By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, last Wednesday, January 20, with US Secretary of State, John Kerry. The meeting-room and press opportunity were set up by State Department officials. One of the Kerry delegation was Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian affairs. She is one of several Washington officials directing the war against Russia on the Ukraine front. In her arsenal, Nuland’s mouth has been used to attack European governments reluctant to join her war, as her “Fuck the EU” remark to US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, revealed at the start of 2014, before President Victor Yanukovich was ousted in Kiev.
The sequence of stills showing Lavrov greeting the US delegation for the press, ahead of the Zurich talks, has been extracted from a videotape recorded by a Russian press camera crew. Lavrov’s hand shakes every US official introduced by Kerry (1), except for Nuland. Her hand was extended (2), then slipped, or slapped past, as Lavrov turned to his left to greet each of the junior US officials lining the wall. As he did so, Lavrov presented Nuland with his right shoulder. Nuland’s mouth fell open (3); the microphones recorded that nothing came out.
On January 15, five days earlier, Nuland had met Kremlin advisor, Vyacheslav Surkov. According to the US Government organ, Radio Free Europe, and the Russian state news service, the meeting had taken place at a Russian state residence at Pionersky, near Kaliningrad city, behind closed doors. Tass reported their talks lasted for more than four hours. No photographs have been released.
The State Department announced later in the day: “The talks were constructive and designed to support the ongoing work of the Normandy countries and the Trilateral Contact Group.” Surkov told the Russian media: “We had rather substantial, constructive and helpful discussions. It was, so to speak, brainstorming on ways to find compromises in the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”
Surkov’s (below, left) meeting was endorsed by Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov (right), on January 19. He told Tass that Surkov had reported on Nuland to President Vladimir Putin. Peskov also claimed: “Regarding these talks, in this case we are talking about dialogue at the expert level between Moscow and Washington. As you know, the United States is not party to the Normandy process, at the same time, of course everyone is interested in the United States having the opportunity to receive first hand information, [despite] not being a member of the Normandy process.”
One day later, at the Zurich meeting, note the Russian flag behind Kerry (4). Minutes before the meeting commenced, the State Department organizer recorded this response to a Russian cameraman’s warning that the Russian standard was flying on its flag-pole upside down. This has been an important signal since the time of sailing ships. According to the US Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, Sect 176 (a), the display of the flag upside down is a “signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”
These images have been interpreted in the international media as indicators of Russian, also American animus towards each other, as the war to topple the Russian government enters its third year. This interpretation is mistaken. The images are signals intelligence (sigint), but they aren’t encrypted or coded. Nuland’s moves revealed her belief that she can conduct warfare without risk to herself. Her gape registered shock that she is a target.
Lavrov’s moves weren’t a display of personal pique. They communicated the conclusion of the General Staff, the intelligence services, and the Foreign Ministry that there is no point in talking to US officials like Nuland. That is because there has been nothing they have said, or signed their names to over the past two years, which can be believed. If Nuland conducts this war, Lavrov was signalling, the outcome will be decided by arms, at the front.
This was not the Nuland signal Surkov and Peskov have sent.
NOTE: an alert reader who has studied the Zurich meeting record points out that for less than a second, between 0.19 and 0.20 of the running tape, Lavrov’s hand and Nuland’s appear to touch. Comparing Lavrov’s grip and hand-shake with every other American in the room, the Nuland move is more a slip or a slide; it’s not the shake Nuland’s hand was extended for and anticipating. Watch again.