In the past couple of days, there were two major diplomatic scandals at the international level. One concerns the Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, who grossly insulted the Chancellor. The other concerns Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov’s offhand remarks in an interview regarding anti-Semitism, which immediately riled the political establishment in Israel. Though both incidents have been featured in news bulletins, neither has been approached from the angle of investigative journalism.
When Ambassador Andrij Melnyk accused Olaf Scholz of behaving like “an offended liver sausage” for refusing to visit Kyiv, that caught the attention of not only German media, but global media. The term “offended liver sausage” may have seemed peculiar to English speakers, but it clearly was not meant as a compliment.
The Daily Beast went further than most of the press in identifying the term as a German colloquialism “commonly employed to describe someone as a prima donna.” They connected this insult to the head of government with a tit-for-tat by the Chancellor: in the preceding month, Zelensky had refused to receive German head of state Frank-Walter Steinmeier because of his past close ties to Moscow and this motivated Scholz’s decision not to go.
However, the nominally investigative journalists of The Daily Beast looked no further. Neither this paper nor mainstream has asked and then answered persuasively why Kiev would intentionally offend the most powerful country within the EU, upon whom it greatly depends for military and economic assistance. Some put it down to the ambassador’s personal views. Others are simply confounded. No one has considered that the spat Kiev’s man on the spot has initiated with Scholz might be a calculated intervention in German domestic politics, with a view to pushing the indecisive Scholz out of power. The Chancellor is known to be under threat from other members of his own party and from coalition partners who would gladly replace him with someone more committed to helping the Ukrainian cause with action and not just words.
The case of Lavrov’s remarks about Jews and anti-Semitism has received even less penetrating analysis. He is quoted in the press as having said that Hitler also had Jewish blood and that the worst anti-Semites are found among Jews. These words were instantly denounced by the Israeli government, which called for an apology.
The Western press was equally quick to remark how Lavrov had precipitated what can only be a cooling of relations with Israel. Jerusalem would now surely abandon its claims to be an honest broker and would align itself more closely with Kiev. In Washington and London, editors were gleeful.
However, no one asked the question which begs to be addressed: how, why would Sergei Lavrov, who is surely the most experienced diplomat on the world stage, make remarks that could only do damage to Russian-Israeli relations?
I admit that there is an innocuous explanation. Lavrov intended his words as a counter to Western denial that Kiev is a Nazi-dominated regime on grounds that President Zelensky himself is Jewish. But Lavrov had to be aware how Jerusalem would react to his words, so we should look further.
Let me hazard a guess. Lavrov knew well what he was doing and probably had discussed this subject with his boss, Vladimir Vladimirovich, before he opened his mouth.
The Russians are very dissatisfied with Israel over its past military cooperation with Ukraine, and Lavrov’s statement was only the opening round. If we go back to the very first days of Russia’s ‘special military operation,’ when they took control of the Zaporozhye nuclear power station and seized there documents relating to Ukraine’s efforts to build a ‘dirty nuclear weapon,’ the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that there were foreign enablers active there. Then the next day, unexpectedly and in great haste, Israeli Prime Minister Bennett flew to Moscow for unscheduled talks with Putin. Almost nothing was disclosed about the subject of their talks. But subsequently the foreign enablers were never identified by the Russians.
Though I have been praised by some readers for avoiding ‘speculation,’ I will permit myself just this once to speculate: it is not inconceivable that the Israelis were among the key advisers to Kiev on its program to build nuclear weapons. If that is so, we may expect Russian-Israeli relations to get a lot worse in the coming weeks and months.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022