Election Meddling Is Hard Work and Russia Does Not Get Enough Credit, Lavrov Jokes

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (right) at a news conference in Moscow, on December 22. Stefan Rousseau/Pool/Reuters

Updated | Russia's top diplomat announced that Moscow had spent so much effort on interfering in foreign elections over the course of 2017 that "there is not enough time for other tasks." What might sound like an official admission of some very serious allegations, however, was actually delivered as a sarcastic take by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the Kremlin's soured relationship with the West.

Lavrov spoke to pro-Kremlin network NTV for an end-of-year talk-show special, where the host picked his brain about Moscow's foreign policy, the stupidity of other international leaders and a series of accusations about wrongdoing on the global arena, which Russia denies vehemently. The host asked a tongue-in-cheek question about where the Russian government plans to interfere next after "a tough year" of allegedly meddling with voting in the U.K., France and Spain.

Read more: Who is Sergey Lavrov, Moscow's tough-talking top diplomat?

Lavrov, already smirking, pretended to take offense to the question. "You did not count up all that we have done," said Lavrov, proceeding to list elections that took part in other countries this year. "Sweden, Denmark, Montenegro, Austria, Macedonia," he said, with the host joining in to help him. "All in all, we had to work hard, of course this is not a simple thing."

"That is why we could not manage to get to other matters, which are no less important—for example, the development of cultural ties with Japan," Lavrov said, promising to fix that with the launch of a joint cultural festival soon.

"But so far, toppling the Japanese emperor has not been successful," Lavrov added, veering back to sarcasm. The host reminded Lavrov that Emperor Akihito received permission earlier this month to step down in April 2019, so he is, in fact, departing the throne. Lavrov remained poker-faced, saying: "We did everything so that this would happen sooner, but he asked for two years."

Lavrov, a veteran among Moscow's diplomats, is known for his strong-worded brush-offs to the many allegations leveled at President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy. During the U.S. election campaign last year, Lavrov responded to leaked comments about grabbing women "by the pussy" by then-candidate Donald Trump, with crass humor. After a brief disclaimer about his English, he told journalist Christiane Amanpour that there were "so many pussies" on both sides of the U.S. election that he did not where to start.

On his first visit to President Donald Trump, which came a day after Trump's controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey, Lavrov taunted journalists by feigning surprise at the news that Comey had been fired.

The headline on this story was altered to reflect that "hard work" is not a direct quote by Sergey Lavrov.