Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine is aimed at protecting the two self-proclaimed Russian-backed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Al Arabiya on Friday.
“The goal of our operation, it was announced openly, is to protect these two republics and to make sure that no threat will ever emanate from the Ukrainian territory to the security of these people and to security of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.
He claimed that Russia has been aiming to protect the two republics because “they have been under attacks from the Ukrainian regime for a long, long eight years. When the coup happened in 2014, they said they don’t want to have anything to do with these people who came to power illegally and they said, ‘leave us alone, we want to understand what is going on,’ they never attacked the rest of Ukraine.”
The far-right coup in Kyiv back in 2014 overthrew the then-pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and is critical to the understanding of the Ukraine war. The coup was openly supported by the US and European powers which resulted in an even bigger strain in Ukraine-Russia relations.
“They were announced terrorists, an anti-terrorist operation was launched by the butcher leader who came to power by force through illegal means and for the long eight years they have been victims of Ukrainian aggression, killing like 13,000 or 14,000 civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure and many, many other crimes were committed by the Ukrainian regime against them,” he told Al Arabiya.
Lavrov added that Russia’s “special operation” was a “response to what NATO was doing in Ukraine to prepare this country for a very aggressive posture against the Russian Federation.”
“They were given offensive arms, including the arms which can reach the Russian territory, military bases were being built including on the Sea of Azov and many dozens of military exercises, including many of them on Ukrainian territory were conducted under NATO auspices and most of these exercises were designed against the interested of the Russian Federation, so the purpose of this operation is to make sure that those plans do not materialize.”
‘NATO considers it is at war with Russia’
The foreign minister said that Russia does not consider itself to be at war with NATO, but that NATO does.
“Unfortunately, NATO, it seems, considers itself to be at war with Russia. NATO and European Union leaders, many of them, in England, in the United States, Poland, France, Germany and of course European Union chief diplomat Josep Borrell, they bluntly, publicly and consistently say, ‘Putin must fail, Russia must be defeated.’ When you use this terminology, I believe you think that you are at war with the person who you want to be defeated.”
He added that Russia knows the routes being used to supply Ukraine with arms, stating that “as soon as these weapons are reaching Ukrainian territory, they are fair game for our special operation.”
Russia, NATO disagreements
Lavrov said that Russia had put forward many proposals to end the operation in Ukraine but was unable to reach an agreement with them.
“During all these years we have been initiating draft treaties, draft agreements with NATO, with countries of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and lately in December last year we proposed another initiative to the United States and to NATO to conclude treaties with both of them on security guarantees to all countries in the Euro-Atlantic space without joining any military alliance,” the foreign minister said.
“Every time we initiated these steps, they were basically rejected with more or less polite behavior. In 2009, we proposed the European Security Treaty which NATO refused to consider and the treaty actually was about codifying something to which all OSCE countries subscribed at the top level.”
Russia had suggested that the political commitments to give countries the right to choose its alliances and not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of another country, meaning that “no single organization in Europe can pretend to be a dominant player in this geo-political space.”
Lavrov said that NATO responded to Russia by saying that there would be no legally binding security guarantees outside NATO, which he believes makes the OSCE, which was signed by several rulers across the continent, “just lip service.”
He added that the last attempt by Russia took place in December 2021, before launching the operation in Ukraine, where they once again proposed to “stop building tension” as a response to the “increasing tension and confrontation” over the years.
This was, according to Lavrov, rejected by NATO because it did not want to sacrifice its “open doors policy,” which “does not exist in the Washington Treaty,” and used as a “cover to promote NATO expansionist plans.”
“NATO, despite its promises and promises of its leaders, was moving closer and closer to the Russian border and they were telling us, ‘don’t be afraid, we are a defensive alliance and we will pose no threat to your security.’”
He noted that NATO was indeed a defensive alliance back when there was a Berlin Wall and a “geopolitical wall between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty” drafted in 1949 after the Second World War.
“When the Warsaw Treaty disappeared, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, NATO decided that the line of defense should be moved to the east and they did move this line of defense five times,” Lavrov said.
“Foreign Secretary of Britain Liz Truss one of these days stated that NATO must be a global player so we can listen for so many times about the defensive nature of this alliance but this is a lie.”
Ukraine allegedly erasing Russia
Lavrov accused Kyiv of “cancelling everything Russian,” including “the language, education, media and day-to-day use of the Russian language was made an administrative offense.”
“So when the Ukrainian regime intensified at the end of last year and early this year shelling of the Eastern territories of the country in Donbas, in the worst violations of the Minsk Agreements which were signed in February 2015 and endorsed by the Security Council resolution, when they were targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, kindergartens, we didn’t have any other choice.”