Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov taunted British leaders on Thursday over their response to the war in Ukraine, and insisted Russia is ‘not ashamed of showing who we are’ when confronted over his country’s war crimes.
The Kremlin official, a long-time ally of president Vladimir Putin, goaded Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in particular, after she said last month that Russia must be defeated, saying: ‘Go on, then, do it!’
Putin’s right-hand man also parroted Moscow’s claim that ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine and the country’s growing relationship with NATO were the reasons behind Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’.
Lavrov, 72, has acted as Russia’s representative on the international stage for 18 years and has been one of the main spreaders of Kremlin propaganda surrounding the Ukraine war – resulting in Western sanctions being put on him and his daughter.
In an interview with the BBC’s Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg on Thursday, he maintained Moscow’s stance that Ukraine was the aggressor, and that Putin had no other choice but to send his forces in on February 24 to ‘de-Nazify’ the country.
Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression. The far-right enjoys scant support in the country, and president Volodymyr Zelensky is himself Jewish.
In an attempt to justify the Nazi slur against the country, Lavrov has previously made the absurd claim that Adolf Hitler himself was Jewish.
Scroll down for video
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov taunted British leaders on Thursday over their response to the war in Ukraine in an interview with the BBC. The Kremlin official, a long-time ally of president Vladimir Putin insisted Russia is ‘not ashamed of showing who we are’ when confronted over his country’s war crimes
When asked by Rosenberg about Russia’s rock-bottom relationship with Britain – which is on Moscow’s list of unfriendly countries – Lavrov said there was no longer any ‘room for manoeuvre’.
‘Both Johnson and Truss say openly that we should defeat Russia, we should force Russia to its knees. Go on, then, do it!’ he taunted. Britain has supplied Ukraine with weapons and economic support.
Truss said last month that Putin was humiliating himself with his invasion, and said: ‘we must ensure he faces a defeat in Ukraine’.
He said that Britain was ‘once again sacrificing the interests of its people for the sake of political ambitions’.
Rosenberg pressed Lavrov on the death sentences handed down by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) to two British prisoners of war – Shaun Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire, and Aiden Aslin, 28, originally from Newark.
Britain argues that Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner are legitimate members of the Ukrainian army and should be treated as prisoners of war.
But the two men – along with a third fighter from Morocco – were accused of being mercenaries after fighting with Ukrainian troops and sentenced to death last week.
Lavrov said he was ‘not interested in the eyes of the West at all. I am only interested in international law. According to international law, mercenaries are not recognised as combatants.’
He then accused the BBC of not reporting on the ‘truth’ of what was happening in eastern Ukraine prior to the February invasion, where Moscow claims Kyiv – without evidence – was carrying out genocide against Russian speaking people.
Rosenberg told Lavrov the BBC had requested access to the region on multiple occasions over a six-year period, since pro-Russian separatists began waging a war against Kyiv in 2014. The British broadcaster was refused access each time, he said.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (pictured last month at Downing Street) said last month that Putin was humiliating himself with his invasion, and said: ‘we must ensure he faces a defeat in Ukraine’. Lavrov taunted Britain to ‘Go on, then, do it!’ in his Thursday interview
The BBC reporter posited that if Genocide had taken place, the DPR would want to give access to foreign reporters so that the truth could be revealed.
‘I don’t know,’ Lavrov responded.
Despite Russia’s armies having been in Ukraine for 16 weeks, during which tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in indiscriminate attacks, Lavrov insisted to Rosenberg Moscow ‘didn’t invade Ukraine’.
‘We declared a special military operation because we had absolutely no other way of explaining to the West that dragging Ukraine into NATO was a criminal act,’ he told the veteran reporter, who is known for his forensic questioning of Russian officials.
Lavrov repeated the unsubstantiated claim that Russia is ‘de-Nazifying the country.
Rosenberg presented Lavrov of reports of atrocities carried out by Russian soldiers. In one example, the reporter told Lavrov about 360 residents of a village in the Chernihiv region who were forced to stay in the basement of a school for 28 days.
The group included 74 children and people with disabilities. 10 elderly people died during the stay in the basement that had no toilet facilities or running water.
‘Is that fighting Nazis?’ Rosenberg asked Lavrov. The Foreign Minister described the scenario as a ‘great pity’ but claimed such reports from the United Nations are often ‘fake news spread by the West.’
‘Russia is not squeaky clean. Russia is what it is. And we are not ashamed of showing who we are,’ he said.
Pictured: A grave digger prepares the ground for a funeral at a cemetery on April 21, 2022 in Irpin, Ukraine. Lavrov insisted Russia has nothing to be ashamed of when confronted with war crimes carried out by its forces during Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Lavrov was questioned by the BBC’s Russia Editor and veteran reporter, Steve Rosenberg (pictured), who is known for his forensic questioning of Russian officials – including Putin
The interview came as the UK’s chief of defence staff said Russia has already ‘strategically lost’ its war with Ukraine, suffering heavy losses and strengthening NATO.
‘This is a dreadful mistake by Russia. Russia will never take control of Ukraine,’ said Tony Radakin, the country’s highest-ranking military officer, adding it would emerge a ‘more diminished power’.
The admiral said Putin may achieve ‘tactical successes’ in the weeks to come, but had sacrificed a quarter of his country’s army power for ‘tiny’ gains and was running out of troops and high-tech missiles. ‘Russia is failing,’ he said.
The European Commission will meet Friday to give its fast-tracked opinion on Ukraine’s bid for EU candidacy, a step closer to membership for the country a day after the bloc’s most powerful leaders visited Kyiv as it battles Russia’s invasion.
Never before has an opinion been given so quickly on EU candidacy, which must be approved by all 27 member states.
The opinion will serve as a basis for discussion at next week’s EU summit, where leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status with strict conditions, though membership may take years or even decades.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi as Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz look on June 16, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with business representatives on the development of the automobile industry on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, June 16, 2022
A girl looks at her smartphone as she sits on a bench in front of residential buildings partially destroyed as a result of the shelling in town of Irpin, near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on June 16, 2022, as the Russian-Ukraine war enters its 113th day
France, Germany, Italy and Romania are in favour of Ukraine receiving ‘immediate’ candidate status, French President Emmanuel Macron said in Kyiv Thursday.
Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian premier Mario Draghi arrived in Ukraine by train and were joined by Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis before meeting Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, who has been lobbying allies for support.
‘The most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the EU,’ Draghi said at a joint press conference.
Scholz said Ukraine ‘belongs in the European family’ and that Berlin would continue to send Kyiv weapons ‘for as long as it is needed’.
After meeting the visiting leaders, Zelensky said he explained ‘essential needs in the field of defence’.
‘We are expecting new deliveries, above all heavy weapons, modern artillery, anti-aircraft defence systems,’ he said, even as Macron said France would send six Caesar self-propelled howitzers to add to the 12 already deployed on Ukraine’s eastern front.
Zelensky promised Ukraine was ready to put in the work to become an EU member.
Meet Putin’s loyal attack dog: Gruff Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was wheeled out to issue dire warnings of nuclear war, is a career civil servant who ‘bankrolled his secret mistress and owns property worth hundreds of millions of dollars’
By David Averre For Mailonline
For many, Russia’s top diplomat likely represents Putin’s harbinger of doom, remarking in March that World War III will be ‘nuclear and destructive’ in a thinly-veiled threat to NATO and the West.
But although Lavrov is tasked with delivering his President’s messages to the world with a brutal, no-nonsense style seldom associated with a negotiator, he is much more than just Putin’s mouthpiece.
The 72-year-old’s diplomatic career has spanned half a century, meaning the straight-talking senior has lived and worked through the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union – watching as his country’s relations with the West went from near-friendly to the brink of nuclear war and back again.
Like many top Russian officials and oligarchs, Lavrov became the target of personal sanctions implemented by the EU when relations plummeted to a new low as Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border.
But he is thought to own hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of property and other assets, and a report published last year revealed that Russia’s No1 diplomat has bankrolled the careers and personal lives of a secret mistress and her friends and family to boot.
Russia’s Foreign Minister, the gruff and sarcastic Sergey Lavrov, has become a notorious figure in recent months amid the invasion of Ukraine
For many, Russia’s top diplomat likely represents Putin’s harbinger of doom, delivering the President’s messages to the world with a brutal, no-nonsense style seldom associated with a negotiator. But at age 71, Lavrov is more than just Putin’s mouthpiece (Lavrov (L) pictured with Putin (R) in 2019)
His diplomatic career has spanned half a century, meaning the straight-talking senior has lived and worked through the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union – watching as his country’s relations with the West went from near-friendly to the brink of nuclear war and back again (Lavrov pictured in 2000 as Russian ambassador to the UN)
US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at the ‘Villa la Grange’, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sergey Lavrov embodies the Kremlin’s defiant posture as the country’s top diplomat with a mixture of toughness and sarcasm
Lavrov has for years weathered endless waves of speculation that he was on the verge of retirement, instead becoming one of the longest-lasting members of Putin’s Cabinet and a perennial figure among a constantly churning cauldron of foreign counterparts.
The diplomat became Russia’s foreign minister in 2004, making the length of his tenure in the position second only to that of Dr. No – the infamous Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko – and prior to that served as Russia’s chief ambassador to the UN for 10 years.
Born in Moscow to a Russian mother and Armenian father in 1950, he began his diplomatic career back in 1972 after graduating from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), when he was dispatched to serve as lowly Soviet advisor in Sri Lanka.
But Lavrov excelled and by 1981 had been made a senior advisor at the Soviet mission to the UN in New York during one of the most intense periods in the Cold War.
A younger Lavrov was a far less serious character – he was among one of MGIMO’s keenest amateur dramatics enthusiasts, performing in various plays and sketches put on by the university, and was known for his love of chatting to journalists and putting on skits with fellow diplomats during his time as UN ambassador.
Those days are long gone, though.
Since becoming foreign minister, Lavrov’s demeanour has steadily hardened and he now paints the picture of an impatient and irritable man who no longer enjoys his work and does not suffer fools easily.
In recent years his remarks directed at foreign counterparts have been derisive and laced with aggression, and he has developed a reputation for his angry diatribes at Western governments.
In 2008, Lavrov famously responded to a reprimand from then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband by snarling: ‘Who are you to (expletive) lecture me?’, and just last month snapped that talks with Liz Truss were like a ‘conversation between the deaf and the dumb’ before abandoning her at the dias.
Like his boss, Lavrov has tapped into broad public nostalgia for the country’s Soviet-era clout, and has often depicted the US as arrogant, conceited and bent on world domination, while dismissing the UK and European leaders as yes men obediently toeing Washington’s line.
And at age 71, Lavrov looks visibly bored by the daily routine of diplomacy.
He no longer bothers to hide his irritation at a naive or provocative question when sat in front of the media, often responding with an air of contempt or plain mockery, and harbours a particular distaste for photographers, showing clear annoyance at the clacking of camera shutters.
Russian Federation Ambassador Sergey Lavrov smokes while walking to a UN Security Council meeting about Iraq in November 1998. Before becoming the foreign minister, he served as Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations for 10 years and was known for his enjoyment of chatting to the media and putting on skits with other diplomats
Lavrov became Russia’s foreign minister in 2004, making the length of his tenure in the position second only to that of infamous Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko – known as Dr. No – and prior to that served as Russia’s chief ambassador to the UN for 10 years (pictured in 2010)
Like his boss, Lavrov has tapped into broad public nostalgia for the country’s Soviet-era clout, and has often depicted the US as arrogant, conceited and bent on world domination, while contemptuously dismissing the UK and European leaders as yes men obediently toeing Washington’s line
Lavrov just last month snapped that talks with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (L) were like a ‘conversation between the deaf and the dumb’ before abandoning her at the dias
Outside of diplomacy, Lavrov has followed the example set by his boss and gone to great lengths to keep his personal life private.
But Russia’s top diplomat has been embroiled in a controversy surrounding a woman believed to be his longtime mistress, Svetlana Polyakova.
A report published last year by anti-corruption publication iStories and the official website of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny alleged that Lavrov, who has been married since 1971 with a child and a pair of grandchildren, took Polyakova abroad more than 60 times on ‘diplomatic missions’ and bankrolled her luxury lifestyle.
Polyakova, who has held a position in the Russian Foreign Ministry since 2014, has travelled with Lavrov to France, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, Azerbaijan and Greece to name a few destinations, and used the foreign ministry’s plane frequently in the last eight years.
Some of the trips included luxury holidays and visits to opulent houses and yachts – among them a ship owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska – with the couple, in some instances, joined by Polyakova’s mother, daughters, and niece.
Lavrov’s mistress has also engineered senior appointments for friends and family within the foreign ministry, appeared publicly alongside President Vladimir Putin and has been named among his elite entourage.
The report found that Polyakova was so close to the foreign minister that her contact information was often listed as ‘Svetlana Lavrova’ – with some government officials believing she was Lavrov’s wife.
The investigation also uncovered Polyakova’s extraordinary wealth and family properties across Russia and the UK worth $13.6billion.
The mistress also owns at least $545,000 in luxury cars, including a Mercedes worth around $250,000.
Though this is likely a paltry sum for Lavrov, who is thought to own hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of property and other assets.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (centre) reportedly took his millionaire mistress Svetlana Polyakova (right) abroad more than 60 times on ‘diplomatic missions’ and bankrolled her luxury lifestyle
Polyakova appeared alongside Lavrov at St Sergius of Radonezh Russian orthodox church in December 2014 and has since shared an opulent lifestyle with the foreign minister
Little is known about Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s wife Maria (left) and daughter Ekaterina (centre)
The controversy surrounding Russia’s top diplomat was revealed by anti-corruption publication iStories and the official website of Alexei Navalny, one of the Kremlin’s most prominent critics who is currently in jail near Moscow
In the present day, Lavrov is one of Russia’s most recognisable figures amid the conflict in Ukraine, delivering statements and justifications for Russia’s ‘special military operation’ while denouncing the actions of Western powers.
Yesterday, he was barred from flying to Geneva to attend a UN conference after European Union members banned Russian planes from their skies as part of bruising sanctions against Moscow.
Lavrov denounced what he called the ‘outrageous’ move in a video address to the UN session, accusing EU member states of ‘avoiding a candid face-to-face dialogue or direct contacts designed to help identify political solutions to pressing international issues.’
‘The West clearly has lost self-control in venting anger against Russia and has destroyed its own rules and institutions, including respect for private property,’ Lavrov raged.
‘It’s necessary to put an end to the arrogant Western philosophy of self-superiority, exclusivity and total permissiveness.’
But Western diplomats from dozens of nations walked out of the conference room as Lavrov’s message began to play, in effect saying ‘nyet’ to him and Russian diplomacy.
In the present day, Lavrov is one of Russia’s most recognisable figures amid the conflict in Ukraine, delivering statements and justifications for Russia’s ‘special military operation’ while denouncing the reactions of Western powers
While both allies and adversaries may respect his professionalism, Lavrov has been criticised by some for toeing the Kremlin line rather than directing his own foreign policy.
Rex Tillerson reportedly said in 2017, while US secretary of state: ‘You cannot tango with Lavrov because he is not allowed to dance.’
Recent events have shown this to be the case, as Lavrov’s speeches and media addresses appear resemble more and more the echoes of Putin’s rhetoric.
Asked once what it takes to be a diplomat, Lavrov said the key qualities were being ‘erudite’ and having a good knowledge of history, adding that was important to understand the psychology and the positions of fellow negotiators across the table.
As the 50-year veteran of diplomacy moves into the final stages of his career, his counterparts are likely questioning whether Lavrov still subscribes to these ideas.