Sergey Lavrov says US role in Ukraine war poses existential threat to Russia

Russian foreign chief accuses Americans of 'enslaving Europe' through membership of Nato

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the US of controlling Europe. EPA
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Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday said the US had created an existential threat to Moscow by directly participating in the Ukraine conflict and entered into a war of words with western leaders at a high-level security meeting in Poland.

He also warned of an immense risk of a potential nuclear war breaking out.

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Mr Lavrov had strong words for the Biden administration, and refuted the notion that Russia had walked away from contact with the US.

Referring to the 1949 establishment of Nato, he said Lord Ismay, the alliance’s first secretary general, was determined to keep Russia out of Europe while enabling the US to maintain a presence there.

Decades on, he claimed the US was in control of Europe after enslaving the continent.

“We remember how Nato was formed,” he said. “Mr Ismay deduced a formula — to keep Russia out of Europe, America in Europe and Germany under control. The Americans enslaved all of Europe, and they kept not only Germany, but the whole EU under control.”

In the lead-up to the conflict in Ukraine, Mr Lavrov said Russia had seen how “the West was pulling Ukraine into Nato” and claimed Moscow’s call for guarantees against the expansion of the military alliance fell on deaf ears.

“We saw with what persistence the West was pulling Ukraine into Nato, which was an obvious red line for Russia which they had known for many years,” he said. “We have proposed to abandon the expansion of Nato and agree on specific security guarantees for Ukraine, for Russia and for the EU.”

He added that Moscow’s demand for Nato to stop expanding was rebuffed.

“We were told only one thing, ‘Every country, first of all Ukraine, has the right to join Nato and nothing can be done about it,’” he said.

On the prospect of a nuclear war breaking out, he said there was a very real possibility.

“The risk that a non-nuclear confrontation between nuclear powers will turn into a nuclear war is immense,” he said.

He said the Russian government stands ready to play a responsible part in nuclear arms control. But he said it would not be possible to discuss nuclear stability while ignoring the West's involvement in Ukraine.

“It is crystal clear that it is impossible to discuss strategic stability today while ignoring everything that is happening in Ukraine,” he said. “Because the goal in Ukraine has been declared — not to save Ukrainian democracy, but to defeat Russia on the battlefield, or even destroy Russia.”

Ukraine war latest — in pictures

Poland ban

Mr Lavrov said Russia had never walked away from contact with the US but that it had not heard any “substantive ideas” from its American counterparts.

He said Moscow was not interested in the level of the proposed EU and G7 cap on Russian oil prices because deals with buyers could be organised directly.

Mr Lavrov repeated Russia's position that Moscow would not supply oil to countries that backed such a price cap.

Mr Lavrov also directed his criticism at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which held a meeting on Thursday in Lodz, Poland.

The high-level gathering is the first of its kind since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, banned Mr Lavrov from entering the country.

“I can say responsibly that Poland’s anti-chairmanship of the OSCE will take the most miserable place ever in this organisation’s history,” Mr Lavrov said. “Nobody has ever caused such damage to the OSCE while being at its helm.”

The Polish chairman in office, Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, strongly rejected Mr Lavrov's accusations.

“I would say it’s outrageous to hear Russia accusing the chairmanship of pushing the OSCE into the abyss,” he said.

“Rather than disinformation and fake philosophy let me offer you some facts,” he continued, listing the Kremlin's recent moves to block the functioning of the OSCE, including Russia's rejection in March of the extension of the mandate for the OSCE's special monitoring in Ukraine, Russia's rejection of the appointment of the 2024 chairmanship to Estonia, and Russia's blockage of the adoption of the OSCE budget.

Russia was represented at the meeting by its ambassador to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich.

OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid said that three of its Ukrainian staff were “illegally detained” in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and that one was killed during shelling in Kharkiv.

In their speeches, foreign ministers mostly expressed support for the OSCE and Poland. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly claimed Russia had turned down an offer for dialogue.

But nations with close ties to the Kremlin, such as Kazakhstan, criticised the OSCE's decision not to invite Mr Lavrov.

“We must build roads and bridges, not walls and trenches,” said Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi.

Recapturing territory from Russians 'not a piece of cake'

Meanwhile, the Kinburn Spit in the Mykolaiv Oblast has emerged as one of the latest battlegrounds between Russian soldiers and forces loyal to Kyiv.

The 6.4km stretch of sand dunes stretches west from the marshy Kinburn peninsula and serves as a strategic gateway to the Black Sea.

It is among the few places in the oblast still under Russian control after the Ukrainians recaptured large areas of territory in early November.

The Ukrainian Army has in recent days been pushing to recapture the spit, where Moscow’s troops are regrouping.

The sandy area has for centuries been a battleground for rival armies seeking control of its surrounding crucial waterways.

Since taking control of the spit in June, Russia has choked shipments of essential items from the port cities of Mykolaiv and Kherson. Before the invasion, 35 per cent of Ukraine’s food exports departed from Mykolaiv.

Vitalii Kim, the head of Mykolaiv Oblast’s military administration, said Russian troops had deported residents living in settlements on the spit.

Earlier this week, he said “the occupiers forcibly deported people from the settlements of the Kinburn Spit”, adding that 37 locals had been expelled.

He suggested it would take time for the Ukrainians to liberate the territory, saying “this is not a piece of cake, but a long-term issue”.

Updated: December 01, 2022, 3:51 PM