Russian Security Council Meeting February 21 2022 - Transcript
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues. We are meeting today to discuss the current developments in Donbass.
I will briefly remind you how it all started and how the situation has developed even though you know this very well. But we need general background to help us make appropriate decisions.
So, after the 2014 coup in Ukraine, part of the population did not accept the outcome. Let me remind you that this was an anti-constitutional, blood-shedding coup that killed many innocent people. It was truly an armed coup. Nobody can argue that.
Some of the country’s citizens did not accept the coup. They were residents of Crimea and the people who currently live in Donbass.
Those people declared that they were establishing two independent republics, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic. This was the point when the confrontation started between the Kiev officials and the people living on that territory.
In this context, I would like to point out that Russia initially did everything it could to make sure these disagreements could be resolved by peaceful means. However, the Kiev officials have conducted two punitive operations on those territories and, apparently, we are witnessing a third escalation.
All these years – I want to stress this – all these years, the people living on those territories have been literally tortured by constant shelling and blockades. As you know, the people living on those territories, close to the front line, so to speak, were in fact forced to seek shelter in their basements – where they now live with their children.
A peace plan was drafted during the negotiating process called the Minsk Package of Measures because, as you recall, we met in the city of Minsk. But subsequent developments show that the Kiev authorities are not planning to implement it, and they have publicly said so many times at the top state level and at the level of Foreign Minister and Security Council Secretary. Overall, everyone understands that they are not planning to do anything with regard to this Minsk Package of Measures.
Nevertheless, Russia has exerted efforts and still continues to make efforts to resolve all the complicated aspects and tragic developments by peaceful means, but we have what we have.
Our goal, the goal of today’s meeting is to listen to our colleagues and to outline future steps in this direction, considering the appeals by the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic on recognising their sovereignty, as well as a resolution by the State Duma of the Russian Federation on the same subject. The latter document urges the President to recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
At the same time, I would like to note that these different matters are, nevertheless, closely linked with matters of maintaining international security, on the European continent in particular, because the use of Ukraine as a tool for confronting this country, Russia, of course, presents a major and serious threat to us.
This is why we have intensified our work with our main partners in Washington and NATO over the past few months and in late 2021, so as to reach an eventual agreement on these security measures and to ensure the country’s calm and successful development under peaceful conditions. We see this as our number one objective and a top priority; instead of confrontation, we need to maintain security and ensure conditions for our development.
But we must, of course, understand the reality we live in. And, as I have said many times before, if Russia faces the threat of Ukraine being accepted into the North Atlantic Alliance, NATO, the threat against our country will increase because of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty that clearly states that all countries in the alliance must fight on the side of their co-member in the event of an aggression against it. But since nobody recognises the will expressed by the people of Crimea and Sevastopol, and Ukraine continues to insist that it is Ukrainian territory, there is a real threat that they will try to take back the territory they believe is theirs using military force. And they do say this in their documents, obviously. Then the entire North Atlantic Alliance will have to get involved.
As you know, we have been told that some NATO countries are against Ukraine becoming a member. However, despite their objections, in 2008, they signed a memorandum in Bucharest that opened the doors for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. I have not received an answer to my question as to why they did that. But if they took one step under pressure from the United States, who can guarantee that they will not take another step under pressure? There is no guarantee.
There are no guarantees whatsoever because the United States is known to easily discard any agreements and documents it signs. Still, at least something must be put on paper and formulated as an international legal act. At this point, we cannot even agree on this one thing.
Therefore, I would like to suggest that we proceed as follows: first, I will give the floor to Mr Lavrov who is directly involved in the attempts to reach an agreement with Washington and Brussels, and with NATO, on security guarantees. Then I would like Mr Kozak to report on his findings concerning the talks on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Then each of you will be able to speak. But at the end of the day, we must decide what we will do next and how we should proceed in view of the current situation and our assessment of these developments.
Mr Lavrov, please.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Mr President, colleagues,
As I reported to the President a week ago, we prepared our assessment of the proposals on the security guarantees that Russia submitted for consideration by the United States and NATO last December.
We received their response in late January. The assessment of this response shows that our Western colleagues are not prepared to take up our major proposals, primarily those on NATO’s eastward non-expansion. This demand was rejected with reference to the bloc’s so-called open-door policy and the freedom of each state to choose its own way of ensuring security. Neither the United States, not the North Atlantic Alliance proposed an alternative to this key provision.
The United States is doing everything it can to avoid the principle of indivisibility of security that we consider of fundamental importance and to which we have made many references. Deriving from it the only element that suits them – the freedom to choose alliances – they completely ignore everything else, including the key condition that reads that nobody – either in choosing alliances or regardless of them – is allowed to enhance their security at the expense of the security of others.
In this context, I sent our Western European colleagues that are part of NATO, EU members, plus Switzerland, detailed letters with our legal analysis of the commitments that the OSCE assumed at the top level in 1999 and 2010, as well as within the framework of Russia-NATO relations, including the 1997 Founding Act and the Rome Declaration, that the participants in the Russia-NATO meeting in Pratica di Mare approved at the top level in 2002.
Our second priority concerns the time we established relations with NATO, in 1997. Considering that the 1997 documents declared that Russia and NATO were no longer opponents and were supposed, in part, to develop a strategic partnership, we suggested returning to the 1997 configuration of NATO forces on the eastern flank. This argument was rejected, like the first one. Indicatively, in their response, some NATO countries immediately urged us to stop “the occupation of Crimea” and “withdraw our troops from the territories of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.”
In general, these documents expressed support for the Minsk Package of Measures, but this support was absolutely “sterile.” It did not evince any readiness to compel Kiev to implement the provisions of this most important document.
In response to our other demands, including the need to rule out the deployment of arms systems that threaten us near our borders, the Americans expressed the desire to start discussing land-based medium- and short-range missiles. This issue emerged after the United States unilaterally walked out of the relevant treaty with the Russian Federation and ignored, Mr President, your initiatives of two years ago. At that time, you suggested replacing the treaty with at least a declaration on a mutual moratorium on deploying these systems with the relevant verification measures.
In the proposals we have received, the United States and NATO are also suggesting efforts in certain aspects of reducing military risks and on increasing transparency and predictability. These ideas are very close to the proposals we have repeatedly presented to both the Americans and to NATO. However, these issues were removed, separated from the context of the package agreement on security guarantees.
As for bilateral steps, the United States suggests regulating flights of strategic bombers, completing the work on measures to prevent incidents at sea and in the airspace over the sea. It is paying special attention to the transparency of surprise inspections, the resumption of contacts between the militaries, the creation of a civilian hotline, and a discussion of mechanisms to prevent dangerous military incidents.
Overall, our general impression is that our colleagues are trying to separate, as it were, Russia’s proposals, to single out from them some secondary, albeit important for us, points that can help maintain the dialogue and risk reduction but that will not affect the vital interests of the US and its allies in their unlimited expansion of NATO, and that will not limit their freedom to define the configuration of forces in the NATO space and around it.
That said, and this is particularly important in the context of the issue that the President outlined today, the beginning of a dialogue on any issue is contingent on our preliminary steps to deescalate tensions around Ukraine.
In evaluating these responses, we can say that we see some progress. These openings are small but they do exist. The consistency and principled approach that we have been displaying in promoting our initiatives since last December have, of course, shaken the United States and its allies and have compelled them to start working on many Russian proposals on the reduction of military tensions and arms control, which they ignored before.
As I reported to you, Mr President, in this context we believe it is necessary to continue this work. We responded in detail, in the spirit I described, to the documents from Washington and Brussels, but we have sent our response only to the United States for now, partly, primarily because we see NATO’s role as ancillary since they would determine their steps mainly, maybe even exclusively based on Washington’s policies.
By the way, at the recent Munich Security Conference, every Western representative declared their absolute commitment to a unified approach. That unified approach was developed by the United States, so Munich has simply confirmed that we need to negotiate with Washington. This is what we are doing now, sending the response that you approved to the American document.
We believe we have clearly emphasised the most important part – that our proposals are not an a la carte menu to choose from, but they are not an ultimatum either. They actually stem from the absolutely obvious point that the global situation can only be resolved through a comprehensive approach at this stage. You, Mr President, have stressed that the Ukrainian crisis also largely depends on how relations develop between the Russian Federation and the West, led by the United States, so in our response, we underscored the integrity of the original Russian initiative.
We are also ready to discuss the matters that the Americans have recalled, including taking into account our previous proposals. But again, we will do this solely as part of addressing our main concerns: stopping NATO's eastward expansion and considering the configuration of NATO's presence on the European continent, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, in line with the previous Russia–NATO agreements.
Naturally, our call is not a call but rather a demand, by and large, to explain why the assurances signed at the highest level that no one is to strengthen their security at the expense of others are now being ignored, and more than that, our colleagues from the respective countries are even refusing to explain what they had in mind when their leaders signed the relevant documents, and why now, regardless of what they had in mind, they are not going to fulfill their obligations.
Following your instruction, Mr President, we have sent these documents to Washington. A couple of days later, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called me to say he had read our document and was ready to meet to discuss it, convey the American reaction and possibly ask some additional questions. With your consent, the meeting has been scheduled for later this week, February 24, in Geneva. We will be guided by the approach that you have approved, the one you defend during the meetings with your colleagues, and which we will certainly promote at the Foreign Ministry level.
Vladimir Putin: I am talking to my colleagues about this in fact, and my American colleague has assured me that they are not going to admit Ukraine tomorrow; moreover, even a moratorium is possible. But they also believe that Ukraine is not ready yet, so my answer was simple: “We do not see this as a concession to us; it is just the implementation of your plans. You believe you need to wait and prepare Ukraine for joining NATO. A moratorium, but not a moratorium for us; you are announcing this moratorium for yourself. So where is the step towards us, to meet us halfway? So far, we have not seen this.”
I spoke twice to the President of France yesterday; actually, we spoke until 2 am this morning, so you could say we talked today. He insists that the US position has undergone some changes. But regrettably, he was unable to answer the question of what those changes are.
I think first we need to see what these changes are, if they exist at all, because your colleagues, to the contrary, publicly claimed as late as yesterday that there were no changes in the principal issues of expansion, of accepting new countries into NATO, including Ukraine. Do I understand it correctly?
Sergey Lavrov: Yes, Mr President, despite the multiplying publications of classified documents – and in the Western media at that – that were discussed by our Western colleagues in the early 90s both among themselves and with us; and even though they clearly indicated that even the West has no intention of expanding NATO to the east, confirming that in talks in a narrow circle; regardless of that, Mr Stoltenberg, the current Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance, is still rejecting obvious facts that have been declassified by a British archive and published by Spiegel magazine.
Despite all that, they are adamant in not weakening their “open door” policy, even though you have explained several times that such a policy does not actually exist. There is the possibility under the Washington Treaty of proposing, with unanimous consent from the NATO countries, that a given country join the alliance under two conditions: if it meets the membership qualifications, and secondly, and most importantly, if that country can add a security dimension to the North Atlantic Alliance. We know, of course, that the second critical criteria has long been ignored by NATO.
As to what new ideas the Americans and their allies can offer, we presume that, as you said to President Macron, we first have to understand what the Americans mean. Because our French colleagues tell us that they have an understanding of what Washington can speak to us about. As you agreed with President Macron yesterday, I will have a telephone conversation with the French Foreign Minister today. When we were scheduling the call, I asked the French Foreign Ministry to make sure that he clarifies, even if just a little, what the Americans are ready to discuss with us as they hinted to the French.
Vladimir Putin: I see, thank you.
Take your seat, please, Thank you.
Now, Mr Kozak will report – as I requested – on any developments on the Minsk settlement track, let us call it that. And after that, I would ask the other Security Council members to speak out starting with the real situation, which is now unfolding in the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Please, Mr Kozak.
To be continued.