Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Saturday news show Vesti v Subbotu, Moscow, March 21, 2020
Question: For you, Sri Lanka is your youth. What did you feel when you came back here? We are now in the new Embassy building, while you worked in the old building. Still, what memories did it stir up from when you worked here?
Sergey Lavrov: Of course, I mostly remember the old building where I worked for four years. I was an aide to Soviet Ambassador Rafik Nishanov, God bless him. We created a tight-knit group of MGIMO graduates and more experienced personnel, including first secretaries and councillors. We played football and volleyball. We had a club, which no longer exists. The leased building was returned to local authorities because the new Embassy has a club on its premises.
There is one thing that comes to mind first of all. A small viper crawled into my office in the old building. The air conditioners were installed in the wall and the snake crawled through a small gap between the air conditioner and the wall. We got rid of it very quickly, but after that all offices were inspected to see if any gaps in the walls needed to be closed.
In addition to the club where we met every weekend, I also have warm memories of our sports games. By the way, we also watched films at the club. It was a good tradition. Nowadays the embassies seldom hold film screenings. Everyone can watch what they like at home.
Question: What films did you watch back then?
Sergey Lavrov: We were sent good Soviet films, which are shown on television even now. We also liked to play beach football. Diplomatic couriers delivered mail and collected our mail once a month. Many of them were good athletes, including football players who held the title of merited athlete. For example, Dynamo player Vladimir Savdunin played football with us. Others included players from the Spartak club. It was fantastic: we were very young then and we had a chance to play football with world famous athletes.
I also remember the trips we made. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. It takes a few hours’ drive to the mountains where people use wood-burning stoves, or tea plantations, the former British settlements which have been turned into recreation spots open to all.There is a place in Sri Lanka that is known as World’s End. It is believed that Adam lived there after he was expelled from Paradise. There are many interesting places on the island. I would recommend travelling there, if possible. It is a bit like Sochi, with both the sea and the mountains nearby. They don’t ski there, but the mountains are certainly good for hiking. Sri Lanka has a very interesting history. I also recommend visiting Sri Lanka’s old capital, Kandy.
We are developing bilateral tourism. I have held talks with President of Sri Lanka Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and my colleague, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and it turned out that the number of Russian tourists in Sri Lanka increased by 30 percent to some 85,000 in 2019. Our colleagues are delighted, first by the increase itself and, second, because, apart from absolute figures, Russian tourists spend more money per capita than tourists from other countries. In short, tourism has good prospects. Our mutual trade is growing as well.
I remember that the idea of a new embassy building was aired back when I was working at the Soviet Embassy here in 1975-1976. In other words, things were not moving fast enough, but it is the result that matters. I believe the result is quite good. One can live and work here very well.
Question: Do you still remember any behests or advice you received from Rafik Nishanov?
Sergey Lavrov: He is a wise man. It is difficult to formulate his behests, but he showed what diplomacy was by his very behaviour and the way he worked and communicated with our foreign colleagues. Always courteous, he never offended anyone even with a hint and he always showed that he heard what his interlocutor was saying. When your response includes minor details your interlocutor used, it shows that you listen to and hear what is being said.
Rafik Nishanov also has a fine sense of humour. When he greeted me with “Hello, Marxist” upon his arrival at the embassy – I usually sat at my desk by that time – it meant that he was in a great mood and everything went very well that day. In general, he seldom lost his temper. Of course, there were some critical situations; we had our ups and downs. There were car accidents involving our personnel, which is a nervous situation, but he always settled any problems we had, bless him.
This interview was taped during Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Sri Lanka on January 14, 2020