War in Ukraine

Russia forges alliances amid West's 'hybrid war'

It will deepen partnerships with China and India in withstanding sanctions against it

LONDON/MOSCOW • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that Moscow was the target of "total hybrid war" by the West but would withstand sanctions by forging deeper partnerships with China, India and others.

In a speech on the 80th day since Russia invaded Ukraine, he pointed to the barrage of sanctions imposed by the West in an effort to portray Russia as the target, not the perpetrator, of aggression.

"The collective West has declared total hybrid war on us and it is hard to predict how long all this will last, but it is clear the consequences will be felt by everyone, without exception," he said.

"We did everything to avoid a direct clash - but now that the challenge has been thrown down, we of course accept it. We are no strangers to sanctions: They were almost always there in one form or another."

The sanctions on Russia's top companies, banks and political elite have been imposed to punish the country for a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and uprooted millions, disrupted energy markets and exacerbated a global food crisis by driving up prices for grain, cooking oils and fertiliser.

In his speech, Mr Lavrov laid out the strategy that Moscow is pinning its hopes on as it tries to cushion the hit to its economy and build new markets elsewhere.

He cited the sanctions, which have included the seizure of nearly half of Russia's US$640 billion (S$891 billion) in foreign reserves, as evidence that no one is safe against expropriation and "state piracy", and of the need for countries to lessen economic reliance on the United States and its allies.

"Not only Russia, but many others, too, are reducing dependence on the US dollar, Western technology and markets," he said, without stating evidence. Efforts by the West to isolate Russia were doomed to fail, he added.

Russia's relations with China were the best they had ever been and it was developing a privileged strategic partnership with India, noted Mr Lavrov.

Just back from a trip to the Middle East, he also cited the importance of ties with Egypt, Algeria and Gulf nations, as well as Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Meanwhile, Hungary's President Katalin Novak, at her inauguration ceremony yesterday, condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and said her first trip would take her to Poland, in an apparent gesture to mend relations with Warsaw.

"We condemn (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's aggression, the armed invasion of a sovereign state. We say eternally no to every effort aiming at the restoration of the Soviet Union," she said.

Separately, President Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto yesterday that ditching neutrality and joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) would be a mistake that could damage relations between their two countries, the Kremlin said.

The two countries said their presidents spoke by phone two days after Finland declared its intention to join the Western alliance. Moscow has described that as a security threat that will require it to respond, but has not specified how.

Mr Niinisto's office said he told Mr Putin "how fundamentally the Russian demands in late 2021 aiming at preventing countries from joining Nato and Russia's massive invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have altered the security environment of Finland".

He said Finland wanted to handle relations with its Russian neighbour in a "correct and professional manner".

The Kremlin said: "Vladimir Putin stressed that abandoning the traditional policy of military neutrality would be a mistake, since there are no threats to Finland's security. Such a change in the country's foreign policy may have a negative impact on Russian-Finnish relations."

Russian news agencies quoted the country's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying that Moscow will take adequate precautionary measures if Nato deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to its border.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2022, with the headline Russia forges alliances amid West's 'hybrid war'. Subscribe