‘Russia does not consider itself to be at war with NATO, but NATO does,’ Lavrov tells Al-Arabiya 

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Updated 01 May 2022

‘Russia does not consider itself to be at war with NATO, but NATO does,’ Lavrov tells Al-Arabiya 

‘Russia does not consider itself to be at war with NATO, but NATO does,’ Lavrov tells Al-Arabiya 
  • Remarks made in exclusive interview given by Russian FM to the news channel’s UN bureau chief, Talal Al-Haj 
  • Lavrov said the problem with humanitarian corridors is that “they are being ignored by Ukrainian ultranationalists” 

DUBAI: Moscow does not consider itself to be at war with NATO, but NATO does, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told Al-Arabiya in an exclusive interview.

He brushed aside UN chief Antonio Guterres’ proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians, saying: “There is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors. There is only one problem … humanitarian corridors are being ignored by Ukrainian ultranationalists.

“We appreciate the interest of the secretary-general to be helpful … (We have) explained … what is the mechanism for them to monitor how the humanitarian corridors are announced.”

Asked about the risks of war spilling into Moldova after a series of explosions rattled a breakaway border region within the country, Lavrov said: “Moldova should worry about its own future … because they are being pulled into NATO.”

In an hour-long interview with Talal Al-Haj, Al-Arabiya news channel’s New York/UN bureau chief, which aired on Friday night, Lavrov offered the Russian government’s perspective of the Ukraine conflict, which is now into its third month, having already claimed tens of thousands of lives, civilians as well as soldiers, on both sides.

“Unfortunately, NATO, it seems, considers itself to be at war with Russia,” he said. “NATO and EU leaders, many of them, in England, in the US, Poland, France, Germany and of course EU 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.”

The Russian government has said its “special military operation” in Ukraine is aimed at protecting Russia’s security and that of Russian-speaking people in the eastern Donbas region. Western nations have accused Russia of invading a sovereign country and of committing war crimes.

Since the invasion began on February 24, the US, UK and EU have sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and businesses and wealthy businessmen, with the US banning all Russian oil and gas imports.

The financial measures are designed to damage Russia’s economy and penalize President Vladimir Putin, high-ranking officials, and people who have benefited from his rule.

Lavrov said: “To believe that this latest outrage and the wave of sanctions, which eventually showed the real face of West which, as far as I now understand, has always been Russian-phobic, to believe that this latest wave of sanctions is going to make Russia cry uncle and to beg for being pardoned, those planners are lousy and of course they don’t know anything about foreign policy of Russia and they don’t know anything about how to deal with Russia.”

The conflict has prompted NATO members and allies to pledge billions of dollars in military support to Ukraine. Weapons systems being supplied to Ukrainian forces include surface-to-air missiles, heavy artillery and surveillance equipment.

The Biden administration has agreed with Western allies to hold monthly meetings to assess the needs of the government in Kyiv, raising fears that the war in Ukraine will, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put it, “drag on and last for months and years.”

NATO says it will do all that it can to support Ukraine while ensuring that the war does not spill over beyond its borders into neighboring countries.

But Lavrov said that NATO’s cooperation with Ukraine was little more than “an instrument to contain Russia and deter Russia and irritate Russia.”

He said that Russia knew the routes being used to supply Ukraine with arms, and “as soon as these weapons are reaching Ukrainian territory, they are fair game for our special operation.”

Lavrov said Russia has put forward many proposals to end the war in Ukraine but drawn a blank so far. Ukraine was at fault for the stalled peace talks, he said, blaming what he said was the government’s changing negotiating positions.

Russia has accused the Pentagon of funding and developing biological weapons in a number of laboratories across Ukraine. In January this year, the US denied the accusations and claimed that the laboratories are there to “reduce the threat of biological weapons proliferation.” Lavrov categorically rejected the US assertions.

Lavrov also accused the West of sabotaging the peace attempts, claiming that negotiations in Istanbul last month had been progressing on issues of Russian territorial claims and security guarantees until Ukrainian diplomats backtracked at the behest of the West.

“We are stuck because of their desire to play games all the time,” he said. “Because of the instructions (the Ukrainian representatives) get from Washington, from London, from some other capitals, not to accelerate the negotiations.” 

Lavrov reiterated the Putin government’s position that Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine is aimed at protecting the two self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbas.

“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,” he said.

In late February, President Putin recognized the region, allowing Russian troops to be present in those territories. Russia has been aiming to protect the two republics because “they have been under attack from the Ukrainian regime for a long, long eight years,” Lavrov said.

“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.”

Lavrov was referring to the overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 after months of protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square, or Maidan, against his refusal to sign an agreement that would have integrated Ukraine more closely with the EU.

Around the same time, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and threw its support behind the Donbas insurgency. Since then, Donetsk and Luhansk have been controlled by separatist governments backed by Moscow.

“The (leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics) were (proclaimed) terrorists, an anti-terrorist operation was launched by the butcher leader who came to power by force through illegal means, and for eight long 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,” Lavrov said.

He said 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.”

Referring to the Ukraine government he said: “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, many of them on Ukrainian territory, were conducted under NATO auspices.

“Most of these exercises were designed against the interests of the Russian Federation, so the purpose of this operation is to make sure that those plans do not materialize.”

Tracing the roots of the Ukraine conflict, Lavrov said: “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 US 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.”

 

He was referring to the OSCE, the regional security-oriented intergovernmental organization with observer status at the UN whose mandate includes issues such as arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair elections.

“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.”

According to Lavrov, Russia had suggested that countries be given the right to choose their 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 geopolitical space.”

Lavrov said NATO responded to Russia by saying that there would be no legally binding security guarantees outside NATO, which he believes makes the OSCE “just lip service.”

He said that the last such attempt by Russia took place in December 2021, before launching the operation in Ukraine, as a response to the “increasing tension and confrontation” over the years.

This Russian initiative, according to Lavrov, was rejected by NATO because it did not want to sacrifice its “open doors policy,” which “does not exist in the Washington Treaty (which forms the basis of NATO)” 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 acknowledged that NATO was a defensive alliance when there was a Berlin Wall and a “geopolitical wall between NATO and the Warsaw Pact” after World War II.

But “when the Warsaw Pact 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.”

“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.”

Lavrov accused the Ukraine government of “cancelling everything Russian,” including “the language, education, media and day-to-day use of the Russian language was made an administrative offense.”

Elaborating on the accusation, he said: “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.”

Lavrov cautioned that his remarks that the risks of a nuclear conflict should not be “underestimated” if the US and its allies continued to arm Ukraine should not be taken out of context.

“We were never playing with such dangerous things. We all should insist on the statements made by the P5 (UN Security Council permanent members), that never ever there could be a nuclear war. But to make sure that this is the case, the West must discipline speakers like our Ukrainian and Polish colleagues, who see no danger in playing with such very, very risky words.”

Lavrov said Western media outlets were misconstruing his words but “we are used to it.”


Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

Updated 24 sec ago

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure
DHAKA: At least 130 million people in Bangladesh were without power on Tuesday afternoon after a grid failure caused widespread blackouts, the government’s power utility company said.
Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has imposed regular service cuts to conserve electricity.
But it remained unclear what caused Tuesday’s unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 p.m. local time (0800 GMT), according to the Power Development Board.
Apart from some locations in Bangladesh’s northwest, “the rest of the country is without power,” Power Development Board spokesman Shamim Ahsan told AFP.
Ahsan said 130 million people or more were without electricity and it remained unclear what had caused the fault.
“It is still under investigation,” he said, adding that a technical malfunction was the probable cause.
Junior technology minister Zunaid Palak said on Facebook that power would be restored by 8 p.m. in the capital Dhaka, itself home to more than 22 million people.
Soaring energy prices have wrought havoc on the South Asian nation’s electricity grid in recent months, with utilities struggling to source enough diesel and gas to meet demand.
A depreciating currency and dwindling foreign exchange reserves left Bangladesh unable to import sufficient fossil fuels, forcing it to close diesel plants and leave some gas-fired power stations idle.
The government imposed lengthy power cuts to conserve existing stocks in July, with outages lasting up to 13 hours each day at their peak.
Tens of thousands of mosques around the country have been asked to curtail the use of air conditioners to ease pressure on the electricity grid.
The blackouts sparked widespread public anger and helped mobilize large demonstrations on the streets of the capital Dhaka.
At least three protesters were killed by security forces during the rallies, partly motivated by rising cost-of-living pressures.
Around 100 others were injured during a police crackdown on one demonstration, according to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Consumer inflation has hit household budgets hard and the government recently pledged to cap the price of several staple foods, including rice, to quell public discontent.
Bangladesh last witnessed a major unscheduled blackout in November 2014, when around 70 percent of the country went without power for nearly 10 hours.

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise
Updated 22 min 55 sec ago

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise

WHO warns Haiti cholera toll likely to rise
  • Fresh fears of a resurgent epidemic nearly three years after Haiti’s last confirmed case
  • WHO: The world was now witnessing a ‘worrying upsurge’ in cholera outbreaks

GENEVA: Haiti’s cholera outbreak death toll is likely “much higher” than reported and cases are expected to rise, the WHO said Tuesday, warning the country’s multiple crises would complicate response efforts.
The crisis-wracked Caribbean nation said Sunday that at least seven people had died from cholera, raising fresh fears of a resurgent epidemic nearly three years after Haiti’s last confirmed case.
Multiple suspected cases have been detected in Carrefour-Feuilles on the edge of the capital Port-au-Prince, and in the coastal neighborhood of Cite Soleil.
The areas are entirely controlled by gangs and access to them has been very difficult since the end of July.
Conditions in Haiti have worsened in recent weeks with blockades, fuel shortages, protest marches, looting and general strikes.
“This situation greatly complicates the humanitarian response,” World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva.
“The situation is evolving rapidly, and it is possible earlier cases have been undetected.”
He said the death toll figures could be “much higher.”
“With the humanitarian situation as it is, the sanitary situation, and the gang-controlled areas where there’s hardly any access to control, to test or even to bring in assistance, we should expect, unfortunately, cases to be higher, and to rise,” he said.
Lindmeier said a request was being prepared to be submitted to the international coordination group for the procurement of oral cholera vaccines.
However, global vaccine availability is limited with demand outstripping supply.
Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection in the small intestine causing sometimes fatal dehydration. It is generally contracted from food or water contaminated with vibrio cholerae bacteria.
In February this year, Haiti celebrated three years without a single confirmed cholera case and was preparing to submit its case for cholera-free status certification at the end of 2022.
Cholera killed nearly 10,000 people in the wake of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, when United Nations workers helping with the response introduced it to the country.
The outbreak affected at least 820,000 people, the WHO said.
The first infections were detected around the Artibonite River, where UN peacekeepers had dumped fecal matter.
It was not until August 2016 that the UN officially acknowledged its role in the epidemic.
Lindmeier said there was no information yet on where the current outbreak originated, but said roughly 80 percent of people carrying vibrio cholerae could be asymptomatic, making it difficult to detect.
The United Nations said it stood ready to deploy emergency response teams as soon as safe access is assured and fuel supplies are unblocked.
On Friday the WHO warned that after years of decline, the world was now witnessing a “worrying upsurge” in cholera outbreaks.
In the first nine months of this year alone, 26 countries have reported cholera outbreaks, the WHO said.


Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations

Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations
Updated 26 min 22 sec ago

Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations

Belarus’s Lukashenko accuses Ukraine of border provocations
  • Lukashenko allowed his close ally Russia in February to use Belarus as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine
  • Belarus is not a party to the conflict and that its own forces are not involved

LONDON: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused neighboring Ukraine on Tuesday of sending 15,000 troops to the border area to build defenses and conduct reconnaissance, actions that he called “provocations.”
Lukashenko allowed his close ally Russia in February to use Belarus as a staging post for its invasion of Ukraine. However, he has said Belarus is not a party to the conflict and that its own forces are not involved.
In comments carried by the state news agency BelTA, Lukashenko said the Ukrainian unit brought up to the border had blocked roads and was setting up checkpoints and firing positions.
“In a word, has not only barricaded itself, but built a wall. Constantly conducting optical, radio-electronic and radio-technical reconnaissance of our territory, troops and objects,” Lukashenko said.
“Often with their drones violating the line of the state border. And at the same time, they worry and worry: ‘Oh, don’t let Belarus enter the war’. And there are constant provocations at the border.”
Ukrainian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lukashenko said his country was involved in the conflict only to prevent it spreading into Belarus and to “prevent an attack on Belarus under the guise of a special military operation from Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.”
“As I have said, nobody will shoot the Russians in the back from the territory of Belarus,” he said.
Belarus’s three western neighbors are all part of the NATO transatlantic alliance, which is helping Ukraine to defend itself against Russia with weapons and intelligence but says it will not take a direct part in the conflict.


Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians

Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians
Updated 04 October 2022

Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians

Merkel wins UN refugee agency award over welcome of Syrians
  • Under Angela Merkel’s leadership, Germany welcomed over 1.2 million refugees in 2015 and 2016

GENEVA: The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it’s giving its highest award to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her efforts to welcome more than 1 million refugees — mostly from Syria — into Germany, despite some criticism both at home and abroad.
Matthew Saltmarsh, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said Merkel had been selected as the latest recipient for the Nansen award, which is handed out annually by the Geneva-based UN agency.
“Under the then-Federal Chancellor Merkel’s leadership, Germany welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum-seekers in 2015 and 2016, which, as you will remember, was the height of the conflict in Syria, and there was deadly violence in other parts of the world,” Saltmarsh told reporters. “Dr. Merkel helped to highlight the plight of refugees globally.”
Merkel’s decision to let in so many migrants boosted the far-right Alternative for Germany party and resulted in protests by a vocal minority. She was also blasted by some governments for being too friendly to refugees, when some European Union partner states were closing borders to refugees and asylum-seekers.
The award includes a $150,000 prize. Merkel is expected to travel to Geneva next Monday to receive the award, Saltmarsh said. Four regional winners were also announced.
The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honors individuals, groups or organizations that go “above and beyond the call of duty” to protect refugees, other displaced and stateless people, the agency says.
More than 60 laureates have received the award since it was founded in 1954 to celebrate Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian scientist, explorer and diplomat who was the first commissioner for refugees in the League of Nations — the predecessor of the the United Nations
The recipient in 2021 was the Jeel Albena Association for Humanitarian Development in Yemen, for its support for displaced Yemenis.


Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions
Updated 04 October 2022

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions
  • Russian Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia

MOSCOW: The upper house of Russia’s parliament voted on Tuesday to approve the incorporation of four Ukrainian regions into Russia, as Moscow sets about formally annexing territory it sized from Kyiv during its seven-month conflict.
In a session on Tuesday, the Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine, following a similar vote in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, yesterday.
The documents now pass back to the Kremlin for President Vladimir Putin’s final signature to complete the process of formally annexing the four regions, representing around 18 percent of Ukraine’s internationally-recognized territory.
Russia declared the annexations after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and non-representative.

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