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Russian Foreign Minister Talks Syria War; Lavrov on U.S. Election Involvement Claims

Aired October 14, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET


[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Coming up, a special edition from Moscow. And my exclusive interview with the Russian Foreign Minister

Sergey Lavrov.

Welcome to the program, I'm Christiane Amanpour in Moscow on a day when the Pope now is calling on Russia and all sides to enact an immediate cease-

fire in Syria. And the United States threatens unspecified retaliation, accusing Moscow of hacking in to its political system.

There is a distinct feel of back to the future. Back to the bad old days of the cold war. Russia and the West especially the United States have

slid down the path of worsening relations for the past five years.

And this week, the U.S. formally accused Moscow of hacking into the Democrats' emails. Russia's U.N. ambassador seems to openly side with the

Republican candidate Donald Trump.

While the U.N. secretary-general says Aleppo is worse than a slaughter house and western leaders say Russia and Syria should be investigated for

war crimes over the bombing of civilians there.

So I've come to find out what is the Kremlin's end game, from foreign minister's Sergey Lavrov. The country's longest serving diplomat, the

public face and voice of all these policies. Hard-bitten, hard-bargaining, he's been dubbed Mr. No for the number of times he's opposed American

foreign policy.


AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Lavrov, welcome to the programme.


AMANPOUR: We are here at an extraordinarily difficult and painful time: what's happening in Syria has got the world very, very upset. In the

United Kingdom people are saying that this is the worst bombardment of civilians since the Nazis bombed Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

John Kerry has said that Russia and the Syrian regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, medical

facilities, women and children. Why are you doing that?

LAVROV: Well, I think all these statements have to be verified. Because we -- just as in the case of accusations regarding hacker attacks against

the Democratic Party, we never got any confirmation of the accusations which we received.

And what my friend and new colleague Boris Johnson was saying was absolutely politicking, not --


AMANPOUR: Well, he was accusing Russia of having hit that convoy?

LAVROV: Yes, in the usual arrogant way. Boris is a Jack of all trades, as you know. Having served as a mayor he was a very good friend of Russia,

and he was very famous at the Russian festivals in London. Now, I think, he is getting ready for becoming some maybe internationally recognised

Prosecutor General in the Hague, especially after our British colleagues decided that the slogan "Yes, we can" should be supplemented by "And you

cannot", when they decided to remove the military from the jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights.

So some kind of clarity must be introduced into all these discussions. We are open for these discussions. We never cut connections. We want to

discuss things and to arrive at some truth instead of accusing each other without any justification.

[14:05:00] AMANPOUR: Well, with respect, most of the world believes, having seen what's going on, having satellite imagery and knowing that

there are only two forces with the kind of air power around Aleppo, that is you and the Syrians with the barrel bombs, believe that you are involved

and, at the very least, you are not stopping the Syrian air force and the barrel bombs.

So again, I need to ask you, on behalf of the international community, why is it that Russia is targeting civilian infrastructure, or allowing the

Syrians to do the same? And as you know, you are basically now being accused of war crimes.

LAVROV: Well, war crimes is something which we can discuss in the appropriate structures and there are internationally recognised procedures

for this, and it's better to use them rather than the media to make yourself more visible, which is the goal of quite a number of my

colleagues, unfortunately.

On the investigation of the humanitarian convoy attack, the United Nations Secretary General launched the investigation and I strongly insist those

who have any information related to what happened should respect the investigation and submit the information to the Secretary General of the

United Nations.

On the demands, you know, to stop the fighting in Aleppo, you know, when Nusra and the people who are next to it, in Eastern Aleppo, in August and

September categorically blocked all humanitarian supplies via Castello Road, by the way which was bombed severely yesterday, but when they said

that they would attack any humanitarian convoy coming via Castello Road in August and September, no one raised a finger, no one got worried.

When I mentioned about this to John Kerry and others, they said, we don't remember that this was the case. I do remember. It was actually this

ultimatum from Nusra and it alike was made when we were meeting with Kerry in Geneva on August 26.

But the key problem is the total inability of the United States and those who are also members of the coalition led by the Americans to separate the

moderates from Nusra.

AMANPOUR: Mr Lavrov, I want to show you this picture.


AMANPOUR: This went viral in August. This is a little boy. He's got a name. He's called Omran Daqneesh. He's five years old. This is not a


LAVROV: Absolutely. Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: This is a boy who is surrounded and besieged and bombarded in Aleppo.

What do you say to the civilians who are simply asking for the right to not be bombed? That is a war crime, sir.

LAVROV: Well, as I said, war crimes must be investigated --


AMANPOUR: But what do you say to people like that?

LAVROV: It is a tragedy. It is really a tragedy. And they must insist that the moderates who want to protect them, they must separate themselves

from Nusra.

AMANPOUR: So, can I ask you about that because you talk about US-Russia ceasefire, which collapsed after barely a week. We understand from the

reporting of people who have actually seen the paperwork that that was meant to be at least a week of ceasefire, the two of you were meant to

jointly separate. But the ceasefire collapsed before there was even a week.

LAVROV: One second, one second. And we launched the cease-fire only to see the American coalition attacking Deir ez-Zor, the positions of the

Syrian army for three days in this seven-day period. They said it was a mistake. But I read a statement of the official Pentagon representative,

some Col. Thompson, who said that this mistake, this mistake in strike was being prepared for two full days and was based on very good intelligence.

I don't think -- I don't think you can easily avoid this situation, because immediately after this mistaken strike ISIL launched an offensive in Deir


AMANPOUR: But you're surely not suggesting that the United States of America has any interest in empowering Islamic terrorists?

LAVROV: I don't know.

AMANPOUR: Mister Foreign Minister.

LAVROV: Look, al-Qaeda was born from the American support of Mujahideens in Afghanistan. By the way, Nusra is another manifestation of al-Qaeda,

according to the American list, according to the U.N. list. And ISIL was born after the American invasion of Iraq, as you know.

AMANPOUR: Right. But, sir, you don't really think that they encouraged that? But anyway, let's not get into that. I need to ask you this.

[14:10:10] LAVROV: I don't want to suspect them in encouraging terrorism, but what they do as regards Nusra makes me very, very suspicious.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, clearly you both have an interest presumably in getting some kind of peace, some kind of ceasefire

Do you? Do you still believe that there is a political solution to the war in Syria? Because now most people think that the very clever diplomat

Sergey Lavrov has strung along John Kerry in order to be able to actually solidify facts on the ground on behalf of your client Bashar Assad and try

to get Aleppo, so that he has a whole load of populated areas.

LAVROV: We want to have a meeting of the countries who have direct influence on what is going on on the ground either by way of being there on

the invitation of the Syrian government and without being invited, or having influence through financing and supplying arms, supporting those who

fight the government.

AMANPOUR: So, you have a plan for another meeting?

LAVROV: I believe that we have to stop relying on, you know, some emigrants who present themselves as representatives of the opposition. And

this capricious High Negotiating Committee I believe has proven that it is absolutely irresponsible.

And I am amazed that our western friends who created the group called Friends of Syria keep insisting that this High Negotiating Committee is the

only opposition group to talk to.

AMANPOUR: So you don't accept them anymore?

LAVROV: No, we accept them. We invited them. We want to meet with them. They, you know, try to be important or to look important and they refused

to meet with us until and unless Assad is gone, which is absolutely against the resolutions of the Security Council.

But countries who have direct influence on the ground. They include, well, Russia and the United States, no doubt about this, but also three or four

regional countries. And we would like to have a meeting in this narrow format to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like


AMANPOUR: When do you plan to have this?

LAVROV: Well, it is scheduled to be this coming Saturday.

AMANPOUR: So this is news?

LAVROV: Well, this is news, which I hope will not just remain news for a day or two, but which will launch a serious dialogue. And the Americans

said that they cannot make sure that the opposition pulls back, which made us believe that they're not so influential on the ground. That's why the

participation of the regional powers is very important. I think this would be more instrumental than just talking to the United States.

AMANPOUR: Who do you mean by regional powers?

LAVROV: Well, several of them you would know.

AMANPOUR: Iran? Saudi Arabia? Turkey?

LAVROV: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, probably.

AMANPOUR: So this it. Foreign Minister, stand by. We're going to talk more about some kind of resolution to Syria, if it's possible.

And we're going to talk about the hacking which you brought up. The very serious deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations.


[14:15:00] AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, welcome back. We're going to continue our conversation.

I want to ask you, before I move on to the US-Russia hacking scandal, which is a crisis.

About Syria, finally. You said that you want more talks.

There are obviously only about 900 Nusra people in Aleppo, according to the United Nations, 275,000 civilians, including women and children. I guess,

you know, the only question is: Do you want to be on the wrong side of history on this? Do you want to be supporting the massacre of civilians in

this kind of situation? And is that what will make Russia great again in the Middle East, to be building some kind of base, some kind of footprint

there on the backs, as it has been said, of the broken bodies of children, women and non-combatants?

LAVROV: Christiane, it's exactly the 250,000 civilians about whom we think when they say that if it takes getting a couple of thousand terrorists out

of the city to save a quarter million lives, then let's do it.

And that is why de Mistura's plan is something which we must promote. There must be no preconditions, according to the Security Council. And

regarding, you know, being on the right or wrong side of history or regarding, you know, statements like whether Russia is a great country, or

whether Russia is a rogue state -- with all respect, our Anglo-Saxon friends have centuries of tradition to decide, you know, who is a decent

country, who is a great country and who is a rogue state.

And they understand that under the present situation in the world, when the world is really becoming multipolar, they are losing -- they have a feeling

that they are losing this ability to decide for everyone.

This is a philosophical issue. We take it with patience, but this is painful for them, unfortunately.

AMANPOUR: All right, let's move on to intervention in a different way. As you know, the United States has formally said that they have absolute

confidence that it is Russia which is hacking and has hacked into the party, the Democrat Party emails and interfered in the democratic process.

Today the United States has said that they will respond proportionally. Does that worry you?

LAVROV: Well, it's flattering or course to get this kind of attention for a "regional power" as President Obama called us some time ago. Now

everybody in the United States is saying that it is Russia which is running the United States presidential debate.

It's flattering, as I said, but it has nothing to be explained by the facts. We have not seen a single fact, a single proof and we have not seen

any answer to the proposal which, one year ago, almost one year ago, November 2015 the Russian Prosecutor General's Office conveyed to the

Department of Justice to start professional consultations on cybercrime.

AMANPOUR: What about motive? President Putin himself, when asked by Bloomberg, said: "Does it even matter who hacked this data from the

campaign headquarters of Mrs. Clinton? Is that really important? The important thing is the content that was given to the public, that was a

public service." So he has spoken on this.

LAVROV: Now that it entered the public domain, of course it is a known fact.

AMANPOUR: Well, he is saying that it was a public service that this hacked stuff from the Democratic campaign came out into the public. But here is

the next question. It appears that Russia is intervening on the side of one particular presidential candidate.

Your own UN ambassador went to the Secretary General last month - he said it, and other diplomats have said it - and basically called on the carpet

the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who made a speech about the danger of demagogues and mentioned people like Trump, and Prime Minister

Orban and Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Norbert Hofer and all these demagogic right-wing populists in Europe.

My question is: Mr Churkin says he was ordered by headquarters, in other words by you, his boss, to make this demarche to the UN Secretary General.

Did you? And if so, why?

LAVROV: You started your question by saying "it appears", and I believe that this is the right way to describe what is going on.


AMANPOUR: Why would you ask -- why would you ask your Ambassador to criticise someone who criticised Trump?


LAVROV: I'll explain. What we told Vitaly Churkin to convey to the Secretary General was exactly what I'm telling you now, that it was totally

inappropriate for High Commissioner for Refugees to go well beyond his mandate, which is not passing judgment without any investigation into one

or another political personality, period.

[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: Do you see how it looks?

LAVROV: The name of Prime Minister Orban, the name of Donald Trump, or any other name was never mentioned, and it wasn't about --


AMANPOUR: That's not what the diplomats there say. They said you specifically mentioned them. And it looks like Russia is following along

on this journey intervening on behalf of one candidate.


LAVROV: Christiane, if you listen to what diplomats say, I can very formally and very responsibly tell you that Vitaly Churkin received the

instructions to make a demarche regarding unacceptable behavior of the Human Rights Commissioner vis-a-vis his mandate. Not about any person

because his job is to look into violations of human rights and he cannot himself decide who is right and who is wrong.

AMANPOUR: Do you agree with what Hillary Clinton said during the last debate that clearly Russia has made it very clear that it does not want her

to win the presidency.

What do you expect if Hillary Clinton wins and you are seeing the polls moving?

LAVROV: I am not paid to be in the expectations business. What Hillary Clinton says --

AMANPOUR: No, in terms of as a president --


LAVROV: I cannot argue with Hillary Clinton. I worked with her as a Secretary of State. We signed the deal by the way, some 2012 I believe, on

visa liberalisation, visa facilitation between the Russian and the American citizens, which I believe is still quite useful.

I cannot comment on what is going on in the United Nations presidential campaign.

AMANPOUR: United States.

LAVROV: United States presidential campaign. I'm sorry.

AMANPOUR: Are you worried about this proportional response that the White House has suggested is going to happen?

LAVROV: It's really -- it's not worth, I believe, speculating. If they decided to do something, let them do it. But to say that Russia in

interfering in the United States domestic matters is ridiculous.

AMANPOUR: Relations seem to be very, very bad. I mean really bad between you and the United States.

You have moved, Russia has moved missiles capable of nuclear warheads into Kaliningrad. Your Defense Department has threatened any US military action

in Syria saying it would be taken as a direct threat and your president has pulled out of several agreements which were to do with disposing of the

nuclear material plutonium.

Is it going to get worse? I mean, people are kind of worried. Is this a Cold War moment? Is this -- could this degenerate into an actual war

between the two sides?

LAVROV: Well, I don't think so. It is not our intention at all. We read, of course, statements of the American military that war is inevitable with

Russia. I leave this on their conscience. As regards deployment of weapons on our territory, this is our territory.

AMANPOUR: It's pretty scary.

LAVROV: Well, it's our territory. But the plans of the United States not only to -- well, they quadrupled, I think, the money allocated to support

military deployment in Eastern Europe.

Then they moved NATO infrastructure next to our borders. Now the American, I think, F-35's, the latest planes will be equipped with the modern version

of nuclear bombs. And they will be deployed on the Russian borders. And this is not the United States territory.

So it was not our intention, you know, to drop out of various treaties, which used to serve as cornerstones for strategic stability.

AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, stand by. When we come back, I want to ask you about a moment that seems a bit quaint now, cultural harmony between

Russia and the United States.


[14:25:38] AMANPOUR: And, finally, imagine a world of beauty as we stand here in the shadow of Moscow's great St. Basil's cathedral. We remember

that once there was cultural harmony between these two adversaries even at the height of the cold war. It was the U.S. pianist Van Cliburn, who

brought these sides together over his piano.


AMANPOUR: Van Cliburn performed here with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra and the Texan virtuoso became a firm favorite with the people and

the leaders of what was then the Soviet Union. He was decorated by Nikita Khrushchev and Vladimir Putin.

His abiding passion for harmony between the United States and the USSR took him to the White House as well. Playing for every president from Truman to


One of the highlights, his performance at Ronald Reagan's state dinner for Mikhail Gorbachev who presided over the collapse of communism and brought

down the iron curtain. I asked foreign minister Sergey Lavrov whether he was nostalgic for those relatively good old days.


LAVROV: Well, I feel sorry for what is happening now in Russian-American relations. I believe we have a lot in common with the U.S. people. And

that the level of common citizens we normally find very good understanding.

Politicians have their own agenda. But I can only reaffirm that it was not us who started this very unhealthy kind of relationship. And it started

long before Ukraine. Long before Syria.

Being offended in politics and not being able to measure your response. I think it sometimes brings us to very unfortunate mistakes.

AMANPOUR: Foreign minister, thank you very much indeed.

LAVROV: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for our special edition from Russia. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast at any time and see us online at and follow me, of course, on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching and good-bye from Moscow.