The Cable

Could Potato Diplomacy Warm Ties Between Russia and the United States?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tried to break the ice with Secretary of State John Kerry with a sack of potatoes.

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Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi Tuesday with tensions between Russia and the United States at their highest levels in decades because of Washington’s anger over Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine and Moscow’s anger at perceived Western meddling in its affairs.

Lavrov decided the best way to break the ice was with potatoes.

To open the meeting, the first time Kerry has visited Russia since the start of the Ukraine conflict last year, Lavrov presented Kerry with sacks of potatoes and tomatoes, mimicking Kerry’s gesture in 2014, when the secretary presented Lavrov with two Idaho potatoes during a meeting in Paris. A spokesman for Putin called their meeting, and the presentation of the spuds, a “positive step” in U.S-Russian relations.

But it’s also an ironic choice of a gift that didn’t come cheap, given that Western sanctions have caused the price of potatoes in Russia, a staple of its diet, to rise by 25 percent in the past year. The gift is also a not-too-subtle reminder that Russia has banned produce from Europe and the United States in response to the sanctions.

Whether Lavrov’s gift leads to a thaw in relations between Washington and Moscow remains to be seen, but diplomacy — even of the potato variety — is better than the alternative.

Photo Credit: Jim Watson/AFP

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