Who is Sergei Lavrov? All you need to know about Putin’s ‘attack dog’ foreign minister

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that a third World War would be “nuclear and destructive” and compared the Americans to “Nazis” this week.

As Russia’s top diplomat, Mr Lavrov is the steely public face of the country’s war with Ukraine.

Despite accusing others of escalating the conflict, the 71-year-old has not been afraid to make increasingly hostile comments about Ukraine and its allies.

In a press conference on Thursday, Mr Lavrov compared the US to Adolf Hitler, saying: “Napoleon and Hitler, they had the objective to have the whole of Europe under their control.

“Now Americans have got Europe under their control. And we see the situation has really demonstrated what role the EU is playing in the context of the global situation.

“They are just fulfilling a role.” Mr Lavrov insisted that Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine was an effort to “de-militarize and de-Nazify and to stop any more violence.”

Despite Russian president Vladimir Putin putting his country’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, Mr Lavrov insisted this week that the prospect of a nuclear war was “not in the heads of the Russians”. He blamed fears of an escalated conflict on the “statements of the Western politicians”.

In the role for nearly 18 years, Mr Lavrov is known to publicly dress down western politicians and journalists.

Most recently at a high-profile diplomatic meeting with the British foreign secretary Liz Truss, in which Mr Lavrov claimed their discussions were “like the conversation with a deaf person… who is here, but does not hear.”

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He reportedly swore at then British foreign secretary David Miliband on the subject of South Ossetia in 2008, telling him: “Who the f*** are you to lecture me?”

British foreign secretary Liz Truss and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov held an icy press conference in early February, which failed to de-escalate tensions between Russia and Ukraine.


So who is Sergei Lavrov?

Born in Moscow in 1950, Mr Lavrov reportedly liked physics at school but ended up studying diplomacy at the Moscow Institute of International Relations instead.

He learned Sinhalese while he was there and began his diplomatic career in Sri Lanka.

He then moved to the Department of International Economic Relations, and spent some time working in New York, before he was appointed as the Russian ambassador to the United Nations in 1994.

In late 2003, when UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tried to institute a ban on smoking at the headquarters in New York, Sergei Lavrov fought back.

He reportedly flouted the ban, and said at the time: “The UN building is owned by all the member nations while the secretary-general is just a hired manager.”

He is Russia’s longest serving foreign minister after Andrei Gromyko.

Lavrov with then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2012. The conflict in Syria was dominating public and private talks at the UN at the time.


What about his politics?

During his decades-long career, Mr Lavrov has continued to defend Russia’s interests against the US and the EU.

He has used diplomacy to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, despite Assad committing war crimes against his own citizens.

Mr Lavrov defended Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on democratic protests.

He is known as a fierce opponent and former US National Security Advisor John Bolton described him as “knowledgeable”, “professional” and “assertive on behalf of Russia”.

Lavrov and Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad enter a hall as they attend a news conference following their talks in Russia last month.


John Negroponte, a former US deputy secretary of state, told Foreign Policy that Mr Lavrov was “about as an expert a foreign minister as there is in the world today”.

“When he was at the United Nations, I think he was very much known as quite urbane, witty, implementing what the Russian government wanted him to do,” Angela Sent, a former US intelligence officer told the magazine.

“Increasingly, as the relationship with the West has gotten worse, his reputation has changed. He will now make speeches which reflect the reviews of the one person who is important to him: President Putin.”

Ambassadors and diplomats leave the room while Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov addresses them with a pre-recorded video message at the Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday.


What is his personal life like?

Unsurprisingly, Sergei Lavrov is known to be a very private person.

However the Russian investigative news outlet The Insider has reported that the foreign minister owns real estate worth more than 600 million rubles.

His country house, they report, is a white three-story mansion with a plot of 28.4 acres.

Another investigative outlet iStories alleged last year that Mr Lavrov was in a “long-standing and very close” relationship with a woman who worked in Russia’s foreign ministry.

According to flight logs obtained by iStoriesthe couple has reportedly taken several trips together, including to the southern Russian resort city of Sochi.

Mr Lavrov is married and has a daughter Ekaterina, in her 40s, who was born and raised in New York.

The foreign minister told Russian state media in 2017 that he keeps in good physical shape by playing football every week and going white water rafting every year. “Every year, I try to find several days to go on a rafting trip down some mountainous river,” he said.

In his role for nearly 18 years, Lavrov has seen relations with the West shift from near-friendly to openly hostile, plummeting to a catastrophic new low with the Russian war against Ukraine.


How close is he to Putin?

Foreign affairs commentators have said that Sergei Lavrov has succeeded so long in his job because he has not positioned himself as a challenger to Putin.

He is Putin’s mouthpiece and does not stray away from Russia’s, or Putin’s, interests. In that role he acts more as a messenger than as a key influencer of the Russian president.

Recent public appearances with both Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin have been purposefully stage managed, with Mr Putin asking questions and Mr Lavrov giving the prepared answers.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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