MOSCOW (AP) — As Russia’s top diplomat during the invasion of Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov embodies the Kremlin’s defiant posture with a mixture of harshness and sarcasm.
While President Vladimir Putin single-handedly shapes the country’s foreign policy, Lavrov delivers Moscow’s message with a frankness uncharacteristic of a diplomat.
In that role for nearly 18 years, Lavrov, 71, has seen relations with the West go from almost friendly to openly hostile, crashing to a new catastrophic low with Russia’s war on Ukraine. The invasion prompted the European Union to freeze the assets of Putin and Lavrov, among others – an unprecedented blow to Moscow’s pride.
Lavrov’s tenure as foreign minister is right after that of Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, who served for 28 years. Like Gromyko, nicknamed Mr. Nyet (Mr. No), Lavrov has become the uncompromising face of the Kremlin’s foreign policy towards the West.
He doesn’t mince words when defending what he sees as Moscow’s interests, and that style must appeal to the tough-talking Russian president.
In 2008, Lavrov responded to a rebuke from then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, snapping, “Who are you to (expletive) lecture me?”
Like his boss, Lavrov tapped into mainstream nostalgia for the country’s influence during the Soviet era. He expressed his anger against the West, portraying the United States as arrogant, conceited, treacherous and determined to dominate the world. He scornfully dismissed Western allies as stooges to Washington’s line to deter Russia.
Standing next to British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss after their meeting last month, a grim-faced Lavrov said their talks were like a “conversation between deaf and dumb”.
After a long diplomatic career, Lavrov seems visibly bored with the daily grind. When he appears before the media, he does not hide his annoyance at a naive or provocative question, often responding with an air of contempt or pure mockery.
When a CNN reporter, on a video call from the Ukrainian capital, asked Lavrov if Moscow wanted to overthrow the Ukrainian leadership, the aide who handled Friday’s briefing interrupted him and said that this was not the case. it was not her turn to ask a question. The reporter continued, and an angry Lavrov weighed in: “He is discourteous. He works in Ukraine now. He is infected with rudeness.
Lavrov has a particular distaste for photographers, showing annoyance at the snapping of camera shutters.
At a press conference, he mumbled a swearword into the microphone, seemingly angry at the disorderly reporters; the phrase became a meme, widely adopted in t-shirt designs for the patriotic public.
Lavrov weathered endless waves of speculation that he was about to retire. Instead, he became one of the most senior members of Putin’s cabinet and a perennial figure among a shifting kaleidoscope of foreign counterparts.
Before becoming foreign minister, he was Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations for 10 years and enjoyed having casual conversations with journalists, swapping news and jokes over a cigarette in the halls of the UN. He writes poetry, sings guitar songs with friends, and enthusiastically participates in skits with other diplomats at international events when Russia’s ties to the West were less resentful.
But his smiles and easy manners are a thing of the past now that Lavrov launches furious diatribes daily against the West over Ukraine, the biggest ground conflict Europe has seen since World War II.
On Tuesday, he was banned from traveling to Geneva to attend a UN conference after members of the European Union banned Russian planes from their skies as part of deadly sanctions against Moscow.
Lavrov denounced what he called “scandalous” in a video address to the UN session, accusing that “EU countries are trying to avoid frank face-to-face dialogue or direct contacts intended to help identify political solutions to pressing international problems”. .”
“The West has clearly lost control of itself expressing its anger against Russia and has destroyed its own rules and institutions, including respect for private property,” Lavrov said. “There is a need to end the arrogant Western philosophy of self-superiority, exclusivity and total permissiveness.”
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