‘Robots wit papers’: Wetin happun to Putin diplomats? – BBC

  • Author, By Sergey Goryashko, Elizaveta Fokht and Sofiya Samokhina
  • Role, BBC Russian

Before before, Russia diplomats na major part of President Putin strategy wen e come to foreign policy.

Before Russia enta full invasion of Ukraine, di diplomats lose dia authority and dem reduce diawork to just repeating di agressive words wey come from President Putin mouth.

BBC Russia ask former diplomats and ex-Kremlin and White House insiders how Russia diplomacy take reach dis kain crisis.

Warning: Dis article contain offensive language

For October 2021, US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland bin do one meeting wit Russian foreign ministry for Moscow.

Di man wey sit across di table na Russia Deputy Foreign, Minister Sergei Ryabkov, wey Nuland don know for many years as dem two dey gel.

But dis time tins bin different.

Ryabkov speak like robot, as im read out Moscow official position from one paper and im resist Nuland attempts to start discussion.

Nuland shock, according to two pipo wey bin follow her discuss wetin happun.

She describe Ryabkov and one of im colleagues as “robots wit papers”.

E come be like say dem dey tok to pipo wey no dey di room, she tell dem.

Before, America counterparts dey see Rybakov as a practical and calm negotiator – someone wey dem fit tok to even as di two countries relationship dey shake.

But dat one don change. And outside di negotiating room, Russia diplomats dey use undiplomatic language.

Wia dis foto come from, Getty Images

Wetin we call dis foto,

US diplomat Victoria Nuland dey shocked to dey inside meeting wit Russian diplomats wey dey “tok like robots”

“Excuse my language, but we dey shit on Western sanctions!”

“Make I speak. Odawise, you go really hear wetin Russian grad missiles fit do.”

“Morons” – follow by curse.

Diz na all quotes from pipo wey dey position of authority for di Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

So how we take reach here?

New Cold War

Putin imsef bin tell BBC for 2000: “Russia ready to co-operate wit Nato… even to join di alliance… I no fit imagine my kontri separate imsef from Europe.”

Now, as Russia dey face international pressure for di invasion of Ukraine, e hard to imagine say im eva tok am.

But dat time, wen imfirst enta presidency, Putin bin dey ginger to build friendship wit di West, one former senior Kremlin official tell BBC.

Even for doz more liberal time di foreign ministry be like “semi-military organisation, wia di creative component dey absolutely minimal”, di former official add.

Still, Russian diplomats na important part of Putin team.

Dem dey help settle territorial palava between China and Norway, and dis don lead to deeper co-operation wit European kontris, and make sure say Georgia do peaceful transition after one revolution.

But as Putin become more powerful plus get more experience, im become convinced say e get all di answers, Alexander Gabuev say.

Di director of di Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, wey dey exile for Berlin, add: “Dis pipo [diplomats] become unnecessary for am.”

Di first signal wey say new Cold War don begin show for 2007 for one speech wey Putin give for Munich Security Conference.

For one 30-minute verbal attack, Putin aggressively accuse Western kontris of attempting to build unipolar world.

Russia diplomats quickly follow am for back. One year later, wen Russia bin invade Georgia, Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov swear many times for im UK counterpart, David Miliband, as im ask am: “Who you be to lecture me?”

Western officials still tink say e worth am to try work wit Russia.

For 2009, Sergei Lavrov and di den-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton press one giant red “reset button” for relationship, and di two kontris bin be like dem dey build co-operation – especially on security issues.

But as time dey go, e become more and more obvious to US officials say dia Russia colleagues just dey repeat like parrot Putin growing anti-Western views and opinions, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor to former US President Barack Obama tok.

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Wetin we call dis foto,

Ben Rhodes (L) was deputy national security advisor to Obama

Rhodes remember say Obama bin eat breakfast “Russian-style” wit Putin for 2009, and folk orchestra follow am.

E tok say Putin dey more interested in presenting im view of di world dan to discuss co-operation and blame George W Bush wey be former US president before Obama for betraying Russia.

For di 2010s, di Russia president bin dey more focus on international politics and e no too send di advice from im own foreign ministry.

As di Arab Spring, di US involvement for Libya, and Russia street protests dey happun for 2011 and 2012, Putin ultimately decide say diplomacy no go get am wetin im want, Rhodes tok.

“I tink dem [Russian diplomats] fit work on some kain accounts wey Putin no send,” Rhodes tok. Rhodes bin leave di White House for 2017. “But on some kain issues – Ukraine in particular – I no get di sense say dose guys get much influence at all.”

Good example to demonstrate dis trend go be Lavrov imself.

Wen dem appoint am nearly 20 years ago, im get “international perspective and im own position”, one former senior Kremlin official tell BBC.

Di Kremlin bin dey consult am before, even wen dem know say e fit get different view from Putin, political analyst Gabuev tok.

But for 2022, wen dem send troops enta Ukraine, Lavrov only find out some hours before di war start, according to one report from tori pipo Financial Times.

Wia dis foto come from, Getty Images

However, Andrei Kelin, Moscow ambassador to UK, dey push back against di idea say Russia diplomats don lose dia influence.

Im don dey work on relations wit Western kontris throughout im diplomatic career – “unfortunately” – im dey tok, wit bitterness.

For interview wit BBC, im refuse to agree say either Moscow or individual diplomats bear any responsibility for di way relations wit di West take collapse. “We no be di one wey dey do di destruction,” im say. “We get problem wit di Kyiv regime. E no get wetin we fit do about am.”

Im no dey consider Russia decision to choose military means instead of negotiations as failure: “War na continuation of diplomacy by oda means,” im tok.

New language

As foreign policy officials dey become less and less influential, dem dey turn dia activities back to Russia.

One of di most symbols of dis new chapter in Moscow foreign policy na Maria Zakharova, who become di ministry tok tok pesin for 2015.

“Before her, diplomat dey behave like diplomats, dem dey speak wit manners,” former diplomat Boris Bondarev, who bin resign in protest over di war tok. “We express concern about acceptable outcomes, we dey hope to reach agreement… Blah-blah-blah.”

Wit Zakharova arrival, foreign ministry briefings turn into drama.

Zakharova dey shout at reporters wey ask her difficult questions and respond to criticism from oda kontris wit insults.

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Spokesperson for di Russian foreign ministry Maria Zakharova is known for “theatrical” press briefings

Her diplomatic colleagues bin dey go di same way. Bondarev, wey bin dey work for Moscow mission to di UN for Geneva before, remember one meeting where di Russia delegation block all di ideas wey dem bin propose, and dis one make colleagues from Switzerland complain.

“And in response, dem tell dem, “Well, wetin be di problem? We be great power, and you be just Switzerland!’ Dat na [Russia] diplomacy for you,” Bondarev tok.

Dem dey direct dis colourful language to domestic audience instead of Russia foreign partners, Gabuev, di foreign policy analyst tok. “Her work na to evoke pride for Russia foreign policy among di electorate. Dis na mark of how diplomacy don change – E no be interface for communication wit di outside world again.”

More important target for Russia diplomats tough words na dia own oga dem, according to Bondarev.

Afta international events, participants go send official telegrams to Moscow, to summarise di meetings.

Di main focus of dis messages no be to report on real achievements and compromises but to showcase how passionately diplomats defend di kontri interests, Bondarev explain.

One typical message, according to am, go be sometin like: “We really give dem hard time! Dem even fit make sound! We heroically defend Russia interests, and di Westerners no fit do anytin!”

If everyone write about “putting Westerners for dia place”, and you write say you “achieve consensus”, dem go look at you wit disrespect. “You gatz bang di table to make dem understand,” e add.

Wia dis foto come from, Boris Bondarev

Wetin we call dis foto,

Boris Bondarev quit as a Russian diplomat over the Ukraine invasion

Bondarev remember one dinner for Geneva for January 2022 wen Ryabkov, from di foreign ministry, meet Americans.

Di First Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman wey im bin reperesent US, bin dey hope to stop di invasion of Ukraine through 11th-hour negotiations.

“E bad,” Bondarev tok. “Di Americans be like, ‘Make we negotiate.’ And instead Ryabkov begin dey shout, ‘We need Ukraine! We no go anywia witout Ukraine! Take all your tins and go back to di 1997 [Nato] borders!’ Sherman na iron lady, but I think say even her jaw drop for dis one.”

“[Ryabkov] dey always dey very polite and really nice to talk to. And now im dey bang im hand for table and tok nonsense.”

Although in recent years, di tone don change for oda kontris too, even though dai onw na small.

Some years before, Japan representative for human rights for di UN, Hideaki Ueda, bin demand say make foreign colleagues “shut up” for di meeting.

Gavin Williamson use di same words against Russia wen im bin be di UK defence secretary.

And Ukraine ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, last year call German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “offended liver sausage”.

‘US no fit snap dia fingers and end dis war’

So after one year and half of war, hopestill dey so, say diplomacy fit end di fight?

Most of di pipo wey BBC tok to for dis tori tink say e dey highly unlikely.

Usually, 95% of diplomats work dey happun off record, former diplomat Bondarev explain. E dey involve “unofficial meetings and drinking coffee”. According to am, dat kain contact don seriously reduce as dem no too get many tins to tok about.

Ambassador Kelin don chop personal ban from entering UK Parliament.

At one point, im say, Russia embassy for London bin nearly dey witout gas and electricity, and insurance companies refuse to insure di mission cars.

But, sooner or later, discussions go occur, RAND analyst Samuel Charap tok.

Di only alternative to negotiations na “absolute victory”, and e no possible say Kyiv or Moscow go fit achieve am for battlefield, im argue.

Wia dis foto come from, Getty Images

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President Putin with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

But im no dey expect say e go happun any time soon.

“Putin don change dramatically since im enta power,” im say. “And frankly, I no know weda e go dey willing to tok.”

Ukraine authorities complain say Russia dey give dem ultimatum again instead of compromise, like demanding say make Ukraine accept di annexation of occupied territories.

Kyiv no get intention to negotiate for dat kain conditions, and im Western allies dey publicly support dem for dis decision.

So as of September 2023, e be like say Russia dey rely on im military machine, intelligence services and geo-economic power for influence instead of diplomacy.

For dis yama yama sitution, why Russia diplomats dey just vote wit dia feet plus resign from foreign service altogether?

“Na problem for everibody wey don hook for dia positions for 10 to 20 years,” one former Kremlin employee, tell BBC. “Anoda life no dey for you. E dey fear.”

Former diplomat Boris Bondarev fit relate. “I know say I be very principled person,” im say. “If no be for di war, I for don stay dey manage am so. Di work no bad like dat. You sit, suffer small bit and for evening you go out… Many pipo tink di same way.”

One BBC source describe one by chance meeting wit Sergey Lavrov: “Tired man, im no too tidy. War no be im tin, but im no get anywia to go except to for retirement. Im don stay on too long. So im go just sidon dia, guard im chair.”

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