing Western hostility, especially if such hostility can be undermined and Russia and its allies will benefit as a result. As Lavrov observes at the end of the Q&A session, lessons will be learned. The reaction by the West to Russian warnings and Ukrainian aggression though has been to urge the Ukrainians on their reckless actions and to criticise Russia for doing or not doing things that are actually the responsibility of Ukraine under the Minsk agreements.

Though the speech and the Q&A session that follows are quite lengthy and detailed, and viewers might be advised to familiarise themselves with the post-Soviet histories of Russia and Ukraine, the speech is not very long and it is very straightforward and blunt in tone and aims. An English-language transcript of the speech is available at this site.