India, Australia, and South Korea have been invited to attend the G7 Summit in June 2021 to discuss coronavirus and climate change. Russia was not invited to this discussion even as a guest, despite its success in creating substances under original names – from Novichok to Sputnik. It has not been invited anywhere for a long time, and Putin himself is afraid to go to international events.
The last time Putin ventured to attend the UN General Assembly session was in 2015. Then, in September, Russia presided over the Security Council (hereinafter SC). Usually, before the presidency, the SC Secretariat holds a coordination meeting with the relevant delegation. Such meetings with SC permanent members are mostly pro forma because they already know the procedure.
But that time, together with the political coordinator of the Russian delegation and their spokesperson, two silent, scowling men, whom I had never seen before at the SC meetings, came. Having noticed my questioning look, Anna (the coordinator) explained that Putin would come to the session, his room would be at the office of the Security Council president, and those two were organising the president’s stay. I just shrugged my shoulders – the SC meeting was not planned during the general discussion, and I did not care how the Russians use their room.
The meeting came to an end when one of the gloomy Russian “diplomats” opened his mouth and, with the caricatured accent with which Russians speak in the American films, said that a phone must be installed at the office of the SC president during President Putin’s stay (he even stood up while uttering these words).
‘There is a phone there,’ I answered. ‘I can tell you the number right now.’
‘No, we need a direct communication link with the presidential suite at the Waldorf Astoria.’
‘And who will your president talk to at the hotel when he sits here?’ I asked.
‘It should be done this way,’ the “diplomats” did not take my irony.
‘Actually, I do not care as long as you do not break down the walls here by establishing your special communication links. If you really need a ‘direct phone,’ install it then,’ I brushed off. ‘But how are you going to establish that link? Are you going to put up a field telephone and unwind the wire?’
The coordinator glared at me reproachfully as if asking why I was laughing. She said goodbye and left. And I continued the conversation with the “signalers”: ‘Why do you say ‘field phone’? We will ask Verizon [local telephone company] to provide us with a secure communication link,’ the senior replied.
I even shook my head:
‘Are you going to ask the American telephone company to provide a secure communication link for the Russian president?’
‘Why not? Verizon provided such a communication link for Obama last year. We asked the American colleagues,’ he finally gave himself away.
‘It’s really no big deal but the American company provided a communication link for the American president back then, and now you want it to provide a secure link for the Russian president. Doesn’t this seem a bit non-trivial to you? However, this is your problem,’ I waved my hand.
While my interlocutors were digesting what they heard, I told them that this issue should not be resolved with me, because I am responsible only for the work of the SC. But they demanded that I, as the head of the SC Secretariat, should allow Verizon to establish a secure communication link. I got the idea that they were trying to make the Secretariat pay for installation of a secure link for Putin. Therefore, I replied that I was not going to give permission for the U.S. intelligence to eavesdrop on the Russian president. Then, they left. An hour later, a man with a typical Russian accent called on my internal phone and asked me, allegedly on behalf of the UN communications service, to apply for a secure telephone link for the office of the SC president. I was forced to rudely explain the groundlessness of his request to the interlocutor.
In the end, the secure link was not installed because there was no need for it. Putin was simply afraid of spending the night in New York, and the presidential suite reserved for him at the Waldorf Astoria remained empty. Putin flew to the UN session only to meet with Obama. The latter did not want to meet. But the Russians deliberately set up Putin’s “room” at the office of the SC president, next to a room that is traditionally “rented” by the US from the UN Secretariat during the General Assembly and used as a negotiating room for their president. The likelihood of running into Putin in the hallway was very high, and to avoid an awkward situation, Obama had to agree to a brief protocol meeting. So, Putin arrived in the morning, delivered a speech, took pictures with Obama, and flew back home. He didn’t even use a restroom. However, Russian propaganda later trumpeted that the American president was allegedly looking for a meeting with their führer and that Putin and Obama met in the “office of the Russian delegation to the SC.”
Usually, personal sanctions are not imposed on heads of state and foreign ministers. But lately, Russia has been doing everything possible to break this tradition and make itself a real outcast. For a long time, the West forgave the Putinites for their “pranks,” and Moscow believed that they would get away with it. The scandals around Navalny are not the biggest crime of the Putin regime, but they could be the last straw. If it goes on like this, then decent people will soon not only stop taking pictures with a person whom Navalny called “a frog on a pipe,” but will also refuse to stand with him on one hectare. Although, Putin is unlikely to get out of his bunker now.
Oleksandr Matsuka, diplomat, former UN Secretariat officer, Chief of the UN Security Council Secretariat Branch (2012-2016)