WASHINGTON — The Kremlin’s top diplomat on Friday accused the West of waging “total war” and promoting “the culture of canceling Russia,” in blistering remarks that underscore how Moscow continues to see the war in Ukraine as an existential struggle to remake the geopolitical order as opposed to a mere territorial conflict.
“The West has declared a total war on us, on the Russian world. Nobody makes any secret of this," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a meeting with regional officials. His remarks were reported by Tass, the Russian news agency.
Earlier this month, Lavrov — a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — dragged Russia into a dispute with Israel over the Holocaust. Russia believes Ukraine is rife with neo-Nazis, a claim that is not supported by evidence and is further weakened by the fact that its elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish. Lavrov bizarrely compared Zelensky to European Jews who he claimed aided their own Nazi tormentors during the Holocaust.
After days of intense criticism, Putin apologized to his Israeli counterpart, Naftali Bennett.
Speaking on Friday, Lavrov reprised Putin’s argument that Europe and the United States were engaging in “cancel culture” against Russia, in what appeared to be an effort to appeal to Western conservatives who have made similar complaints in the United States, the United Kingdom and France, among other nations.
“The culture of canceling Russia and everything related with our country has reached a point of absurdity,” Lavrov complained. “Bans have been imposed on such classics as Tchaikovsky, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Pushkin. Persecution is underway against Russian culture and art workers.”
Some pro-Putin figures, like the classical music conductor Valery Gergiev, have indeed lost commissions because of their political stances, but there has been no effort to expurgate classic works of literature and art, many of which saw Russian artists take brave stances against earlier iterations of Kremlin authoritarianism and cruelty.
In his remarks on Friday, Lavrov seemed to blame the West for the collapse of the geopolitical order that had been in place since the end of the Cold War, ignoring the fact that it was Russian invasions of Georgia (in 2008) and Ukraine (in 2014 and 2022), along with an increasingly authoritarian domestic policy, that turned the Kremlin into a pariah.
“We must realize that it has exposed the West’s real attitude to the beautiful slogans that were put forward 30 years ago after the end of the Cold War,” the foreign minister said, “the calls for universal humanitarian values, for building a common European home from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Now we can see the real worth of these fine words."
Lavrov’s comments puzzled Ian Garner, an expert in Russian media and propaganda. “It’s an interesting return to some pretty hyped up rhetoric,” Garner told Yahoo News in a text message. “The last week or two has been very quiet while things have been going comparatively well for Russia (i.e., no great disasters).”
He speculated that Lavrov’s ire may have been triggered by a forthcoming shipment of U.S. rocket launchers to Ukraine. Shipments of Western weaponry to the front in Eastern Europe have been critical in repelling the invasion by Russia, which has a much bigger military than Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine is now entering its fourth month. Russia has failed to land any decisive blows. Its gains in eastern Ukraine, the main theater of conflict, were described on Thursday as “incremental” by the Institute for the Study of War.