F24: I want to get to the issue of sanctions, Western sanctions that were slapped on Russia. They seem to have an effect: the Russian economy is suffering, the ruble has tumbled to new record lows, there was an emergency meeting last night to raise the interest rates to 17 percent, the oil price is tumbling. It seems Russia is feeling the bite of the sanctions.
SL: Well, of course it hurts, we don’t take any pleasure from sanctions, but it’s not our problem, it’s the problem of the European Union and the United States and other countries.
F24: But it’s a problem for your population.
SL: The population will express itself when elections come. I’m sure the population would know what to do to express what the Russian people feel. I don’t believe it helps Europe. As Joe Biden publicly said, it was the United States which ordered Europe to join sanctions against Russia, and frankly, it’s really a pity that we for some previous years overestimated the independence of the European Union and even big European countries. So, it’s geopolitics. Some people believe that sanctions are a sign of weakness or a sign of irritation, which is not the best quality of a politician, but I can assure you that Russia will not only survive, but will come out stronger out of this. We have been in much worse situations in our history, and every time we were getting out of these fixes much stronger. This will happen this time.
F24: So you’re not afraid that we could see an economic meltdown in Russia?
SL: Never. Economic meltdown could happen to a small country. It can happen even to a big country like Ukraine, and it’s basically almost there. Russia is doing whatever we can to help resolve the crisis in Ukraine – not to please the West, not to ask for sanctions relief, but because we are seriously concerned. Contrary to what the Europeans feel, we are seriously concerned about the future of Ukraine and Ukrainian economy. Actually, speaking of sanctions and, you know, that this is a sign of irritation, not an instrument of serious policies.
The latest portion of sanctions which was voted in the European Union last September was introduced the next day after the Minsk protocol was signed. This is a very interesting logic, you know, to stimulate the political process. So the next morning after the huge achievement was reached, which was praised by everyone, the gentleman, what was his name, Van Rompuy, declared that there was a new portion of sanctions being introduced in Russia. If this is the European choice, if this is what Europe has as a reaction to something positive, then I once again can only say that we hugely overestimated European independence in foreign policy.
F24: Are sanctions, as some people are thinking, a way of trying to create regime change in Russia?
SL: I have very serious reasons to believe that this is the case.
SL: Yes. Some politicians don’t even hide it.
F24: What about the new bill that passed unanimously in Congress in the US, the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which would give lethal weapons for the first time to Ukraine, and sanction two of Russia’s foremost companies…?
SL: First, it has to be signed.
F24: You think..
SL: Second, second, if it is signed..
F24: If Obama promulgates it, what…what would..
SL: Once again. First, it has to be signed. Second, if it is signed and enters into force it has to be applied in practice. And we’ll see whether this would be the case, whether this would be signed, and if it is signed, if Obama would be in fact putting some of the provisions into practice, and if he does, then we will assess the situation. But, you know, Congress is a very special group of people, more than 80 percent of them never left the United States, they live in their own world, so I’m not amazed about this Russophobia which is being demonstrated by the Congress at the moment.
F24: If Obama endorses this, would this be for you a kind of a declaration of war against Russia?
SL: If he does, we’ll see. We want to see what Obama does and what will happen, because the bill is not automatic. It provides for some specific things, I believe, to be done automatically, but it also provides for something to be left to the president’s discretion. The things which are automatic, I believe, they relate to the Russian Rosoboronexport company and its foreign partners, but among foreign partners of Rosoboronexport are many Ukrainian military-industrial enterprises, and basically the bill provides for the Americans to find some alternative markets to the Ukrainian arms industry. But I talked to my American colleagues, and they admit that except Russia hardly any other country actually needs Ukrainian military products. So we’ll see how it works.
F24: You’ve said many times that you feel that NATO as an organization is an enemy for Russia, that it has tried to expand, that it has really nefarious…
SL: I never said this.
SL: No, never.
F24: But it’s the impression we get in the West.
SL: No, no, no. Well, when you have an impression you should ask a question, and then read the documents. The document which is relevant in this case is the military doctrine of the Russian Federation. It never mentions that NATO is an enemy. What it says is that the security risks for Russia, among other things, are NATO expansion to the East and the movement of military infrastructure of NATO closer to the Russian borders – not NATO itself, but its militarized movement to the East is considered by the Russian military doctrine as a security risk and threat for Russia.
F24: Would you consider cutting off ties with NATO if this continues?
SL: We don’t need to do this because NATO did it for us. They have cut practically all ties between the Alliance and Russia, they just kept on hold basically the NATO-Russia Ambassadorial Council, but they severed all practical cooperative mechanisms, including on Afghanistan, including on counter-terrorism, some other specific things – they have frozen everything. But having done so in the context of NATO-Russia projects, they quietly come to us and say, “Well, let’s continue training pilots for the Afghan Air Force, but doing this outside NATO-Russia. In other words, the substance they want to continue, but for the public consumption, they want to say that they are so firm with Russia that they severed all the ties. Childish, but what to do? Sometimes big boys play games…