Rare Candor in Diplomatese

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

In diplomatic exchanges, it is all about nuances, parsings, minutiae, contextualizing, saying something and meaning/implying something very different, and conveying decisions by silence and pauses, or not stating anything at all on specific topics. But the following two examples are in stark contrast making candor a virtue, even when dripping in sarcasm:

Greece, a member of the EU, is close to economic collapse in the wake of long economic mismanagement of the country — rampant tax evasion, crony capitalism, nepotism, nexus between politicians and businesses… After the recent elections in Greece, the new leftist government’s finance minister met with Germany’s financial officials for help. Germany is the EU’s economic behemoth demanding fiscal discipline among the EU’s members. The early meetings between the two went nowhere.

In meeting reporters, Germany’s staid finance minister was trying to be diplomatic and told reporters, “We agreed to disagree.” The Greek finance minister standing by quickly offered this impolite retort: “We didn’t agree to disagree. We agreed to enter into a discussion for a joint solution for all European partners.” You figure this out.

After the Russian army entered into Crimea, a region populated by ethnic Russians in Ukraine, in early 2014, the West imposed sanctions on Russian businessmen and blacklisted many Russian businesses close to Putin. The affected Russians mocked the sanctions, wearing them as a badge of honor.

These sanctions also rankled Moscow’s politicians. Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told this gem to the Interfax news agency regarding the Russian military actions in Crimea:

“What can one advise our U.S. colleagues to do? [Go and] spend more time in the open, practice yoga… …[and] maybe watch some comedy sketch shows on TV. This would be better than winding oneself up and winding up others, … The ship has already sailed … Tantrums, weeping and hysteria won’t help.”

This quote will enter into the annals of famous quotes in international relations.   End

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