by Joel Harding
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.
It’s a good idea to listen to what Sergei Lavrov has to say.
The Russian foreign minister is, after all, the respectable face of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
It’s his job to convince the world that Putin’s Kremlin is responsible and reasonable.
Sort of like a mafia lawyer.
But while it’s a good idea to listen to Lavrov, it’s also important to decode him.
Speaking to reporters in Athens yesterday, Lavrov said Russia was pursuing an independent foreign policy and that this upsets the United States and the West.
He added that, inevitably, Russia and the West will need to sit down and talk to resolve differences over Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere — the sooner, the better.
Sounds reasonable enough on the surface — and that’s sort of the point.
But what is Lavrov actually saying? Or more precisely, what was left unsaid but implicit?
Here’s my rough translation: Give us what we want, or else.
Lift sanctions. Let us prop up our ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria. And let us have a free hand in the former Soviet space or we will continue to make your lives a living hell.
We’ll cause chaos in Syria and the Middle East, aggravating the migrant crisis in Europe.
We’ll launch cyberattacks on you. We’ll finance extremist parties. We’ll undermine your institutions.
And sooner or later, you’ll cry uncle.
It’s geopolitical extortion — delivered with a smile and a silver tongue.