Negotiations with the US Gave Russia a New Diplomacy Star

The long negotiations between Moscow and Washington on the future of NATO and other global security issues have only just begun, but they have already garnered worldwide attention for the people whose work is usually done behind the scenes. In a matter of hours, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has turned into a global media star, becoming one of the main faces of Russian foreign policy.

The fact that historically important talks between Russia and the United States are held at the level of deputy foreign ministers, about whom the general public knows little, is dictated by the low level of relations between the two countries.

No one trusts anyone, no one expects an easy walk in the park or fast success — many hours of grueling dialogue lie ahead, the responsibility for which will fall on the workhorses. If they manage to agree on some specifics, only then will the issue move to the higher levels, such as the heads of departments and then heads of state.

Both sides engaged professionals experienced in such long and difficult negotiations. As a result, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman literally woke up as stars of international politics, although they have long been in the diplomatic service.

The first round was more than seven hours long and the negotiators agreed that they managed to clarify their positions in detail. There is a lot of work ahead, so we will be hearing a lot about Sherman and Ryabkov from now on. It is not the first time they have stood on major national frontiers, but the media scrutiny of their activities has made a difference: what was formerly not known to the public is now interesting to all.

And for both Sherman and Ryabkov, what is happening could be an important step not only toward universal fame but also a step up the career ladder. Each of them has their own circumstances and their own story.

Let’s start with Sherman, whose position in American rankings is higher than Ryabkov’s in the Russian ones. He is just a deputy (Sergei Lavrov has nine deputies in total) and she is, for our money, the first deputy. Vladimir Titov, almost unknown to the Russian public, has held a similar position in the Russian Foreign Ministry for almost nine years.

Americans are more familiar with 72-year-old Sherman because the appointment of the first deputy (officially, just a deputy) at the State Department is made by the president, while other deputies on specific issues are not chosen separately, but as a package deal.

The post was introduced under Richard Nixon, and future secretaries of state have been appointed to it more than once. As a rule, such diplomats are not engaged in public work or prosecuting crimes, but in negotiations on strategic directions, which require a particularly responsible approach and do not tolerate fuss. That is why Sherman is much less well known than, for example, Victoria Nuland, even though the latter is lower in rank.

Particularly difficult negotiations with a designated enemy are, among other things, Sherman’s personal specialty. Under President Bill Clinton she conducted security dialogues with North Korea (unsuccessfully), under President Barack Obama with Iran (successfully), and under President Joe Biden, already as the first deputy, with Russia.

Interestingly, in all three cases, Republican watchdogs accused her of appeasing the aggressor, but the Democratic leadership invariably praised her for her professionalism and nerves of steel.

Depending on how the work with Ryabkov is perceived in the White House, Sherman has a chance to be promoted. Her style and approach stand in stark contrast to that of her formal boss, the ideological watchdog Antony Blinken, who displays the need to pressure Russia, not negotiate with it. In this case, the more moderate Sherman is not his type of person — she is usually connected to the Clinton clan, as well as Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, who is in conflict with the radical Blinken.

So far, Blinken has far more failures than successes — just look at the negotiations with the Chinese in Anchorage, where the sharply confrontational line of the secretary of state was fiercely opposed. If Biden rejects this line as unpromising, Sherman could become the new secretary of state as an unconditional professional with a favorable gender and background in this sense (her intra-party activities have an emphatically feminist and social context).

Ryabkov may one day be promoted, if only by virtue of the fact that he is 10 years younger than Lavrov.

He, too, is a specialist, not in dialogue with the enemy, like Sherman, but in relations with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the United States and in arms control. And although he is only now becoming famous, this career diplomat has long been well known to journalists working in Smolensk Square as an accessible, qualified and very intelligent speaker.

Now representing Moscow in the strategic talks with Washington, Ryabkov seems to have transformed himself. The unprecedentedly harsh call for NATO to pack up and the comparison of (the agency) Bloomberg to stinky cheese is, to put it mildly, not typical of him.

It seems that Ryabkov is, in a sense, playing to the public, realizing that in the circumstances presented, negotiations with the Washingtonians are not only substantive diplomatic work, of which he is a master, but also, with such public attention, an us versus them kind of show that needs special effects.

Given the considerable interest in foreign affairs that is characteristic of Russians, but not, incidentally, of Americans, the Russian Foreign Ministry has very few nationally recognizable individuals. Apart from Lavrov, only the late Vitaly Churkin and Maria Zakharova, director of the Information Department, who was given the responsibility of working with the press in a targeted and personal way, can be called such a person.

Ryabkov, for all his many merits from the past, is receiving star status only now. He is no longer just a representative of Moscow at important negotiations, but a person who shapes the image of Russian foreign policy for the international media. And, let’s face it, he is shaping it dashingly.

His professionalism leaves little doubt that Ryabkov knows how to separate diplomatic work and the show that is demanded by the arena format from the historic significance of the moment, where you must not only analyze the political process but also cheer for our people.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply