Lavrov, Putin’s unflappable foreign minister who is key to Russia’s dark image in the world today

Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister since 2004. (REUTERS / File Photo) (RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY /)

Russia will not invade other countries, moreover, Russia has not invaded Ukraine: Russia is liberating Ukraine.

It is not a joke, it is not the speech of a play, it is not a haiku, it is not an invention. That, among other things, the Russian Foreign Minister said unperturbed a few hours ago, Sergey Lavrov. It was during a press conference in Turkey, after a failed meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dimitri Kuleba. It was also in that meeting with journalists that Lavrov said that the only valid negotiations to end what Russia calls a “special operation” and the rest of the world recognizes as a war are those taking place in Belarus, which the Ukrainians are using to civilians as human shields, shown to be “on the right track” by anti-Russian sentiment in the West and its media; that the West aspires to undermine Russia’s economic capacity but will not succeed and that no one ever spoke from Moscow of the possibility of a nuclear war.

All this said Lavrov, who during the first days of the offensive maintained a conspicuous silence that made different analysts think that tperhaps he did not accompany with sufficient conviction the runaway military action ordered by Putinan offensive that has the world in suspense and that still, in reality, the level of acceptance that it has among the Russians themselves is not exactly known, within the framework of a fierce internal propaganda campaign, which seeks to persuade the great majorities that Indeed, the military deployment in Ukraine seeks to “denazify” and “demilitarize” that country, in a kind of exorcism of Westernism.

This occurs through repressive legislation with sentences of up to 15 years for people or media that spread “false news” about the Russian army and its actions -with the arbitrariness that comes with defining the falsity of information in authoritarian governments such as that of Vladimir Putin. -, with programs sent to all Russian schools that determine in detail how children and adolescents should be taught what is happening in Ukraine and repressing any public or street demonstration, that is, persecuting those who oppose the invasion on social networks as well as those who dare to go out to protest.

Lavrov was born in 1950 and is a career diplomat.  In this photo, from 2020, with President Putin.  (Kay Nietfeld/Pool via Reuters)
Lavrov was born in 1950 and is a career diplomat. In this photo, from 2020, with President Putin. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool via Reuters) (POOL/)

“The ruling elite, including Foreign Minister Lavrov, revealed themselves to the whole world as totally dependent people, people who completely bend to the will of President Putin. It seems that they have consumed their own propaganda and have come to believe it”Told him Dmitry Muratov, director of Novaya Gazeta and Nobel Peace Prize to David Remnickduring an interview for The New Yorker.

The man who today aroused indignation with his phrases full of cynicism For eighteen years he has been a key figure in Putin’s cabinet when it comes to analyzing Russia’s movements in its relations with the world. Lavrov is the quintessential Russian negotiator and he knows the United States very well, having lived there for a long time. A career diplomat, he was his country’s representative at the United Nations for ten years. He is married, the father of a daughter who graduated from Columbia University with a degree in political science, and the grandfather of two grandchildren.

Born in Moscow in 1950, Lavrov is a tall, elegant, dry but well-mannered man; he likes to wear fine suits and silk ties. He only loses patience behind closed doors; outside, his appearance is always impeccable, even if he just got off a plane. In addition to Russian, he speaks English, French and Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka.his first destination when he finished his studies at the Moscow Institute of International Relations.

Because of his place in the cabinet, he is the face of Russia in the world and the great envoy of the Kremlin. He was the brains behind the very brief season in which Putin was in zen modeseeking to change his image before international audiences, magnanimous and granting pardons to political enemies such as the tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky -disgraced for daring to engage in politics- or the Pussy Riot, to environmental activists from Greenpeace arrested for an action in the Arctic. And he is, as is clear these days, the official capable of accompanying him on the bloody adventure of a war whose final outcome is uncertain and whose greatest benefits for Russia are ignored. Apparently, Lavrov also did not tell the emperor that he was naked and now he has to pay for it by arguing for an insane escalation in a fratricidal war, because that is what it is all about.

Sergei Lavrov smoking
A heavy smoker, Lavrov came to campaign against the smoking ban on the grounds that it is a violation of human rights. (Reuters)

In pragmatic terms, Lavrov is a sophisticated negotiator and knows all the secrets of his tradewhile being wary of diplomatic tricks. He is not famous for proposing but for gradually disarming the strategies of his opponents and it is because of that particular ability to collapse the arguments of the other that he is known in the diplomatic environment as “Mister No”.

Lavrov was a key figure in the war in Syria, a fundamental voice in the long conflict with Ukraine over his rapprochement with the West, which dates back to the Orange Revolution, an episode that occurred during the first year of his administration and showed him the world the great differences between one of the former Soviet republics and the Kremlin and, speaking of Latin America, it is also the one who carries out the Russian participation in Venezuela, where the country has political but, above all, economic interests.

Football, poetry and fishing

Lavrov came to his role as ambassador to the UN during the government of Boris Yeltsinwhen Putin was prime minister. Before agreeing to accompany Putin as chancellor, in 2004, he made only one condition: being able to free himself from the bodyguards once a week to go rafting with his friends.

Putin accepted.

Despite being a heavy smoker (he even campaigned strongly against the smoking ban at the UN because he said it was a violation of human rights), Lavrov shares with Putin a passion for sports, although they do not practice the same. While Putin is a fan of martial arts and horseback riding, his minister is man of football, skiing and underwater fishing.

Lavrov in Stockholm, last December.  (Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool via REUTERS)
Lavrov in Stockholm, last December. (Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool via REUTERS)

Very educated, admirer of Salinger and Bulgakov, Lavrov writes poems and plays the guitar. His collaborators confirm that he is always one of those who arrive first at the office on the seventh floor of the building on Smolenski Boulevard, one of those that make up the group called “Seven Sisters”, the skyscrapers with a mixture of Gothic and Russian Baroque styles with neoclassical – with details of Soviet realist art but also clearly influenced by the New York buildings of the time – which Stalin ordered to be built in 1947 to commemorate the eighth centenary of the city’s foundation.

The chancellor is also always one of the last to leave his office, sometimes after dark. Those who know him know of his obsessions: he can’t stand having papers on his desk, not even a computer. His whole life passes through a tablet.

His obsessive search for tranquility was interrupted on several occasions during these years, but neither the brief war with Georgia in 2008, nor the annexation of Crimea (which the Russians, fond of euphemisms, call recovery) in 2014, nor the civil war muzzled by the West in the Ukrainian East managed to put an end to their routines and hobbies.

It is ignored how he sleeps at night now, when he has just justified the greatest shame, the bombing of a mother and child hospital; when there are two million people displaced by Russian military action; thousands of deaths between Russians and Ukrainians, devastated cities and a dark future from the Kremlin’s decision to invade a country close to the history and affections of Russia like no other.

“He has not only poisoned himself, but also all Russians. He is the artificer of the hatred through which the world will now look not only at him, but also at all of us, Russians and Russian citizens. It will take us many years to convince the world that ‘we are not like that’, ‘this is not who we are’. (…) Russia morally lost this war simply by starting it. Whatever happens on the battlefield, Russia has lost this war as a political, economic and social entity: as a country, as part of the world community. There was a time when the word war, without qualification, always referred to the Great Patriotic War. Now this word has a different meaning. War, without qualifiers or adjectives, now refers to the war that he started, that made me and all other Russians responsible for the catastrophe that he caused”, wrote Maxim Trudolyubovone of the editors of the site jellyfish.

An injured pregnant woman walks down the stairs of a maternity hospital damaged by shells in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
An injured pregnant woman walks down the stairs of a maternity hospital damaged by shells in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Evgeniy Maloletka/)

That shadowy future that surely overwhelms Lavrov at night goes beyond whether Russia manages to triumph militarily, destroying all principles and raising its flag in Kiev’s Independence Square. The big question is what Russia will do then with all that accumulated hatred among those who resist; how they will be able to tame the rebelliousness of the boys and adolescents who today arm themselves to defend the nation in which they live and how a diplomat like him will be able to manage to reverse the warrior and insensitive image that today affects not only the strong man who drives from the Kremlin but, unfortunately, to each of the Russian citizens who did not choose to bathe their Ukrainian brothers in blood.


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