Rarely has Russia used this sort of language to a top rep of the major Western powers, but she was sorely pushed. Diplomats are usually polite, but Mrs (“F*ck the EU”) Nuland awoke the beast in her Russian counterparts. Probably it was a mistake to insist that she should be the one to deal with the Russians. As a young woman, Victoria Nuland joined the crew of a Russian fishing trawler, and though she no doubt learned many useful words and expletives, she was not prepared for her talk with Mr Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister.
People said she was visibly distressed after her meeting with Ryabkov; she complained she was ill-treated. Well, she took on a hard mission: to force the Russians to trim Russian mission staff in Washington. The Senators demanded they cut the Russian team by 300 diplomats, she said. She brought two lists of names for culling, and proposed that the first fifty be sent home by January. Instead of considering her kind proposal, Mr Ryabkov said that there aren’t that many Russian diplomats in Washington; there are Russian diplomats at the UN, but that has nothing to do with the US. Ryabkov accused Nuland of being a shell game artist because she tried to pass UN diplomats off as diplomats accredited in Washington. Added Ryabkov:
If you will insist, we are ready to close down all US missions in Russia, and to lock down our remaining offices at Washington. We can terminate all diplomatic interaction; if you want our relations be based on the number of our nuclear missiles, we are ready. But it’s your choice, not ours.
Ryabkov said there was no progress in negotiations; we do not rule out certain escalations, he added. Such a pessimistic press release after the first day of meetings is quite uncommon. But US-Russian relations are uncommonly bad.
Perhaps you’d remember at Geneva Summit there were hopes and expectations of a Grand Slam, of a long-term agreement between the US and Russia. (Our friend Thierry Meyssan called it even A New Yalta and provided lurid details). I didn’t believe it then. I thought I’d get a whisper of such a deal in Moscow or Tel Aviv; and there was no deal. Since Geneva, things didn’t improve much. Nuland didn’t meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov (that would be above her pay grade), but she got a letter from Lavrov explaining that it was impossible to cut the staff, that is unless the US wants to cut it to zero.
The other topics they discussed were also doomed to fail. Mrs Nuland brought up Mali, a North African state where the presence of Russian private military contractors has incited political anger and displeasure. Mali is a part of a whole chain of French ex-colonies. Though they are ostensibly independent, the French still want to keep them. There used to be a solid French military presence; but the Africans got tired of useless French soldiers standing around, and invited the Russians into the Central African Republic, into Mali and elsewhere. Russians enjoy their African adventures; in the Soviet days they fought in Ethiopia and Somalia; now it is time for the sequel. Western media writes of ‘Russian atrocities’, but that is something they have always said. The best soldiers in Africa are Cubans; if they return en masse, they will sweep Africa off its feet. Now the US and its Western allies are trying to keep Russians out of Africa. They tell Russians that they should not dare enter Africa; it is not theirs. But the Russian side responds that the Russian PMC was invited by the government of Mali; neither Bamako, nor Moscow needs a green light from Washington.
Libya was also discussed. It seems that a few American ladies employed by the UN are arranging the forthcoming elections so as to leave the country under American control. There will be Presidential elections in December, and for the legislature in January. Meanwhile the election process has not been working out as well as some Libyans wanted. It is still not clear who has been selected to run for President: will it be Khalifa Haftar, or Seif al Islam Kaddafi, a son of the late leader, or somebody else. The State Department representative expected to get full Russian cooperation while keeping the Russians completely out of oil exploration. This American plan didn’t work out well. Mr Ryabkov said to Mrs Nuland: the US tries to assign guilt over the destruction of Libya to innocent parties. As we know, Libya was destroyed by NATO forces in 2011 while Russia was making another one of its attempts to fit into the Western agenda. However, these days the Russians are less placid and obedient, and not so eager to accept Nuland’s guidance.
Another point was connected with post-Afghanistan arrangements. The Russians refused the US request to extend facilities to their intelligence in Central Asia. It became a problem after the fall of Afghanistan. For a while, the US demanded a temporary military base in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. It was discussed at Geneva at Biden-Putin summit. In a very typical Russian manner, Putin told Biden: Why do you need a base? Be a guest at our base! Alas, these Russian offers usually mean much less than what they sound like. The US climbed down to a facility for their intelligence; if there is no choice, it could be located at a Russian air base in Central Asia. However, the Russians refused that, too. Tomorrow they will receive Taliban’s delegacy in Moscow, and such intelligence-sharing arrangement would be misconstrued.
Russia took Nuland off its list of sanctioned US officials to allow her to enter Russia; this was the result of a tit-for-tat after the US banned quite a few Russian officials from visiting the US. And although this could do little to help the cases of the other officials, it seems that Mrs Nuland was definitely not the flavour of the month with Russian diplomats. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow was strongly against rescinding the ban, but a powerful if unconstitutional body called Administratsiya Prezidenta insisted on allowing her in. (Here is an interesting short essay explaining its role). More specifically, its Deputy Head Dmitri Kozak lobbied for the unbanning of Nuland; he spoke with her at length and he provided his version of their conversation.
Kozak is an old hand: a native of the Ukraine, a grim-faced KGB/GRU man, Putin’s henchman since early 90’s; he served in a few governments with little noticeable success. He is best remembered by his hare-brained idea of keeping all government deliberations secret from the public. Usually, the Administratsiya Prezidenta keeps out of foreign affairs. Their main occupation is the manipulation of public opinion and election trickery. Now it seems Kozak wants to build up some pro-Western credit in his name, to become an American agent in the power structure. To get Americans to support him at the inevitable mess after Putin day. Or, perhaps, he wants to please Putin by claiming that Russo-American relations are fine. Reality is very different. The relations between the US and Russia are as bad as we can remember; in spite of this Kozak has published a triumphalist communiqué expressing nothing but joy after meeting Mme Nuland.
Just compare the Foreign Ministry’s conclusion: “Ryabkov said he and Nuland made no progress on normalizing the work of their diplomatic missions, which has been hampered by multiple rounds of sanctions, adding that the situation could exacerbate even further. The Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated Moscow’s readiness to respond in kind to any unfriendly U.S. action” and Kozak’s conclusion: “a thorough and constructive dialogue took place regarding the settlement of the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine. They confirmed that the Minsk agreements remain the only basis for a settlement. Nuland admitted that progress on the Donbass issue is possible only with the recognition of its special status.”
Kozak prepared himself for playing the American fiddle years ago. After a coup in Moldova in 2019, Kozak said: “In the current situation, Russia, the European Union and the United States have taken a common position to support the democratic process in Moldova”. “This is a vivid example that on basic values we have more in common than disagreements,” added Dmitry Kozak. This is the same attitude that caused Russia to surrender Libya, the same attitude that brought the USSR to collapse. These old KGB blokes are keen on fitting into the Western narrative, and for such a purpose they will always shortchange their employers.
A few months ago, when the US began advanced planning for accepting the Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, Kozak sounded the trumpet. He said
the Ukraine is entitled to join NATO. This a shocking claim; Putin was always against it. The presence of NATO tanks in Eastern Ukraine is as big a danger for Russia as Russian tanks in Texas would be for the US. Russia always considered NATO in the Ukraine almost casus belli; now Mr Kozak doesn’t mind it. What is even more odd, Kozak agreed with the US joining the Normandy Format (Russia, France, Germany and the Ukraine); France and Germany were always against it, and Russia, too, was strongly against it. Did Kozak discuss it with France and Germany (doubtful) or did he just shoot his mouth off trying to please Nuland? Apparently, the Russians at the top speak in different voices; one is the voice of Foreign Ministry, another is the voice of the Administratsiya Prezidenta. But who decides?
As time goes by, pro-US voices in the Russian power structure generally lose their volume and appeal. People like Kozak want to fit themselves into the Western agenda, but the people who are in charge of foreign affairs, gas, oil, nuclear power and weapons are aware of more urgent needs. Right after Victoria Nuland’s departure, US-Russian relations quickly got worse. The NATO head office in Brussels declared a few Russian diplomats ‘personas non grata’, and in response, the Russian Foreign Ministry sent home all NATO representatives in Russia. At the same time, the US began their campaign for taking Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.
I am as much for friendship between the US and the Russian people as you are, but historically speaking, our best way to friendship is Cold War. “Good fences make good neighbours.” We are already so dangerously close to ‘one world government’ that only fiercely independent nationalistic antagonism and hostility can save us from global dictatorship. If the relations were to improve, Mr Kozak and suchlike would sacrifice ordinary Russians on the altar of their Common Values with the US and EU. Only bad relations can hold back the Green New Deal and give us a chance to survive.
With the assistance of Paul Bennett.
Israel Shamir can be reached at [email protected]
This article was first published at The Unz Review.