Who is Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister whose goal is to “intimidate” his country?

Perhaps Sergey Lavrov, who has long been nicknamed “Mr. No” at the United Nations, since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, deserves the title of “Mr. Attention.” The Russian foreign minister is on the front line of conveying the Kremlin’s propaganda and embellishing it with veiled threats to countries that arm Kyiv and impose sanctions on Moscow. In France, part of the general public undoubtedly discovered him by his disturbing statements. He also warned, at the end of April, to take risks “fact” World War III and the use of nuclear weapons.

The image of this experienced diplomat has become even more tarnished since a statement broadcast on Italian television on May 1. “I may be wrong, but Hitler also had Jewish blood”He said after making it clear that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Jewish origins did not absolve him of Nazi accusations that Russia justified its attack. “Minister Lavrov’s statements are outrageous, unforgivable and a terrible historical mistake.”, criticized his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid. While the Ministry of Sergei Lavrov maintained its position, accusing Israel of this Support for the neo-Nazi regime in KyivOn Thursday, May 5, this perverted statement forced Vladimir Putin to apologize to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. What is not really in his habits.

In Sylvie Berman’s eyes, hearing such remarks from Sergey Lavrov is acceptable ‘Somewhat unreasonable’ Given his background: He is a person of great culture and knows international relations by heart. The ambassador of France to Russia from 2017 to 2019, the diplomat met Lavrov much earlier, in the mid-90s, when he became Russia’s envoy at the United Nations headquarters. At that time, he was a star and an excellent negotiator who knew his files well.” Already resolute, but not closed to compromise, he was”To some extent I appreciate, rather admire” In the environment of UN diplomats.

Why this excess today? It’s his master’s voice.Sylvie Berman notes. For her, the Security Council organized by Vladimir Putin three days before the start of the invasion, during which he insulted the head of foreign intelligence, sums up the small choice available to men like Sergei Lavrov: “Either they follow orders or we don’t know what could happen to them.” A very vertical view of Russian power confirmed by Jean-Maurice Ripert, predecessor of Sylvie Berman at the French Embassy in Moscow, from 2013 to 2017: In the presence of Putin Lavrov does not open his mouth. ”

Sergei Lavrov does not seem to have any special complicity with the Russian president. A professional diplomat, he is not part of his inner circle of KGB veterans. However, his longevity as foreign minister is unusual: more than eighteen years. He wants to be defeated [Andreï] Gromyko”, one of his Soviet predecessors who has been in business for twenty-eight years, as Vladimir Putin once explained. Presently, Jean-Maurice Ripert realizes a background of cynicism towards his loyal servant.

Vladimir Putin watches his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sign documents after a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sochi, Russia, October 17, 2018 (PAVEL GOLOVKIN / POOL / AFP)

But the latter apparently convinced the Kremlin of his loyalty and competence. And he has contributed, since 2004, to re-establishing an important geopolitical weight for Russia, through new alliances (particularly in the Middle East or in Africa) but especially through a certain force of nuisance. By systematically vetoing UN Security Council resolutions on Syria (16 between 2011 and 2020), Moscow’s ally, he earned the nickname “Mr. Nate” (“no” in Russian), which already referred to Andrei Gromyko. famous.

Despite his tall staunch character, Sergey Lavrov is not necessarily the dull look one might imagine. If he doesn’t talk about his private life, he is known to have a taste for whiskey, guitar, football club Spartak Moscow (seen as the people’s team in Soviet times) or even rowing. He was depicted at least once in hand, in a play of Russian masculinity reminiscent of Vladimir Putin. “He has an emphatic presence, he is one of the most famous state figures in Russia”explains Sylvie Berman. “When you meet him, he can be very friendly and funnyremembers Jean-Maurice Ripert. I don’t think that’s the bully he’s trying to show.”

Toughness is already the most obvious character trait of Sergey Lavrov. “Who are you to give me a silly lesson?” He had answered his British counterpart David Miliband on a stormy 2008 phone call about Georgia, according to the British press — and Lavrov denied the comments. Recently, in mid-February, Britain’s new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, overheard him comparing their meeting with A conversation between the deaf and dumb.

This position, which did not depart from the portrayal of Vladimir Putin, seems to have hardened over time. ‘He caricatured himself so much that he became obnoxious’Judge Jean-Maurice Ripert.

“He could have given himself the role of a ‘nice diplomat’ who fixes problems created by the military. But he never wanted to play that role.”

Jean-Maurice Ripert, Former Ambassador of France to Russia

in franceinfo

The French diplomat sees that the expression “Wolf Warrior”which the Chinese use to describe their ambassadors, also corresponds to Sergey Lavrov: “Someone is not there to make Russia understood or loved, but to make it fearful.”

What does this zealous Kremlin servant really think in the speech he is conveying? In Putin’s Russia, his role is not to take initiatives. So much so that the two former French ambassadors struggle to discern his true view of Ukraine’s situation, beyond his determination to implement Vladimir Putin’s projects.

But he does not hide his noble idea of ​​Russia’s place in the world. When he became Russia’s representative to the United Nations in 1994, he contrasted with his predecessor by moving away from the American line, recalls Sylvie Berman.. Now 72 years old, two years older than Vladimir Putin, “Sergei Lavrov began serving the Soviet Union when it was a great and respected country in the worldRemembers the former ambassador. It is difficult for the children of this generation to accept ignoring the Russian position, as was the case in the 1990s.

Over time, he seems to have developed a growing resentment towards Westerners, notes the French diplomat, who remembers meetings between Sergey Lavrov and European ambassadors during his visit to Moscow, between 2017 and 2019:

“He often gave big speeches about the past and his feeling of ‘double standards’ toward Russia. He felt there were rules that we wanted to impose on them without us respecting them.”

Sylvie Berman, former French ambassador to Russia

in franceinfo

The death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi has always been on the table, as has the recognition of Kosovo’s independence, which Russia opposed. “Obsessions he shares with Vladimir Putin”Sylvie Berman notes.

One episode was particularly marked by his predecessor, Jean-Maurice Ripert. After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo And Hyper Cacher, Sergey Lavrov represents Russia at the rally in Paris on January 11, 2015. But the order of the protocol moved him to the last row: as a minister, he comes after many heads of state present. “Obviously, he visualized a certain sadness from him.”

Returning to Moscow, the minister held one of his meetings with the ambassadors of the European Union countries. Jean-Maurice Ripert took the floor and tried to thank him for his support. Sergei Lavrov immediately cut him off, vowing to blame France for the attacks.

“He explained to me that France, on the one hand, had forgotten its Christian roots and had left too much freedom for Islam, and on the other, that it was mistreating the Muslim community. To speak, but he prevented me from speaking.”

Jean-Maurice Ripert, Former Ambassador of France to Russia

in franceinfo

The head of Russian diplomacy showed more sympathy the following year, after the July 14 attack in Nice, when he went to the French embassy with American John Kerry to lay flowers there and sign a book of condolences. ‘He seemed genuinely impressed’Remembers the ambassador.

But he, like Vladimir Putin, sometimes used this rhetoric about the cultural and historical differences between Russia and Western Europe. Not without contradiction, for a man who spent nearly ten years in New York when he represented Russia at the United Nations. His only daughter lived for a long time in the United States and the United Kingdom, where she also raised the daughter of a client who had long been suspected of being his mistress. The two young women have been sanctioned by the British authorities since the invasion of Ukraine.

“became a companion of lies”Jean-Maurice Ripert notes. It was Sergei Lavrov who was quick to announce that the maternity ward destroyed by the Russian strike in Mariupol at the beginning of March no longer sheltered the sick, but fighters from the Azov battalion. A few hours later, the Russian Defense Ministry presented a paradoxical lie, presenting this bombing as a spectacle.

The incident brings to mind the increasing position taken by the army with which it must deal. During Sylvie Berman’s visit to Moscow, The two most important foreign policy issues were not dealt with by his department: Syria was largely under the Ministry of Defense, and Ukraine was entirely under the Kremlin. “Lavrov’s problem is that he is chasing the trainJean-Maurice Ripert comments. In these cases, you add very little.”

A room at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland), largely deserted by diplomats, while broadcasting a video message from Sergei Lavrov to the Conference on Disarmament, March 1, 2022 (FABRICE COFFRINI / POOL / AFP)

In 2018, Sergey Lavrov announced the departure, as Sylvie Berman recalls. There is still “If there are peace negotiations with Russia, they will go through it”, confirms Jean-Maurice Ripert. But for the French diplomat, his over-talking about the invasion of Ukraine made him lose. “With all his credibility, which It wasn’t really long after the operation in Syria”. On March 1, when the Russian minister was scheduled to speak via video link at the Swiss headquarters of the United Nations, most of the delegations present left the building in protest. In the institution in which he built his image as a respected diplomat, his rhetoric reverberated in an almost empty room.

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