Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure are a justified response to inherent threats, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a televised press conference that lasted more than two hours.
“This infrastructure supports the combat capability of the Ukrainian armed forces and nationalist battalions,” Lavrov said in an online press conference Thursday, claiming that Moscow’s actions are in fact aimed at minimizing civilian casualties.
He said the recent barrage of Russian missile strikes was designed to “disable energy facilities that allow you to keep pumping deadly weapons into Ukraine to kill the Russians.”
Waves of rocket attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since October have cut off millions of people from electricity, heat and, in some cases, water.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in attacks across the country.
Lavrov also railed against the US and its NATO allies, accusing them of flouting international law as they sought to isolate and destroy Russia.
He claimed that the US has tried to discourage other countries, including India, from maintaining close ties with Russia, but those attempts have failed.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, insists it is not targeting civilians. In some cases, it has blamed Ukraine for attacks on Kiev.
But Ukraine and the West say Russia is targeting key civilian infrastructure in an effort to lower morale and force Ukraine into peace talks — on Moscow’s terms.
Lavrov said Russia “never asked for talks, but always said we are ready to listen to those interested in a negotiated settlement”.
At the same time, the top Russian diplomat accused NATO and the US of similar war tactics in the recent past.
“Compare the hysteria now erupting in the Western media with what happened when the US bombed Iraq,” he said.
In the former Yugoslavia, NATO also bombed the TV center in Belgrade because it served enemy war propaganda, Lavrov said.
The Kremlin has urged Ukraine to recognize Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and to recognize other land gains made during this year’s conflict.
It has also continued to push for guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO, and vaguely worded goals of “demilitarization” and “denazification”.
Asked if a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden is possible, Lavrov said “we do not shy away from contacts”, but added “we have not heard any serious ideas yet”.
Lavrov said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the issue of US citizens imprisoned in Russia in a phone call, but noted that Putin and Biden agreed to establish a separate communication channel between special services to discuss the matter when they met in Geneva in June 2021.
“It works and I hope some results will be achieved,” he added.
The Biden administration has been trying for months to negotiate the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another US-Michigan security manager Paul Whelan, via a potential prisoner swap with Moscow.
Commenting on Russia’s decision to postpone a round of nuclear arms control talks with the US scheduled for this week, Lavrov argued that “it is impossible today to talk about strategic stability while ignores everything that happens in Ukraine”.
“The goal has been announced to defeat Russia on the battlefield or even destroy Russia,” he said. “How can the goal of defeating Russia have no strategic stability significance since they want to destroy a key strategic stability actor?”