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The face at the UN of a defensive Russian diplomacy

The face at the UN of a defensive Russian diplomacy

The emergency session of the Security Council in United NationsWell into the night of February 23, Vassily Nebenzia looked shocked, his face pale and his shoulders slumped.

Russia, the country he represents at the UN, had just invaded Ukraine, a move that continues to shake the world to this day.

At 60, Vassily Alekseevich Nebenzia – a balding, stocky man with thin-rimmed glasses who often fiddles with his watch – led the council.

It was a shocking first for the UN: the man who headed the imposing body dedicated to defending world peace was also the representative of a nuclear power that was at that moment unleashing war against a democracy.

Did Nebenzia know, when she opened the session and sat listening to her colleagues send pleas to Moscow to push back the armed forces surrounding Ukraine, that they had already invaded?

Did you believe the words you read in your speech?

“I don’t know, but I don’t think so,” a UN official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Numerous ambassadors shared that impression.

The Ukrainian ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, frequently asks Nebenzia if he is really in contact with Moscow.

The British envoy, Barbara Woodward, a specialist in Chinese and Russian affairs, reminded Nebenzia that “the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: ‘Man was given not only one life, but one conscience.’

“I know that you spoke today under instructions, but I ask you to faithfully report back to Moscow what you have heard today, the urgency of this Council for a call for peace.”

Nebenzia did not respond to AFP’s request for an interview.

He has resignedly toed his government’s line at emergency council meetings since the war broke out, with more sessions expected this week.

Under the exasperated gazes of his foreign colleagues, he has read speeches denying media reports of the destruction of civilian locations.

In spontaneous responses, he has occasionally used the word “war,” banned by Moscow, to refer to Ukraine. Yet he has always been careful to indicate that the word was first spoken by his boss, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The Russian system has never been so centralized,” said a Western ambassador anonymously.

Russian diplomats “are excellent professionals, but they are not in a position to interact with power, they are simply there to execute the dictates of the government, whether or not they are involved in its elaboration – usually not,” he added.

Two things at a time

At the UN, Nebenzia is known for his deep command of the issues. His career has taken him to Bangkok and Geneva, with a specialty in international organizations. He navigates the multilateral maneuvering arena with ease and uses his broad understanding of procedures to the benefit of his country.

Apart from the occasional and theatrical discussions inside the hallowed halls of the Security Council, the relationship with his colleagues is cordial and friendly and has remained so since the invasion, according to various sources.

The ambassador is a cultured man with a sense of humor.

“I can do two things at the same time,” he told AFP with a smile, after displaying his uncanny ability to deliver a speech in Russian while listening to simultaneous English translation through headphones.

The Russians are trained in this kind of multitasking, his aides say. That allows them to ensure that your messages are processed as accurately as possible in the language most will hear you, and to correct any mistakes on the spot, diplomats say.

At diplomatic receptions Nebenzia shows her cheerful side. Her favorite cocktail is “half vodka, half champagne”, she once told two French journalists.

Married and father of a son, the ambassador likes to take weekends off on his European sports bike. It is a solitary pastime that goes well with the new status that has been weighed down on him by the crisis in Ukraine.

He’s never far from drama these days though.

On February 28, during a press conference marking the end of Russia’s rotating Security Council term, he abruptly interrupted proceedings to answer his cell phone.

After listening without speaking, he hung up and announced – adopting a victim tone – that the United States had expelled 12 members of its diplomatic mission.

Sources in Washington have said that the twelve would be spies, with no connection to the war. Diplomats later told AFP they would be military.

Source: Gestion

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