Despite recent rock-bottom relations and growing tensions, Russia is willing to end hostilities and strive for better relations with the West, its top diplomat announced on Friday, after a meeting with his US counterparts.
Veteran Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the New Knowledge conference, “We are ready to be friends with the West.” However, he emphasized, “only if it comes with a sense of our own dignity, which has been passed down to us from our ancestors over the course of centuries – millennia – of our country’s existence.”
The diplomat added that Russia could maintain its sense of self, while also having a less oppositional relationship with the EU and US. “We have always held on to national pride. This is a very important characteristic and not every nation has it,” he said. “Within our patriotism, we have the defense of justice and willingness to help the weak. These are the greatest human qualities, and if we admire them in everyday life, they should be manifested in our international stance as well.”
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Earlier this week, Lavrov met with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for crunch talks in Iceland. Officials in Washington hailed the head-to-head, one of the first between Moscow and representatives of President Joe Biden’s White House, as “constructive.”
Lavrov, however, said the pair were “very frank” in their exchange, discussing American allegations that Russia meddled in the 2020 US election and was behind the colossal SolarWinds hack that breached Washington’s government networks. “I reminded him that, for all these years these accusations have been made, we have been asking our American colleagues to provide at least one shred of proof.” However, he said, “the answers we get are strange – [either] ‘you know everything already,’ [or] ‘we can’t tell you anything because it is secret,’ and so on.”
Moscow has insisted that bilateral relations with Western partners need to be defined by mutual respect. In March, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin would not allow the US or any other nation to “speak with Russia from a position of strength.” He said the idea that Washington had to be forceful in its dialogue was being repeated like “a mantra” among US officials.
Putin and Biden traded blows in the media earlier this year, after the American president was asked in an interview whether he thought his Russian counterpart was “a killer.” “Mmm-hmm, I do,” Biden replied. The response caused a furore in Moscow, with politicians describing the comments as an attack on the country itself. Putin, however, was more circumspect, citing a childhood motto that “what you say about others is what you are yourself.”
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