MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yelena Shesternina) - Sergei Lavrov said that he would be "maximally open to the media," after being appointed foreign minister in March 2004. A man of his word, he holds a briefing at the beginning of each year to speak about the results of the past year and make forecasts for the current one.
Last Wednesday, Lavrov held a 90-minute news conference at the Foreign Ministry's Press Center, answering 28 questions from Russian and foreign journalists.
In particular, he said that Moscow wanted Georgia to pledge not to use military force to settle the Abkhazian and South Ossetian problems, admitted that the Palestinian-Israeli talks were marking time, and said he was not sure that a Middle East conference would be held in Moscow.
He also said that foreign troops should leave Iraq, but not immediately, and that the West had done much to draft a six-country resolution on Iran. And lastly, he said that the proclamation of Kosovo's independence could still be prevented.
In most cases, Lavrov spoke as a dove, and was much calmer than other Russian leaders have been recently. He said: "We should abandon the Cold War ideology" and "resist involvement in conflicts," and that Russia does not want to "enforce its views on others, or become involved in information warfare."
He also used a word seldom uttered by diplomats, "justice," several times.
The most indicative question, which concerned trends in Russia's foreign policy and Western views of Russia, was asked by a France-Presse correspondent: "[First Deputy Prime Minister] Dmitry Medvedev has said the world does not understand Russia, and that something should be done about it. Do you think the world understands Russia?"
Lavrov replied, "It is a shame that there is general misunderstanding, although we are doing everything well," citing the British Council conflict as a case of such misunderstanding.
"Facts and arguments are reduced to one sentence that is hammered into the minds of TV viewers and readers," he said. British culture centers need a permit to be able to operate in Russia, but they have not requested it, he said, adding that the Western media explain the conflict as Russia's revenge for the Lugovoi case.
Last year Russia rejected Britain's request to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the main suspect in the 2006 killing in London of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko.
The allegation is creating an image of a Russian bear that does what it wants.
Lavrov recommended that the British authorities emulate their European neighbors, in particular Alliance Francoise, the Goethe Institute and the Cervantes Institute, which have no problems in Russia. Instead of settling the issue, London has turned it into a European problem.
Lavrov said the Foreign Ministry "was astonished by the statement of Slovenia, the current EU president, which is based on a distorted and simplified interpretation of the situation."
Another relevant example is Kosovo, specifically Moscow's reaction to a possible proclamation of its independence. What will Russia do in this case?
According to Lavrov, the Foreign Ministry has not yet formulated its stance, but thinking about a way to answer is a losing position that amounts to admitting the inevitability of Serbia's division, he said. Instead, we should work hard to preserve its territorial integrity and keep the problem within the limits of international law.
The West wrongly thinks that Russia is waiting for Kosovo to proclaim independence in order to get a pretext for recognizing the self-proclaimed republics in the post-Soviet space, Lavrov said. "Nothing could be further from a true understanding of Russia's stance," he said.
Likewise, it is not true that Russia has been interfering in Serbia's affairs in a variety of ways. "We have never interfered in developments in Serbia; we don't want to be more Serbian than Serbs themselves," the minister said.
However, Serbia wants to maintain contacts with Russia, he said, adding that President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica would soon come to Moscow, possibly to request additional information about Russia's plans.
Lavrov pointed out that the West does not know what it would do if Kosovo proclaimed independence either.
"We often ask our Western colleagues what they would do if Serbian enclaves in Kosovo refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence," he said. "Would they [NATO] use military force? They have no answer."
The minister also spoke about Russia's diminishing influence in the former Soviet republics.
"We don't fear competition with the West in the post-Soviet space, provided it is fair competition," he said. " Georgia and Ukraine are sovereign states, which are free to make their own decisions." However, relations with these countries will largely depend on their foreign policies.
Judging by what Lavrov said, Moscow is unlikely to disregard Ukraine's desire to join NATO.
Last week, President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and parliament speaker Arseny Yatsenyuk sent a letter to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, asking him to put Ukraine on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) to be considered in Bucharest in April.