Lithuanians worry about fallout from Belarus sanctions
INTERVIEW: “The weekend’s protests were the Russian people's, not the opposition’s” – Maxim Reznik
Western Balkans citizens legally resident in EU equal to 14% of region’s population
International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has stripped Belarus of the right to hold the World Championship this year
Russia's Sberbank makes a move in e-commerce with Goods.ru deal
Putin strikes a conciliatory tone in his World Economic Forum speech but warns of an “all against all” fight if tensions are ignored
OUTLOOK 2021 Russia
@russian_market sacked by UBS for supporting Navalny
Public support is collapsing for The People’s Servant Party
Ukraine’s industrial output jumped 4.8% y/y in December
State-owned Ukrgasbank signs off on convertible €30mn IFC loan ahead of its privatisation
National Bank of Ukraine retains a key policy rate at 6%, the outlook of the CPI deteriorates
Estonia's two big parties agree on grand coalition
VISEGRAD BLOG: Central Europe's populists need a new strategy for Biden
LONG READ: The oligarch problem
China to be excluded from Czech tender for new Dukovany nuclear unit
Czech billionaire Kellner´s PPF makes another bid for Moneta Money Bank
Czech MPs pass protectionist food law in violation of EU rules
M&A in Central and Eastern Europe fell 16% in value in 2020, says CMS report
Hungarian government plans to regulate big tech to stop 'ban' on rightwing views
Hungarian vehicle makers hit by supply chain shortage
Protests sweep Poland after government launches near-total abortion ban
Polish parcel locker operator InPost soars in Euronext Amsterdam debut
Polish industrial production continues boom in December
OUTLOOK 2021 Slovakia
BRICKS & MORTAR: Rosier future beckons for CEE retailers after year of change and disruption
FDI inflows to CEE down 58% in 1H20 but rebound expected
BALKAN BLOG: Only better waste management can clean rivers of trash
Pandemic pushes public debt close to 80% of GDP in Albania and Montenegro
BALKAN BLOG: Superstition and resentment surround vaccination plans
Albania needs reforms for e-commerce to thrive, says World Bank
Bosnia's exports in 2020 amounted to BAM10.5bn, trade deficit to BAM6.3bn
Bulgaria’s latest nuclear u-turn
Retailers and restaurant owners threaten protests in Bulgaria if reopening is delayed
Bulgaria's Biodit first company to IPO on new BEAM market
Spring lockdown caused spike in online transactions in Croatia
ING: Growth in the Balkans: from zero to hero again?
Labour demand down 28% y/y in Croatia in 2020
Kosovo’s biggest opposition party risks being unable to run in general election
OUTLOOK 2021 Moldova
Storming parliaments: New Europe's greatest hits
World Bank revises projection for Moldova’s 2020 GDP decline to 7.2%
Montenegro’s special prosecution probes finance minister over €750mn Eurobond issue
North Macedonia’s state-owned loss-makers await new owners
North Macedonia plans to cut personal income tax in IT sector to zero in 2023
Romanian cybersecurity company Safetech floats shares amid rising investor interest
Romania government to pursue “ambitious” timetable for justice reforms
Private finance mobilised by development banks up 9% to $175bn in 2019
EBRD and WBIF support fast broadband in rural Serbia
Slovenia plans region's longest-tenor Eurobond
Slovenian crypto payment system enters Thai market
Slovenia’s economic sentiment indicator up 2.2 pp m/m in January
Slovenia lost €10bn by neglecting wood industry for decades
Turkish groceries delivery app Getir goes online in London
D’S Damat franchise deals ‘show Turkey’s hard-pressed mall operators becoming their own tenants’
Turkey’s benchmark rate held as concerns over faltering recovery come to fore
Following war with Armenia, Azerbaijan gains control of lucrative gold mines
CAUCASUS BLOG : What can Biden offer the Caucasus and Stans, all but forgotten about by Trump?
Armenia ‘to extend life of its 1970s Metsamor nuclear power plant after 2026’
OUTLOOK 2021 Azerbaijan
OUTLOOK 2021 Georgia
“Try me” not telecoms minister Iran’s president tells hardliners in internet row
Iran’s President Khamenei menaces private citizen Trump
Iran’s technology minister indicted for failing to properly implement internet censorship
No US move to rejoin Iran nuclear deal imminent, say Biden national security nominees
COVID-19 and Trump’s indifference helped human rights abusers in 2020
Central Asia vaccination plans underwhelm, but governments look unruffled
Fears of authoritarianism as Kyrgyz populist wins landslide and backing for ‘Khanstitution’
COMMENT: Mongolia is an island of democracy
OUTLOOK 2021 Mongolia
Mongolia's PM quits amid protests over treatment of mother with coronavirus and newborn baby
Mongolia's winter dzud set to be one of most extreme on record says Red Cross
Tajikistan: Writing for the president is on the wall (and then scrubbed off)
OUTLOOK 2021 Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan: How the Grinch stole New Year
COMMENT: Uzbekistan is being transformed, but where are the democratic reforms?
Download the pdf version
STOLYPIN: If Lavrov goes, can we hope for better from Russia’s diminished foreign ministry?
Is Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s time really up? And if so, will this free the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) from the last vestiges of diplomacy, or allow it to regain some of the relevance it has lost since 2014? Either way, this has significance beyond the embassies and chancelleries.
Once a legend of international diplomacy, a man whose longevity, exploits and gravel-voiced bon mots other diplomats would discuss with genuine respect, Lavrov has been steadily diminsished in stature and significance by a Kremlin that considers the MID little more than a source of information operations, a virtual offshoot of the presidential press office. Crises in Belarus, the South Caucasus and Kyrgyzstan have thrown the relative weakness of Russian foreign policy into sharp relief, and while the blame really lies with the Kremlin, MID is often the scapegoat of choice.
Notoriously, Lavrov had no role in the key decisions first to seize Crimea and then to intervene into the Donbas. Instead, he was simply expected to defend the indefensible, a role he has had to assume many times since, whether accusing the Dutch of lying about the MH17 shoot-down to “achieve their own political goals” or claiming that it was British secret services “known for their ability to act with licence to kill” who may have tried to murder Sergei Skripal (as a distraction from Brexit).
As a result, his international reputation – an absolutely crucial asset for a diplomat – has dwindled dramatically. In many ways, the turning point was at the 2015 Munich Security Conference, where his attempts to justify Russian policy in Ukraine were met not with protest but derisive laughter. For at least the last three years, there has been open discussion about life after Lavrov.
No wonder that, by all accounts, the 70-year-old has tried repeatedly to retire. (Vladimir Putin has a tendency not to want to let people go.) There are strong indications that he may at last be allowed to leave the MID’s Stalin-Gothic skyscraper on Smolensk Square – where, apparently, he goes as little as possible, these days – and after sixteen years, the ministry would have a new master. Much of this has come from the usual anonymous ruminations on Telegram channels such as Nezygar, the usual mix of accurate insider gossip, random speculation and character assassination for fun or profit, but even Ekho Moskvy’s Alexei Venediktov, a man of many contacts, considers the notion ‘not impossible.’
One scenario had him moving to the Federation Council as a presidential appointee, but while Putin’s meeting with the body in September proved less significant than expected, this is still one of a number of possibilities. It is unlikely he would simply recede into retirement, to write a memoir and watch his beloved Spartak play football.
Who would replace him, though? There are fully ten deputy ministers, but one of the reasons Lavrov has been stuck in place so long is a widespread suspicion that none are quite up to the job, especially in these difficult times and having to move out of their predecessor’s long shadow. This may be unfair, as most have serious if perhaps narrow diplomatic experience (the obvious exception being Oleg Syromolotov, transferred across from the Federal Security Service to the new and pretty meaningless role of Deputy Minister for Counter-Terrorism co-operation). Nonetheless, it does appear that the front-runners come from outside MID.
Names being bandied about include Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), perennial presidential trouble-shooter Dmitry Kozak, and at least two of the current deputy ministers.
Naryshkin’s appointment to head the SVR in 2016 never looked like a long-term appointment, and while he has been assiduous in maintaining his public profile, he has by all accounts been a relatively hands-off spymaster. What is interesting is that the SVR has itself been more active of late in commenting on wider issues in a way that inevitably intrudes onto MID’s turf, such as claiming that ‘the Americans are preparing a “revolutionary” scenario for Moldova… [because] they are not satisfied with the current head of state, I. Dodon, who maintains constructive relations with the CIS countries, including Russia.’ Thus, ‘the US State Department has ordered its embassy in Chisinau to set up the opposition in advance to organise mass protests in the event of his re-election.’
This reads like Naryshkin’s application for the job, as well as an attempt to reassure the Kremlin, if any such reassurance was needed, that he would be unflinching in his hawkishness.
Kozak, by contrast, has been relying on show more than tell. As a deputy head of the Presidential Administration, he has more direct contact with Putin. Apparently, Kozak lobbied to be sent to Bishkek as his representative for crisis talks with then-president Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Given the continuing chaos in Kyrgyzstan and the lack of any sense that Moscow is able to exert much meaningful traction there, this can hardly be considered a great success. Putin trusts Kozak and this is unlikely to change, but it may have done his chances of being foreign minister no great favours.
An appointment of an existing insider – unless it is Syromolov, which would be as alarming as it is unlikely – would probably be a technical, continuity choice, even though the specialism in question would also suggest something about the Kremlin’s priorities. First Deputy Minister Vladimir Titov is considered an EU expert, for example, while fellow deputy ministers Sergei Ryabkov and Igor Murgulov’s experience is in the US and China respectively. However, overall, continuity likely means decline.
In their more honest and unguarded moments, Russian diplomats are often very candid about the extent to which their ministry has declined in importance alongside its minister. Whole areas of policy are being driven by other institutions, whether the Defence Ministry in Syria, the Presidential Administration in Ukraine or Rosneft in Venezuela, with MID simply expected to take their lead. There are some areas of continued relevance – the Afghanistan team, for example, is still well-regarded for its expertise – but there is a sense that as soon as one of the bigger beasts in the system becomes interested in one of them, they get to take over.
This helps explain the often strident and embittered tone of much official rhetoric coming from MID these days. Theatre, like ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s frequent tirades (and off-colour jokes), is one of the few activities left to it, and it is competing with other voices, official and unofficial, to please a Kremlin with little interest in nuance and restraint. Furthermore, the stridency is one of the few outlets for diplomats who cannot scream at the Kremlin and must settle for a West they feel doesn’t understand their plight either.
If a technical replacement would mean business as usual, what about a Naryshkin or a Kozak? Naryshkin is a politician, more interested in brownie points with the Kremlin than impact abroad. He is already signalling that he would be a warfighting minister, and one eager to follow the current belligerent and aggrieved policy line rather than to change it.
Kozak, though, is essentially an administrative problem-solver. He was effective in creating a temporary stability in the North Caucasus as presidential representative, without tackling the underlying causes of turmoil. Last year, as shadow curator of the Donbas war, he made it clear that he expected neither an end to the conflict nor an escalation, and focused on making the status quo as stable and cost-effective for Moscow as possible.
As foreign minister, he might be equally pragmatic. He would not be a friend of the West by any means, but he might have a better idea of which adventures might make sense and which most certainly would not – and enough of the president’s confidence actually to be able to have some impact.
Lavrov’s, after all, is a storied past and a shabby present. MID needs a new hand for the future, and while it is tempting to think that it makes no difference who that might be, given the ministry’s diminution, things could be worse – but also better.
here to continue reading this article
and 5 more for free or purchase
12 months full website access including
the bne Magazine for just $250/year.
Register to read the bne monthly magazine for
Password could contain only
and have 8-20 symbols length.
Please complete your registration by confirming your
A confirmation email has been sent to the email
address you provided.
can't be empty.
No user with
this email address.
Access recovery request has expired, or you are using
the wrong recovery token. Please, try again.
Access recover request has expired.
Please, try again.
To continue viewing our content you need to complete
the registration process.
Please look for an email that was sent to
with the subject line
"Confirmation bne IntelliNews access". This email will have
instructions on how to complete registration
process. Please check in your "Junk" folder in
case this communication was misdirected in your
If you have any questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sorry, but you have used all your free articles fro
this month for bne IntelliNews. Subscribe
to continue reading for only $119 per year.
Your subscription includes:
For the meantime we are also offering a free
digital weekly newspaper to subscribers to
the online package.
Click here for more subscription options,
including to the print version of our
flagship monthly magazine:
Take a trial to our premium daily news
service aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging
For any other enquiries about our
products or corporate discounts please
contact us at
If you no longer wish to receive
Magazine annual print
Website & Archive
Combined package: web
access & magazine print
Take a trial to our premium daily news service
aimed at professional investors that
covers the 30 countries of emerging Europe: