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The glee with which some members of the British commentariat jumped on Liz Truss’s supposed humiliation in Moscow by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was staggering to behold.
At a frosty press conference that followed their talks on Ukraine, Lavrov described their discussions as anything but diplomatic. This is what he said: “It was like a conversation with a deaf person. Who is here, but doesn’t hear.” With Truss only a few feet away from him, Lavrov, known for his menacing sarcasm, added that relations between UK and Russia ‘leave much to be desired.’
Within minutes of Lavrorv’s comments, social media was humming with criticism of Truss’s attempts at diplomacy which she said hoped would help resolve the tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Truss went on to insist that the UK is “resolute in pursuing a diplomatic path’ to prevent war between Ukraine and Russia, something which she said Boris Johnson is very much behind.
Cue big sighs from Lavrov, who then marched off the podium leaving her behind. That clearly was for show because afterwards the two are said to have had lunch together.
It’s standard Russian regime behaviour for Lavrov to play the hard man with Truss who, he said along with other Western political leaders are trying to improve their ratings by whipping up hysteria over a potential invasion. But for senior UK journalists and to be taking the bait, and joining in with the criticism of Truss is plain weird.
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Former editor of the FT, Lionel Barber, was one of those to join in the Truss-baiting, writing on Twitter: @lionelbarber “Lavrov – Putin’s Gromyko – eats Liz Truss alive on camera, dismissing her as an ignorant lightweight who spends too much time on social media. Easy to have anticipated this payback !“
After realising the nastiness of his response, Barber then tweeted: “Liz Truss set out a principled position on Ukraine, sovereignty and Russian aggression in talks with Lavrov who deliberately humiliated her in public. No moral equivalence. Lingering question concerns the value of trip and her very public diplomacy.”
But the damage had been done. Others were quick to lampoon the photographs of Truss, dressed in faux fur coat and hat ( it’s cold in Moscow) on the streets of the capital as an attempt to imitate Margaret Thatcher’s highly successful trip to the capital when she was treated as a super star compared to the reception accorded Truss.
How mealy mouthed these critics are. While Thatcher’s reputation as the Iron Lady – although the original nickname was given to her out of spite – was indeed well-deserved, her visit to Moscow in March 1987 was to meet with President Gorbachev at a time that West and Russia were moving closer to each other.
You can hardly compare the two events, or indeed the geopolitical situation. Thatcher was welcome in Moscow, part of Gorbachev’s attempt at perestroika and glasnost. In contrast, Truss was not welcome. In fact, her persistent, almost naive, attempts at urging a diplomatic solution is the last thing that President Putin and Lavrov want to hear. No wonder Lavrov wanted to humiliate her. Rather than being panned, she should be admired for her bravery in standing up to thuggery.