A boisterous international audience of academics, diplomats and business executives both cheered and groaned as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented Moscow’s view of the war in Ukraine, reflecting global splits on the crisis.
Are you on Telegram? To loud applause, Lavrov emphasized what he called a “double standard” in questions directed to him about the war, especially when contrasted with the United States’ own military interventions in past decades.“Have you been interested in these years [in] what is going on in Iraq, what is going on in Afghanistan?” he asked his interviewer, pausing to a round of applause. “[You] believe that the United States has the right to declare a threat to its national interest, any place on earth, like they did in Yugoslavia, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria … and you don’t ask them any questions?”However, his assertion that Moscow was the victim, not the aggressor, in the conflict elicited laughter and groans from the audience. “The war was launched against us using the Ukrainian people,” he said to audible groans and derision.
Lavrov made the comments during the Raisina Dialogue — one of a shrinking number of major international conferences that still invite Russian officials in the aftermath of the Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine. Hosted by India’s Observer Research Foundation think tank, it also allowed for an audience with a rare mix of allegiances in an increasingly polarized world.
The audience reaction represents the divided views in India and many other parts of the world about the war. On Thursday, the meeting in New Delhi of the foreign ministers of the Group of 20, representing the world’s largest economies, failed to release a joint agreement due to opposition from China and Russia on wording about the Ukraine war. Lavrov has traveled extensively across Asia, Africa and the Middle East raising support for the Russian view of the conflict.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Observer Research Foundation Director Sunjoy Joshi shake hands during the Raisina Dialogue conference in New Delhi on Friday. (Russian Foreign Ministry/AP)
In particular, India has carved out a position in between the two world powers as it also attempts to represent a collective Global South voice on the world stage. With a strong historical relationship with Russia dating back to its independence, it has ramped up its imports of Russian crude oil to record levels and maintained its reliance on the Kremlin’s military supplies. India has consistently abstained from all United Nation votes calling for an end to the Russian invasion.
Lavrov’s criticism of what he described as Western hypocrisy and its selective focus on human rights fell on receptive ears in India, where officials have also complained about double standards.
In December, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was asked about the lack of condemnation for Russia’s invasion. “I can give you many instances of countries who have violated the sovereignty of another country,” he replied. “If I were to ask where Europe stood on a lot of those, I am afraid I would get a long silence.”
At the Raisina Dialogue, Lavrov made clear that Russia would no longer rely on Western players and instead would shift its energy policy toward “reliable” and “credible” partners such as India and China. He said the world is not affected by Russia’s actions but rather by the West’s reactions to Russia.
He told his interviewer, Sunjoy Joshi, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation, that he should have “done his homework” before asking him questions about Russia’s invasion. “You being the head of such a distinguished audience, I fail to understand why you don’t understand,” he said, to widespread chuckles in the room.
He interrupted Joshi continuously, repeating, “Wait a second, wait a second” as the audience laughed.
He said this G-20 was “all about what to do with Ukraine,” and he asked repeatedly whether the group was ever so concerned about events in Iraq, Libya Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.
“Nobody was giving a d— about anything, except finance and macroeconomic policies, which G-20 formed for,” he said. “If this isn’t a double standard, then I am not a minister.”
Karishma Mehrotra is the South Asia correspondent for The Washington Post. She was previously a Fulbright fellow and has written or worked for Radiolab, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the
John Hudson is a national security reporter at The Washington Post covering the State Department and diplomacy. He has reported from a mix of countries including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia.