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

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs