The Mail on Sunday
A furry hat in the middle of a thaw? How little Truss grasps about Russia
WHEN Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stepped out in Red Square in a furry hat and coat, left, her clothes summed up just how little she grasps about modern realities in Russia. She must have been sweltering.
Local media mocked her for being wildly overdressed in the middle of a thaw. Though one theory says that Ms Truss will wear almost anything to get herself photographed in a Thatcherish pose, and of course the Iron Lady famously wore a fur hat when she went to Moscow.
The weather is just one of many things which have changed since then. When I lived there in the early 1990s, winters were ferociously cold. The river froze hard enough to walk on. You had to use vodka to de-ice your windscreen. Climate change has made it much warmer.
Likewise, modern Russia is a mediumsized oil power, not a global giant, and it is absolutely not Communist. Whether President Putin is clinically insane enough to invade Ukraine we shall shortly learn. But I doubt that Ms Truss’s brief visit to the Russian capital will have made much difference. For in an incident which British media have been coy about reporting, she showed a terrible ignorance of Russia. Ms Truss was holding forth fiercely to the grumpy, sweary old crocodile Sergei Lavrov, the Kremlin’s veteran foreign minister. According to one of the better Moscow newspapers, Kommersant, Ms Truss
told Lavrov that Russia should pull back its troops from the Ukraine border. Lavrov said the troops had a perfect right to be there, then (perhaps sarcastically) asked: ‘Do you recognise the sovereignty of Russia over the Rostov and Voronezh regions?’ Both areas are firmly inside Russia.
But Ms Truss retorted: ‘Great Britain will never recognise Russian sovereignty over these regions.’ British Ambassador Deborah Bronnert then had to ‘tactfully explain’ to Ms Truss that they were Russian territory.
I put this account to Whitehall sources and they responded with a ‘non-denial denial’ in which nobody would actually say Ms Truss had not uttered the words attributed to her. Such is the force and mind of British diplomacy in these times.
I have long pointed out that it has been a positive disadvantage, in any British debate on Russia, to know anything about the subject. Similarly,
knowledge of Iraq was a handicap in influencing the debate on invading that country in 2003. But if the heir of Lord Palmerston does not even know where Russia ends and where Ukraine begins, would she (and we) not be wiser to keep out of any quarrels on the subject?