Western sanctions will “never” cause economic meltdown for Russia, Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told FRANCE 24 in an exclusive interview on Monday.
“Russia will not only survive but will come out much stronger,” he said, brushing aside concerns about the country's crisis-hit economy. “We have been in much worse situations in our history and every time we have got out of our fix much stronger.”
Lavrov pulled no punches over his contempt for Western-imposed sanctions, levied against Russia for its alleged meddling in a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine following the ouster of the pro-Kremlin president in February.
He saved his most scathing comments for the EU: “Of course sanctions hurt, but I don’t believe the sanctions will help the European Union. The United States ordered the EU to impose sanctions and frankly we have overestimated the independence of the European Union [from the US].”
“Sanctions are a sign of irritation, they are not the instrument of serious policies,” he added.
Lavrov also hit out at the US Congress, which on Saturday unanimously approved the Ukraine Freedom Support Act in both houses, which includes fresh sanctions against Moscow.
When asked if he believed the US was trying to impose regime change in Moscow by undermining the Russian economy, Lavrov said he had “very serious reasons to believe this is the case”.
“If you look at US Congress, 80 percent of them have never left the USA, so I’m not surprised about Russophobia in Congress,” he said.
Lavrov insisted Russia was determined to find a solution for the Ukrainian crisis and that Russia “supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
But when asked if this included Crimea, which split from Ukraine in March 2014, Lavrov said: “Crimea is unique, it is the one and only, it is Russian land. It was the will of the [Crimean people].”
Lavrov also discussed Russian policy towards NATO, which has “cut practically all ties with Russia” while moving “close to the Russian border” but still wanted Russian help training Afghan pilots.
“It’s childish – but what to do?” he said. “Sometimes the big boys play games.”
On the subject of France’s decision to suspend the delivery of two Mistral-class warships to Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis, Lavrov said he would not comment on a deal that “is about a signed legal contract and the dignity of the French nation”.