News / Europe

    Sergey Lavrov, Russian Style Diplomacy

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talks to the press at the disarmament conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 7, 2009.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talks to the press at the disarmament conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 7, 2009.
    Catherine Maddux
    Perhaps more than any other time in his long career, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is front and center, negotiating the Ukraine crisis with his counterpart -- and reported friend -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a moment when U.S.-Russian relations are at their lowest since the Cold War.

    Those who have observed Lavrov up close use many of the same adjectives to describe the veteran diplomat: clever, funny, charming, intellectually powerful.

    At the same time, Lavrov is known to be withering in his criticism, dismissive, condescending, stubborn and even icy cold.  

    He is widely known as “Minister Nyet,” having frustrated and clashed with former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice.

    As the number one representative for Russian President Vladimir Putin,  Lavrov, who served as the Russian ambassador to the United Nations for a decade, has been wheeling, dealing and peddling the foreign policy goals of Moscow since 2004.  And with Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea, Lavrov is holding the line for a far more assertive Russian government, one whose efforts to restore its place on the world stage has put the Obama administration and much of Europe on edge, and created the biggest diplomatic crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
     
    Charismatic maneuverer
     
    Lavrov is hard to ignore.
     
    “He was by far the star of the [U.N.] security council during most of his time there,” said Evelyn Leopold, who as U.N. bureau chief for Reuters news agency covered his entire 10-year-long tenure.
     
    A chain-smoker, who openly flouted then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s order turning the U.N. headquarters into a smoke-free environment, Lavrov is also a well-known lover of scotch.
     
    Sergey Lavrov lights a cigarette outside the Montreuz Palace Hotel in Geneva, Jan. 22, 2014.Sergey Lavrov lights a cigarette outside the Montreuz Palace Hotel in Geneva, Jan. 22, 2014.
    x
    Sergey Lavrov lights a cigarette outside the Montreuz Palace Hotel in Geneva, Jan. 22, 2014.
    Sergey Lavrov lights a cigarette outside the Montreuz Palace Hotel in Geneva, Jan. 22, 2014.
    But he has always remained in control say those who have observed him over the years.
     
    There is no doubt that Lavrov was and continues to be a domineering figure – one who knew the language of the U.N. Security Council law better than anyone else, said Colum Lynch, United Nations Correspondent for Foreign Policy magazine.  

    "He was extremely sharp and he had a kind of almost encyclopedic memory of all the kind of minutiae, all the kind of Security Council resolutions on the Middle East...in Kosovo and the Balkans,” Lynch said. “He is a master at being able to kind of work the bureaucracy, the international bureaucracy to serve his own interests."

    Take Ukraine, for example.
     
    Lynch points out that the U.N. and the Obama administration tried to place the U.N. at the center of mediating between Kyiv and Moscow.  But the Russians thwarted that from the very start, realizing very quickly that the crisis would draw much more international and media attention -- and, a lot more headaches for Putin – if the U.N. ended up in that role.  
     
    So, says Lynch, Lavrov made sure that the role of mediator was given to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), certainly a well-known organization, but a far less high-profile one. 
     
    He has been just as crafty on other thorny issues, like Syria. In endless negotiations with Kerry, Lavrov has managed to keep Moscow’s interests center stage by seizing an unexpected opening to take the lead on plans to dismantle Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons
     
    Meanwhile, it’s widely believed that Russia has continued to give arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, having calculated that an Assad-led government is in Moscow’s best interests.   
     
    Inside or out?
     
    As Putin’s point man during such a delicate and tense moment in history, it remains a mystery if Lavrov believes fully in the president’s ideology that governed his move to take Crimea: that the fall of the Soviet Union was a humiliating tragedy that not only marred the grandeur of Russia, but left millions of ethnic Russians outside their homeland.
     
    x
    In public, Lavrov speaks the language of Russia’s importance and ascent from the depths of economic and political despair during the painful 1990s, when then-President Boris Yeltsin nearly lost control of a nascent Russian government. 

    But while it is impossible to get inside Lavrov’s head and heart, there is anecdotal evidence of scant desire to return to the past.
     
    “I don’t think he misses the Soviet Union,” said Leopold. “What he did miss was having any clear instructions from the Yeltsin government. He once told Security Council representatives that he was waiting for instructions from the government, and he was heard mumbling, ‘…that is, if I have a government.’”
     
    That said, Russia expert Angela Stent is fairly certain that Lavrov supports restoring Russia’s rightful place on the global stage overall.  

    But is he in Putin’s inner circle of advisors?
     
    Stent, who as director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University has met Putin and other Russian players many times, is doubtful.
     
    “According to what people say to me….while he's [Lavrov’s] certainly in full possession of all the facts, he is not the decision maker,” she said.  “He is an implementer.”
     
    Leopold believes Lavrov has had a close relationship with Putin, at least before the current Ukraine crisis.
     
    “I think he was glad that Putin gave a clear sense of direction, which he missed under Yeltsin and the foreign ministers that Yeltsin appointed,” she said.  “But we don’t know what it is now.  We don’t know what it is under Ukraine.  One doesn’t know how much he is in the inner circle.”
     
    The ‘real’ Lavrov
     
    With Russia’s potential designs on parts of eastern Ukraine that pro-Russian separatists are attempting to lay claim to, it is certain that Lavrov will remain in the spotlight.   
     
    If the heft of the portfolio wears on him, it does so invisibly, says Pete Heinlein, chief of VOA’s Horn of Africa service and a former U.N. correspondent for VOA during the Lavrov years.  
     
    Lavrov, a keen chess player in life and in backroom negotiations, clearly showed passion for the game of diplomacy, said Heinlein. 
     
    “When he left the United Nations, he invited us all to his home. Everybody from the secretary-general to every permanent representative of the United Nations…but after most everybody had gone…he sat in an easy chair chain-smoking cigarettes and held forth and in the sweetest, kindest way charmed everyone with stories of how diplomats had gotten along, and the informal relationship that they had,” recalled Heinlein. “And you could tell he had affection for even his staunchest adversaries.  It was quite a beautiful moment when you could the see the real Sergey Lavrov.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Alex
    April 29, 2014 5:50 AM
    How much did the author get for having written this "essay" I wonder?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora