Sergei Lavrov is in great gaslighting company. Adept at the Orwellian mindgame of equivocation, Mr Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister and leader of the Russian G20 delegation, has no qualms about blaming Ukraine for waging a war against Russia. Mr Lavrov made this laughable claim recently on 3 March, before a well-informed international audience of erudite political scholars, academics and diplomats. He was labouring hard to convince his laughing and groaning listeners why the Ukraine war is against Russia. https://www.independent.co.uk/tv/news/ukraine-war-russia- sergey-lavrov-b2294085.html
Mr Lavrov’s helpless listeners were a part of the eighth edition of the three-day Raisina Dialogue in India’s capital city of New Delhi. The Dialogue is a premier global gathering for debates on geopolitical and geostrategic issues. Unmindful of the Dialogue’s prestigious credentials, Mr Lavrov went on to insult the intelligence of his audience by dismissing thorny global issues as ‘double standards’ and diving into whataboutery for justification. His audience was reacting the way they should.
Video Courtesy: The Independent/YouTube
The Message Insidiously Injurious
The manner in which Mr Lavrov handled his pesky prober was proof enough. He chose to answer uncomfortable questions with counter-questions, a classic gaslighting technique. At one point, an irascible Mr Lavrov hit back asking his interrogator, “Have you been interested in these years what is going on in Iraq, what is going on in Afghanistan?” Mr Lavrov was merely attempting to send an insidiously injurious message to the Ukraine-backing United States.
This was evident when he continued in a cavalier fashion: “[You] believe that the United States has the right to declare a threat to its national interest, any place on earth, like they did in Yugoslavia, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria … and you don’t ask them any questions?” Obviously, the what-about-them Mr Lavrov was referring to America’s war in Iraq, its air strikes on Libya and its bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo conflict in 1999. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/03/03/lavrov- russia-ukraine-war-raisina/
Leveraging to the Fullest
What invited intense ridicule however was his repeated assertion that Russia was the victim, not the invader, in the ongoing war in Ukraine. His argument that “the war was launched against Russia using the Ukrainian people” was indicative of how incorrigibly manipulative Russia is. Mr Lavrov was in India to attend the G20 foreign ministers meet in New Delhi on 2 March. For quite some time now, Mr Lavrov has been trotting around the globe to drum up support for Russia and its actions on the Ukrainian soil.
Landing in India, Mr Lavrov was leveraging his presence in New Delhi to the fullest. Particularly because he was sure of India’s unflinching support for Russia. After all, India is a major buyer of Russian military supplies and crude. Why, India has even abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly, five times over in the past 12 months, on resolutions condemning Russia for the Ukraine War. Plus, Russia views India as a collective voice of the Global South and an influential balance between two muscle-flexing global powers. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia- india-64753820
Accusations of Hypocrisy
Against this psychological backdrop, Mr Lavrov was trying to gain maximum mileage by blaming the Ukraine War on Western hypocrisy and by arraigning the West for its ‘selective focus on human rights’ and ‘double standards.’ Mr Lavrov made this hypocrisy charge in a rare one-to-one meeting with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, which lasted for less than 10 minutes on the sidelines of the Dialogue. Nothing major may came out of this meeting, just like the last in January 2022 in Geneva.
Sure, accusations of selectivity and hypocrisy were heard even before 3 March. In December 2022, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s minister for external affairs, when queried on India’s reluctance to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, had this to say: “I can give you many instances of countries who have violated the sovereignty of another country. If I were to ask where Europe stood on a lot of those, I am afraid I would get a long silence.” Mr Lavrov’s blunt statements only reiterate Russia’s established position on issues of strategic interest. https://www.wionews.com/world/terror-epicentre-indias-external-affairs-minister-jaishankar-in-a-veiled-attack-on- pakistan-in-austria-549020
Who’s Afraid of the G20?
Energy is one such area of interest. Not surprising, Mr Lavrov made it clear that Russia would be happy to move its energy policy, from the ‘unreliable West’ to ‘reliable partners’, in clear reference to India and China. He was asserting the negative global impact of the Ukraine War on energy is not because of Russia’s actions, but due to the West’s reactions to Russia. He went on to run down the current G20 meet: “It is all about what to do with Ukraine, and not about finance and macroeconomic policies, which G20 is formed for.”
Mr Lavrov sees these as clear evidences of the West’s double standards. He does not seem to care about the might of the G20 that includes the globe’s 19 richest nations plus the 27-nation European Union. He seems least affected by the largeness of the G20 which accounts for 85 per cent of the global economic output, 75 per cent of international trade and shelters two-thirds of world population. Visibly upset, but with self-assurance, Mr Blinken shot back saying, “If we allow with impunity Russia to do what it’s doing in Ukraine, then that’s a message to would-be aggressors everywhere that they may be able to get away with it too.” https://www.oecd.org/g20/about/
Practising Ostrich Diplomacy
Professional gaslighters do not cowed down by what they see as blusters. Keeping up with such posturing, Mr Lavrov asserted the question on when negotiations will happen for ending the war should be directed at Ukraine. His rationale: the West thinks it should win the war first to start any negotiations. His words made it clear that Russia feels such a Western thinking ensured the current G20 meet did not come to a consensus to issue joint statements on the war.
Clearly, Mr Lavrov is a practitioner of ostrich diplomacy. He ignored studiously the deleterious effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is a “special military operation” in Russian lexicon. Mr Lavrov feigned blindness on China backing Russia and its illegal war in Ukraine. This is the reason why Mr Lavrov did not recognise Russia and China as the real agents blocking joint statements. Keeping up with that duplicity, Mr Lavrov pointed fingers at America for “trying to militarise” the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, aka the Quad, a strategic four-nation partnership of the United States, Australia, India and Japan for the Indo-Pacific. https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-must-be-punished- ukraine-war-us-quad-allies-say-2023-03-03/
Refuge in Slamming the Quad
What provoked Mr Lavrov to do the finger-pointing? Perhaps Mr Blinken’s meeting with the Quad’s foreign ministers. Plus, their statement asserting the inadmissibility of the use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons must have really got Mr Lavrov’s goat. He could have ignored the statement, but he chose not to because of Russia’s February 2023 suspension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Reason why an apprehensive Mr Blinken told Mr Lavrov, on the G20 sidelines, to ensure the suspension was revoked, Russia returned to START and nuclear tests not relaunched. The gaslighting Mr Lavrov preferred to stay noncommittal. He took refuge in slamming the Quad as ‘a cold war construct’ and ‘a clique targeting other countries.’ Yet, the disheartening surround sound and the sparkling fireworks held out one positive message. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-04/sergei- lavrov-ukraine-war-claim-met-with-laughter/102053690
That positive message was too loud to go unheard. The first private face-to-face meet between Mr Lavrov and Mr Blinken tells the world America is eager to keep communication lines with Russia open. The message is patently real as the face-to- face meeting happened at the request of Mr Blinken. And, at the same time, Mr Blinken telling Mr Lavrov that America will back Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’ makes the message honest too. https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2023/mar/02/russia-ukraine-war-live-civilians-killed-in-missile-attack-on- zaporizhzhia-apartment-block
Sadly, Russia is not honest. When Mr Lavrov was shaking hands with Mr Blinken on the G20 sidelines, the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut was being beleaguered by Russian forces. Neither has Russia freed the espionage-accused former American Marine Paul Whelan nor has it ordered ceasefire, forget cessation of the war in Ukraine. Despite Mr Lavrov’s best efforts in New Delhi, absence of any Russian desire to end the war confirms its criminal intent. Finally, Russia the Accuser has managed to end up in the dock as the prime accused in the wanton war in Ukraine.