Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia: 'Foreign Affairs' Editor Says Lavrov's Article Withdrawal A 'Surprise'

Lavrov's piece won't make the pages of "Foreign Affairs" (official site) July 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has withdrawn an article he wrote for the U.S. journal "Foreign Affairs," accusing the editors of changing his text. It appears Lavrov's article was meant to be a response to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who wrote a piece -- published in May -- entitled "Containing Russia."

But in a statement issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov said his article was subjected to "censorship" (read the article on the site of the Russian Foreign Ministry)."Foreign Affairs" Editor James Hoge told RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher that the decision by Lavrov was "a complete surprise" and that the magazine, which is considered one of the world's most influential journals on international affairs and foreign policy, went out of its way to accommodate Lavrov.

RFE/RL: "Foreign Affairs" has been in print since 1922, and publishes articles by prominent world leaders in almost every issue. Has anything like this ever happened before?

James Hoge: We've never had anything like this happen. We've printed a number of pieces by Russian officials, including [former Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev and Russian citizens. But this is the first time this has happened, either with a Russian contributor or any other contributor.

RFE/RL: What is your response to Lavrov's criticism of how you edited -- or as he put it -- "censored" his piece?

Hoge: Well, we have rejected all suggestions of censorship and explained in some detail the process we went through with Minister Lavrov, which is no different from what we do with any other author. And his charges of censorship, which came up after the piece had been accepted and he was prepared to see it published was a total surprise to us and is kind of baffling.

"It didn't contain any surprises but I think, particularly in its edited version, it was a very clear and forceful statement of Russian positions on a number of key issues: energy, U.S. relations, relations with Europe, and so on." -- Hoge

RFE/RL: How did Lavrov come to write an essay for "Foreign Affairs" in the first place?

Hoge: He made an inquiry, would we be interested in a piece? -- and we said yes we would -- on the current trend in Russian foreign policy. He sent it in a piece, we accepted it, but said, as we do to all authors, we're going to give you some editorial suggestions. We edited the piece, sent it back to him, told him to make what changes he thought were necessary so that his view was accurately presented. He sent back the text, with some changes here and there. We put them all in the final text.

Then the Russian Embassy in Washington, which was representing his interests, complimented us on the edited version and said they looked forward to seeing it published. We then pointed out that his title [headline] for the piece, which was "Containing Russia: Back To The Future?" was fine but we would also need a subhead, which is true of all the essays we run, to try and help the reader a bit more understand why they should read the piece. And he balked at presenting one. We then said, we really have to have it, all the essays have it, it's really a format formality, you can choose the wording you want, if you want a few suggestions, we'll make them, which we did. And the next thing we know, he just sends us an e-mail withdrawing the piece with no explanation.

RFE/RL: What did you think of the piece? Did it contain any surprises?

Hoge: It didn't contain any surprises, but I think, particularly in its edited version, it was a very clear and forceful statement of Russian positions on a number of key issues: energy, U.S. relations, relations with Europe, and so on. I thought it was a very adequate kind of statement of why they're behaving the way they are and what it is they expect to get. That's it.

RFE/RL: What do you think of the ministry's statement that if the article -- as you edited it -- were published, it would "aggravate U.S.-Russian relations"?

Hoge: Well that's nonsense. The piece -- you can see because the Russian Embassy thinks it is so aggravating they have put it on the wire [newswires], which we would have done too, but we didn't want to violate his copyright -- it's a very tame piece. But if that was his sense, why didn't he say so instead of accepting the publication of it? If he thought that we were distorting his points or leaving some of the out, why didn't he say so instead of just giving us the changes he did, and then accepting the final version for publication? It makes no sense.

RFE/RL: So why do you and your editors think he did it?

Hoge: Well, I don't think I should really be speculating beyond pointing out the editorial process and the erroneous charges that he's made involving that. There is the larger political context, of course, of a much more fractious relationship between the U.S. and Russia, but exactly how that fits in, I don't know.

RFE/RL: You said you treated Lavrov's piece like you do all editorial submissions, but in fact you did make some special efforts for him -- such as letting him make changes to the text after your normal copy deadline had passed and delaying your print run.

Hoge: Yes, we held his piece open [for] some last-minute post-copy deadlines changes because of the Putin-Bush meetings in Maine, and we also held it over from our normal deadline to go to the printers to give him more time to come up with wording for a subhead. And I must say that when, instead of that, we got this one line "withdrawal," we were taken by surprise and baffled that such a small item should get in the way of us printing his piece. Then out comes his statement, which in our opinion is erroneous on every single count.

RFE/RL: With all the revisions and edits going back and forth, your editors must have had some direct e-mail contact with Lavrov. Have any of them, or you, just reached out in a personal e-mail and put it to him as a direct question: why have you reacted this way?

Hoge: No, first of all he has worked through his staff and through the [Russian] Embassy press office, rather than directly. Now, I sent a final e-mail before the withdrawal, saying frankly, "Look, just please, you pick out the wording and it can be very bland if that's a problem, but we are baffled as to why this is creating such an obstacle." And I meant for that to be transmitted to him, but I haven't heard from him personally, no.

RFE/RL: In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov's essay was meant to be a counterpoint to an essay you published in your April/May issue by the pro-Western Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko. Her piece was titled "Containing Russia" and accused Moscow of going back to the days of Soviet expansionism and urged the United States and Europe to respond strongly. Now that Lavrov's piece has been pulled from your next issue, will you run another article like his?

Hoge: First, of all that [the fact that Lavrov's essay was a counterpoint to Tymoshenko] may be the case, but when he asked if we would be interested in the piece, and all during the editing process, he never mentioned the Tymoshenko essay. So his reference to it in his post-withdrawal comments was the first we'd ever heard of it.

RFE/RL: Really? So it wasn't commissioned, and he didn't pitch it, as an answer to her piece?

Hoge: No, I have the original e-mails from his office and they make no reference to it, I have follow-up e-mails through the Russian Embassy and no mention of it whatsoever, [and there's] no mention in the text of his copy.

RFE/RL: Any chance Lavrov's piece might be resurrected and eventually run in "Foreign Affairs?"

Hoge: No. It's now out on a number of weblinks and I think that's sufficient and besides, we can't run it in the magazine, since he didn't ultimately approve it, the copyright remains with him. I also think that would be of no service at this point, as I say, the information is the article is out there for people who are interested. And frankly, I think this unfortunate incident -- which reflects something beyond the editing and presentation processes of the magazine -- should just be closed at this point.

Moscow And Washington: Toe To Toe

Moscow And Washington: Toe To Toe

U.S. President George W. Bush (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Germany on June 7 (AFP)

MOUNTING TENSIONS. Relations between Russia and the United States have grown increasingly tense in recent months as issues like missile-defense, Kosovo's status, and Russia's domestic policies have provoked sharp, public differences. On June 5, U.S. President George W. Bush said democratic reforms in Russia have been "derailed"....(more)


Silent Diplomacy Versus Public Criticism

Analysts Say New Arms Race Unlikely

Moscow's Patience With U.S., Allies 'Wearing Thin'

Russian Parliament Accuses U.S. Of Election Meddling

MORE: A special archive of RFE/RL's coverage of U.S.-Russian relations.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.