- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
Few diplomats have seen quite as much success in stifling American ambitions on the world stage as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It’s even won him a nickname: Minister Nyet. But fresh off victories to eliminate Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and a deal to pause Iran’s nuclear program, Secretary of State John Kerry has shown a remarkable ability to work with a man who gleefully made life miserable for Kerry’s predecessor in Foggy Bottom. On Monday, Kerry made his latest overture in his budding romance with the Russian foreign minister, offering Lavrov an unusual gift: two sizable Idaho potatoes.
Amid some chuckles and giggles, Lavrov called the starchy tubers "impressive." Puzzled? Apparently the last time the two officials met, Lavrov had mentioned Idaho potatoes — potatoes, of course, are a basic ingredient of Eastern European cuisine. Kerry, like an attentive suitor, took notice and brought Lavrov some spuds as a show of affection ahead of a meeting in Paris as part of the run-up to peace talks in Geneva next week aimed at bringing the Syrian civil war to a close.
In return, the Russian delegation offered a traditional furry "ushanka" hat to Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson. That gift was accompanied by what must be the most Russian explanation to ever accompany a gift to a U.S. diplomat. The hat, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official Twitter account explained, would help Psaki "to stay warm & fancy during US winter storm." The hat may be a cold-weather Russian wardrobe staple, but Psaki’s came in a good-old-fashioned American shade of Barbie pink.
— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) January 13, 2014
In a remarkable departure from the acrimony that has marked U.S.-Russian relations in recent years, Maria Zakharova, deputy director of the Russian foreign ministry’s information and press department, said on Facebook that "everyone was happy."
Good thing that Kerry and Lavrov have what has been called "a good working relationship," because when potatoes get involved in politics, it’s not always pretty. In 2006, Germany and Poland became engaged in a full-on "potato war," when a German newspaper used the starchy food as an epithet towards the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski. And just last week a Zambian opposition leader was arrested and charged with defamation after he called the country’s president a potato.