The good news: Russia’s foreign minister assured the world that Vladimir Putin has no desire to follow up his war in Ukraine by invading other countries. The bad news: Sergei Lavrov flatly denied that Russia attacked Ukraine, too.
“Why should they believe a word you say?” asked a reporter. Good question, that:
The Russian foreign minister, in a news conference following the meeting, denied Russia had invaded Ukraine.
“We have no plans to invade other countries. We didn’t invade Ukraine,” said Mr. Lavrov, speaking in Russian through a live translation, in response to a question about Russia’s intentions.
Mr. Lavrov didn’t explain the statement when questioned.
“I think you said Russia did not invade Ukraine when it clearly has,” said a journalist. “Why should the Ukrainians take you seriously? Why should they believe a word you say?”
“I am talking about the security of the whole continent, including Ukraine,” said Mr. Lavrov in a rambling answer.
Belarussian journalist Tadeusz Giczan also thinks Russia’s other neighbors should be afraid, be very afraid, after listening to this deceit:
Absolute peak Russia. Asked whether it was planning to attack other countries, Lavrov said: "We are not planning to attack other countries. We didn't attack Ukraine in the first place". Russia's other neighbours should probably start worrying pic.twitter.com/QrzvcQXM6H
— Tadeusz Giczan 🇺🇦 (@TadeuszGiczan) March 10, 2022
If Russia didn’t invade Ukraine, then why are there all those Russian tanks, artillery, and soldiers in Ukraine at the moment? And for that matter, what was Lavrov doing in Anatolia in the first place? The answer to the latter question is … not much. Lavrov met with Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba in Turkey to hold the highest level talks between the two countries since tensions began rising a few weeks ago. Lavrov came to the Anatolia talks without any authority to negotiate even a cease-fire, as it turns out:
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine said Mr. Lavrov indicated he did not have the authority to negotiate even a 24-hour cease-fire, showing that the highly anticipated talks, arranged by Turkey, had failed to alleviate the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians under Russian fire.
“The broad narrative he conveyed to me is that they will continue their aggression until Ukraine meets their demands, and the least of these demands is surrender,” Mr. Kuleba told reporters after he met for more than an hour around a U-shaped table in the seaside resort city of Antalya with Mr. Lavrov and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey.
There had been some hope that the meeting on Thursday could yield a breakthrough because Russia appeared to narrow its diplomatic demands in recent days. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whose top diplomat has held a total of 10 calls with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts since the start of the war, said on Wednesday that the meeting could “crack the door open to a permanent cease-fire.”
But the separate remarks by Mr. Kuleba and Mr. Lavrov after their meeting dashed those hopes. And if the Kremlin really was prepared to step back from its maximalist demands, Mr. Lavrov appeared not to be authorized to make them.
In other words, the talks were all but useless. Lavrov bluntly stated that Russia wouldn’t agree to a cease-fire under any conditions, except total surrender by Ukraine. He also tried some projection about nuclear war that should have gotten a follow-up:
“We were never going to be agreeing to a ceasefire … Ukraine knows what we want.” He said Russia wanted a demilitarized Ukraine, friendly to Russians and Russia. “If Russia’s partners behaved honestly, it would have been possible to agree on security a long time ago,” he said. …
Responding to a question of whether he believed a nuclear war was possible, Lavrov said: “I don’t want to believe it and I don’t believe it … We never talked about it. But of course it concerns us when the West constantly brings it up.”
Say what? Putin himself broached the threat of a nuclear response at the beginning of the invasion that Lavrov now insists never happened. Putin put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert two weeks ago and explicitly warned that Western intervention would create consequences the West had never before experienced. Lavrov’s now trying to pretend that never happened either, which would make him into a farcical Baghdad Bob figure if the stakes weren’t so high.
Even Lavrov appeared uncomfortable with the pretense, Politico reporter Zoya Sheftalovich noted. The normally oily and unflappable Lavrov looked unhappy and nervous while meeting with reporters, forced to answer tough questions that wouldn’t get asked in Russia:
Watched Lavrov presser. The most striking thing to me is the way he fiddled. Fiddled with the cord from his earpiece, winding and unwinding. Fiddled with his notes. Never seen this from him before. https://t.co/9xOjACZQtx
— Zoya Sheftalovich (@zoyashef) March 10, 2022
As a couple of Twitter responses suggested, Lavrov might be thinking about the need to come up with a defense at a war-crimes trial. Either that, or he may be wondering whether he’ll survive long enough to worry about it. Putin will have to blame someone for the massive miscalculation made about the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and who better than the man in charge of diplomatic relations? Either way, Lavrov’s days are numbered, and Lavrov might be slowly realizing it.