The improvement of relations between Russia and the United States is hardly possible in the near future, but Moscow is ready for joint work on the issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Argumenty i Fakty daily.
When asked about mending Russia-US ties, Lavrov replied that it is “hardly” possible in the near future.
“Dealing with the heaps of problems that have accumulated in bilateral relations not as a result of our actions will not be easy. Establishing bilateral ties is a mutual process. Our country is ready for this work, and we have said that on many occasions,” he said.
Lavrov also reiterated that Russia and the United States bear special responsibilities as the largest nuclear powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“Cooperation between us is the key element of ensuring stability and predictability in international affairs. However, not everything depends on us, they say it takes two to dance the tango,” he said.
Lavrov also noted the complicated domestic political situation in the United States as another factor.
“On the one hand, US President Donald Trump speaks of his intention to ‘get on well’ with Russia. However, by no means everyone in Washington shares his stance,” Lavrov said. “This is demonstrated through unfriendly measures, such as voicing various baseless accusations against us, imposing financial and economic sanctions, seizing diplomatic property, abducting our citizens in third states, undermining Russia’s foreign policy interests, attempting to interfere into our domestic affairs.”
“At the same time, we will not give up,” he went on. “We will keep searching for areas of common interest with the Americans, despite the difficulties.”
According to the Russian top diplomat, the presidents of the two states share the understanding that the deadlock in relations must be overcome.
“During the meeting in Osaka in June, the leaders spoke in favor of expanding economic cooperation, jointly settling regional crises, resuming the dialogue on strategic stability, positively assessed the dialogue on anti-terrorism issues. Vladimir Putin invited Trump to Moscow to celebrate the 75th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War,” Lavrov said.
Commenting on certain US steps, Lavrov admitted that Washington has demonstrated an “inconsistent and sometimes even unpredictable behavior.”
“That’s why making any forecasts regarding relations with the US is futile,” he said. “But I repeat – we, on our part, are ready to work patiently to fix them. Naturally, the obligatory condition is respect to Russia’s interests and the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
Diplomatic property issue
The Russian foreign minister said Moscow continued its work to return its diplomatic property, seized by Washington, and is considering various steps in this direction.
“We are considering various options in returning the unlawfully seized Russian property. On a regular basis, in the bilateral format and on multilateral platforms, we bring up the issue of Washington’s violation of its commitments. This work will continue,” Lavrov said.
“In fact, Washington expropriated six facilities owned by Russia and registered as diplomatic property with the US Department of State,” he said, mentioning the two buildings of the Consulate General in San Francisco, the Consul General’s residence in Seattle, countryside diplomatic compounds of the embassy and permanent mission in New York and the trade mission in Washington.
“We have been completely deprived of consular presence at the West Coast, where dozens of thousands of Russian citizens and compatriots reside. The US Department of State has denied us the right to visit our own facilities,” Lavrov went on.
He said such measures “constituted a blatant violation of the US international commitments.”
On September 2, 2017, US authorities closed down the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco and the Trade Mission in Washington, which are owned by the Russian government and enjoy diplomatic immunity. In addition, the New York office of the Trade Mission, which Russia had been renting, was shut. Moscow described the US administration’s move as an overtly hostile act and urged American authorities to return these properties immediately.
On March 26, 2018, Washington announced the closure of the Russian Consulate General in Seattle (rented by Russia) and the residence of the Consul General (Russia’s diplomatic property).
On September 5, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the Foreign Ministry to file a lawsuit with a US court over the seized Russian diplomatic property.
US measures against Russian citizens
Lavrov said the US justice system refuses to cooperate with Russian law enforcement bodies and keeps putting pressure on its allies to arrest Russian citizens visiting third states.
According to Lavrov, the US justice system “does not shun any illegitimate means”, so Russia cannot guarantee that incidents with Russian citizens abroad will cease.
“The ‘hunt’ for Russians in third states is nothing more than an instrument for the US to put pressure on Russia,” Lavrov continued. “Washington strongly refuses to cooperate with our law enforcement bodies on the basis of the 1999 treaty on mutual legal assistance. Instead, Washington has been putting pressure on its allies and other states, pressing for the arrest of Russians on their territory and their further deportation to the United States. This is done in a secret manner, covertly and without proper evidence. Sometimes, it even comes to clear cases of abduction as was the case with Konstantin Yaroshenko in Liberia in 2010 and with Roman Seleznev in the Maldives in 2014.”
“In this respect I would like to embrace the opportunity and recommend our citizens to carefully weigh the risks while planning their foreign trips, especially to countries that have extradition treaties with the United States,” he said.
Lavrov went on to say that Moscow was not afraid to resist Washington, but will stop short of taking similar retaliatory measures because it observes international laws.
“We carefully track down any detention on Washington’s request,” he said. “The Russian government has been devising measures to increase the efficiency of legal protection of our citizens abroad. The Russian Foreign Ministry, Russian diplomats in the United States are taking all measures to ensure the rights and interests of our compatriots who are in trouble. We are trying to provide round-the-clock consular and legal assistance to detained Russians, to improve their incarceration conditions.”
Besides, the Russian side has been consistently demanding the release of Russian citizens in its contacts with the US side, including the high-profile cases of Viktor Bout and Maria Butina.
“We raise this issue in multilateral formats, including at the UN Human Rights Council, we are working with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights,” Russia’s top diplomat added.
Anti-Russian US steps at Council of Europe
According to Lavrov, Washington has been actively inciting the aggressive anti-Russian minority in the Council of Europe to engage in provocations against Russia.
“As far as provocations are concerned, they are carried out by the aggressive Russophobic minority who are being actively incited by the US, which holds the observer status at the Council of Europe,” Lavrov said. “Of course, this mars the general atmosphere and does not contribute to constructive work. However, the sensible majority of the PACE members, who support Russia’s reinstatement in this parliamentary structure, have already grown tired of those meaningless tricks.”
He mentioned the decision to reinstate the Russian delegation made at the PACE session in June as a clear illustration of that.
The Russian delegation to PACE was stripped off the rights to vote, take part in monitoring missions and be elected to PACE steering bodies in April 2014 following the developments in Ukraine and Crimea’s reunification with Russia. PACE considered Russia’s reinstatement twice throughout 2015 but sanctions were only toughened. In response, the Russian delegation refused to take part in the assembly’s work. It did not apply for confirmation of its mandate in 2016-2018 and froze the payment of contributions to the Council of Europe in 2017.
On June 26, 2019, the PACE session passed a resolution fully reinstating the Russian delegation and confirming its rights. On July 2, Moscow reportedly paid its due to the Council of Europe’s budget for 2019.