The United States and its European allies are an "empire of lies", which undertakes commitments it has no intention of fulfilling, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told delegates in his speech at the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 23.
"The Americans and the Europeans, who are used to looking down their noses at the rest of the world, are eager to make promises and undertake commitments, including written and legally binding ones, but are reluctant to fulfil them," Lavrov said during his roasting of Russia’s enemies in the current geopolitical showdown. "As Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, the West is truly an “empire of lies’."
Russia started an unprovoked war with Ukraine after it invaded the country last February. Since then hundreds of thousands of soldiers have died and at least 40,000 Ukrainian civilians have lost their lives after Russia deliberately targeted residential areas. The cost of the war to Ukraine has been at least $411bn, according to the World Bank.
It fell to the veteran Russian diplomat to deliver Russia’s keynote speech at this year’s UNGA after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, who is charged with kidnapping children from Ukraine, that prevents him from travelling abroad to any country that has signed off on the Rome Statutes. Russia has abducted hundreds of children from Ukraine and is subjecting them to anti-Ukraine indocrination in various cities across Russia.
"A new world order is being born right before our very eyes," Lavrov went on. "The future is taking shape in the process of a standoff between the global majority demanding fairer distribution of global riches and advocating diversity within our civilisation, and between the few who employ neo-colonial methods of subjugation in an attempt to save their fleeting dominance."
"Nowadays, humanity is once again, as many times before, at a crossroads. It depends only on us to determine how history will evolve. It is in our shared interest to prevent spiralling down into a major war as well as the eventual collapse of international co-operation mechanisms that were created by generations of our predecessors," Lavrov said.
The speech comes as a fitting apogee in the gradually decaying relations between East and West that have been punctuated by Lavrov’s speeches that have become increasingly belligerent belligerent in the last three years.
The beginning of the end started with Lavrov’s “new rules of the game” speech in February 2020, when he warned the West that Moscow was no longer willing to tolerate the dual Western policy of doing business with one hand and applying sanctions with the other. That speech was given during a visit to Moscow by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that was taken at the time as a humiliation. He also ordered the expulsion of three EU diplomats, which was announced while Lavrov was sitting cross the table from Borrell, who was on a mission to Moscow to try to repair the damage and restart relations on a more practical basis.
Lavrov then followed up a few months later with a threat to break off diplomatic relations with Europe if his warning was not heeded. And a few months after that Russia did break off diplomatic relations with Nato in October 2021.
Within weeks the Kremlin threatned an invasion by massing troops on the border for the first time, leading the White House to start warning that a Russian invasion could come “any day”. In December that year Lavrov escalated again after the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an eight-point list of demands headed by a “concrete ironclad legally binding guarantees” that Ukraine could never join Nato.
The MFA list prompted two rounds of diplomacy, in January with the US and in February with the French, but neither came to anything and on 24 February, 2022 Russia crossed the border into Ukraine and started the war without justification.
In this context Lavrov’s UN speech was a summary of the state of play between the adversaries and it painted a bleak picture for the near term of deadlock, mistrust and continued military conflict.
“Non-negotiability has become the calling card of the West,” Lavrov said. “The assurances of Western leaders turned out to be a deception. They were not embarrassed that their expansion of Nato to the East also violated OSCE agreements,” said Lavrov as he warmed to his task and began reeling off a long list of the Kremlin’s long-standing complaints, shorn of the diplomatic finesse that he is so well known for.
The Western task is to “inflict a strategic defeat on Russia” and it is a “new dangerous manifestation of Nato expansionism” that could lead to total war.
Ukraine has countered by pointing out it is in an existential fight for its existence against an aggressor that invaded its country without provocation.
"As [UN Secretary General Antonio] Guterres said at a press conference prior to the current session, ‘If we want a future of peace and prosperity based on equity and solidarity, leaders have a special responsibility to achieve compromise in designing our common future for our common good’. It is a good answer to those who divide the world into ‘democracies’ and ‘autocracies’ and merely dictate their neo-colonial rules to everyone," the minister concluded.
“The global minority is trying with all its might to slow down the natural order of things,” Lavrov, referring to the Kremlin’s belief that the world should be run on multipolar lines under the auspices of the UN, where all countries have an equal seat at the table, and not the US-dominated unipolar lines – the rule of the “golden billion,” as he has called it previously – that dominate geopolitics today.
Speaking in New York, the nest of Russia’s main foe, Lavrov went on to play to the gallery of the global audience that is the UNGA, where Russia has many friends in the Global South.
He took a grand tour of the world, stopping at the major diplomatic disputes along the way, scratching at issues that have long been sore points for many countries outside the G7 rich-world club.
In Europe he lambasted the West’s role in the creation of Kosovo which the Serbs, and Russia, still see as an illegal annexation of territory and an example of “might makes right.”
“The EU does not want to force its Kosovo proteges to fulfil the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. The EU acted as a guarantor during the Minsk agreements, apparently, the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina will face the same fate.”
He brought up the theme of colonialism that resonates with Africa and Russia's well established friends there. He touched on Islamophobia that resonates in the Middle East, where the Kremlin has recently made inroads, and resonates there in contrast with the Judæo-Christian character of the Western order, highlighting the spate of Koran-burnings in Europe recently that were highly offensive in the Middle East.
Lavrov lampooned Borrell a second time, scoffing at his analogy of Europe as a “flourishing garden” while the rest of the world is a “jungle”, which Lavrov called an Islamophobic world view.
He also threw Russia’s backing behind Palestine’s desire to create a homeland and emphasised the tensions in the South China Sea where the US is actively trying to counter China’s rising power with new military alliances and bases in SE Asia.
For the Latins, Lavrov called for an end of sanctions on Cuba that have been in place since the days of John F Kennedy, as well as the more recent sanctions imposed on Venezuela, another Russian ally.
In many of these efforts Russia is joined by China, which has a similar world view and also advocates for a multipolar world.
“The countries of the global majority want to trade without restrictions. BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) provide an opportunity to defend their place in the emerging multipolar architecture.”
The showdown with Russia has catalysed a general shift in global politics as the emerging markets come of age and increasingly are demanding their place at the top table. Representing 40% of the global population and more than half of global GDP on a PPP adjusted basis, the Global South is badly underrepresented in the global geopolitical infrastructure.
The surprise of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is how a large number of Global South countries have rallied to Russia’s flag, or at least ignored sanctions and decided to sit on the sidelines as they implicitly agree with Russia and China’s complaints, which will better represent their interests to the dominant Western powers. As a result, over 40 countries have indicated they want to join the new BRICS+ club and other non-Western institutions like the SCO and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) are expanding fast, while existing non-Western institutions like ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and MERCOSUR in Latin America are becoming more prominent. Even the Arab League is back in play as Middle Eastern countries like Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Syria settle their regional gripes and work towards better co-operation and integration.
These changes have led to increasing talk of reforming the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to add seats for regions like Latin America and Africa that are not represented at the highest table of geopolitics.
“It’s time to recognise the weight of the countries of the Global South. The expansion of the UN Security Council by the countries of the global majority is becoming more and more in demand.”
This topic was even taken up by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who attended the UNSC session and also called for a reform, but one that suspended the veto of a permanent member if they were involved in a conflict.
Lavrov zeroed in on Ukraine as well, saying that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had “not finished his maternity leave” and “we are not going to give him any engagements.”
Russia is ready to negotiate about Ukraine, yet has no plans to consider ceasefire proposals. Lavrov repeated that Russia could start talks, but with the unspoken caveat that would only be possible if Ukraine conceded to Russia’s starting position: Ukraine must concede sovereignty to Russia of the four regions it annexed in September as well as ownership of Crimea, which is a non-starter for Bankova.
“Zelenskiy and everyone who leads him say that there is no basis for peace other than Zelenskiy’s formula. And this formula is unrealizable. We hear that Russia must be defeated on the battlefield and draw conclusions,” Lavrov said, referring to Ukraine’s 10-point plan that has as a starting point Russia having to quit the country entirely before talks can start; a non-starter for the Kremlin.
“The so-called peace formula proposed by Zelenskiy "is absolutely unworkable, and everybody knows it,” Lavrov said.
Interestingly, Lavrov confirmed that a peace deal had been agreed in March and April last year, as bne IntelliNews reported, which was scuppered by former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – although the existence of the deal and Johnson’s role remain highly controversial – and Lavrov even said that all the details had been agreed in a proposal that could have brought the war to an end.
"In March and April 2022 there were negotiations [on a peace deal], everything was already initialled. But two days later there was Bucha, because, I think, someone in London or Washington does not want this war to end," Lavrov said. "That is why now, when we hear about negotiations, Putin commented on it, he said very clearly: yes, we are ready for negotiations, but we will not consider any proposals for a ceasefire, because we’ve considered it once, but you deceived us," Lavrov said.
The foreign minister went on to confirm that it was the West that had brought the deal to an end.
"We were not only ready, we agreed to negotiate, we reached an agreement in April 2022. And after that, as I understand it, Zelenskiy was told: since they agreed so quickly, let's exhaust [Russia].”
Earlier, Lavrov said that the longer Kyiv delays negotiations with Moscow, the harder it will be to negotiate later. According to him, the first step for such contacts should be the abolition of Zelenskiy's decree prohibiting dialogue with Moscow. He also suggested that if the West wants to exhaust Russia then it is also willing to fight to the bitter end.
"[The West says that] Russia must be defeated on the battlefield altogether. That is what we hear as facts and draw conclusions that nobody wants to earnestly show their understanding of the situation, including those who do understand it but do not actually want to make it public," Lavrov said. "And under these circumstances, if it is on the battlefield, so be it on the battlefield, come on," the top diplomat added.
Other key points
Lavrov’s speech was long and meandering. Amongst the other key point were:
Ukraine’s sovereignty: “Russia recognises the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the framework of the Declaration of State Sovereignty of July 16, 1990" – Sergey Lavrov. “Of course, back in 1991, we recognised the sovereignty of Ukraine on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, which Ukraine adopted when leaving the Soviet Union…But in the Declaration of Independence, one of the main points for us was that Ukraine would be a non-aligned country and would not enter into any military alliances. In that version, under those conditions, we support the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
West’s role in conflict: “Western countries are actually waging a war against Russia under the guise of supplying weapons and intelligence to Ukraine… Call it what you will, but they are fighting against us, they are directly fighting against us. We call it a hybrid war but this doesn’t change the situation."
Nagorno-Karabakh: “The fact is that Armenia, like some other countries of the former Soviet Union, has a mighty lobby represented by a layer of non-governmental organisations (established including through numerous Western foundations), and they promote the interests of the United States and its allies. These interests involve undermining Russia’s influence there. This is a fact.”
Black Sea Grain Initiative: “The Ukrainian part of the grain deal will resume 'as soon as everything that is written down in the Russian part of the package deal works… on the same day."
Koran burnings: “Koran burnings, the abuse of the Torah and the persecution of Orthodox Christians have literally streamed online in the European Union… However, the West still considers itself superior to the rest of mankind in line with top EU diplomat Josep Borrell’s remark about Europe being a garden and the rest of the world a jungle. He is not embarrassed by the fact that the garden is full of Islamophobia and other forms of hate for the traditional values of all world religions.” (The burning of the Quran took place in Sweden during a police-authorised demonstration in central Stockholm on June 28.)
Monroe Doctrine: “It strongly seems that the US and the collective West that it fully controls have decided to make the Monroe Doctrine global. The plan is not only delusive but also dangerous, but the fact cannot stop the authors of the new edition of Pax Americana… In order to achieve this goal, Washington is creating small military and political alliances such as AUKUS, the three-member group of the US, Japan and South Korea, and the four-member group of Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra and Wellington, which are controlled by the US, and involving their members in practical co-operation with Nato that keeps spreading its infrastructure in the Pacific Theatre.”
Ukrainian children: “The Russian Federation does not hide the names and locations of Ukrainian children who ended up in Russia due to the conflict, relatives can take them, nothing interferes,” said the head of the Foreign Ministry, “leaving the hysterical false accusations of the West out of the question.”