Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Saturday for an end to a world order dominated by the West and said Moscow wanted to establish a “pragmatic” relationship with the United States.
Lavrov was speaking at the Munich Security Conference shortly after US Vice President Mike Pence told the audience Washington remained “unwavering” in its commitment to the US-led NATO military alliance as it faced a more assertive Russia.
Lavrov said that the time when the West called the shots was over and, dismissing NATO as a relic of the Cold War, added: “I hope that (the world) will choose a democratic world order — a post-West one — in which each country is defined by its sovereignty.”
Lavrov said Moscow wanted to build relations with Washington which would be “pragmatic with mutual respect and acknowledgement of our responsibility for global stability.”
The two countries had never been in direct conflict, he said, noting that they were actually close neighbours across the Baring Straits.
Russia wanted to see a “common space of good neighbor relations from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” he added.
Earlier at the conference Pence vowed to “hold Russia accountable” even as President Donald Trump searches for new common ground with Moscow at the start of his presidency.
Pence, in an address to the Munich Security Conference, also offered assurances to European allies that the US “strongly supports” NATO. He said the US would be “unwavering” in its commitment to trans-Atlantic institutions like NATO.
In his first overseas trip as vice president, Pence sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russian aggression and have been alarmed by Trump’s positive statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin. The address to foreign diplomats and security officials also sought to reassure international partners who worry that Trump may pursue isolationist tendencies.
Pence said the US would demand that Russia honor a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus, to end violence in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
“Know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground which as you know President Trump believes can be found,” Pence said.
Pence met afterward with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed the conference just before the vice president. Merkel stressed the need to maintain international alliances and told the audience, with Pence seated a few feet away, that NATO is “in the American interest.”
European countries along Russia’s border are rattled by the prospect of deeper US-Russia ties after Trump suggested sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea could be eased in exchange for a nuclear weapons deal, and after the president referred to NATO as “obsolete” in an interview before his inauguration. Trump has since tempered his language, stressing the importance of the NATO alliance during his telephone conversations with foreign leaders.
Pence also scheduled meetings Saturday with the leaders of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — countries dealing with the threat of Russian incursion. Pence also planned to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
The visit, which includes a stop in Brussels on Sunday and Monday, comes amid worries in Europe about Russian aggression, Trump’s relationship with Putin and whether the new president may promote isolationist tendencies through his “America First” mantra.
In his remarks, Pence also reinforced the Trump administration’s message that NATO members must spend more on defense.
NATO’s 28-member countries committed in 2014 to spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. But only the US and four other members of the post-World War II military coalition are meeting the standard, Pence said.
Failure to meet the commitment, he said, “erodes the very foundation of our alliance.”
“Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, to fulfill this commitment and, for most, that means the time has come to do more,” Pence said.