Monthly Archives: March 2014

I was amazed how grateful Manny was. Over lunch in the Brussels Belvedere, Jose Manuel Barroso looked like a puppy who had proudly peed for the first time on schedule. “The Americans gave me this Google Glass out of gratitude,” he showed happily. “Of course I should give it on to you since you actually published the piece, but I presume you allow me to keep it. Pretty soon the whole EU Commission will have it, and I need to take the lead. My wife says that my eyes make weird movements when she finally succeeds in taking it off me. I suppose she hadn’t noticed that my eyes did so anyhow.”

“I probably wouldn’t mind if the EU Commission all got Google Glass, especially for the official state picture,” I admitted. “It might come across a bit like the X-men or the Men in Black. But I would be more worried about the programs they are running. Did you look into that ?”

“Not yet. I have been focussing on the sanctions on Russia. Now that they have actually taken the Crimea, it has become official EU policy to impose sanctions.”

“That is silly. Russia has every right to the Crimea. That is what we discussed last time.”

“Sure. They have more right to take the Crimea than we have of blocking Scotland or Catalunya or Flanders from becoming members of the EU. Still, the rules of international diplomacy tell us that sanctions are in order. This is what international diplomats tell me, anyhow. I would tell you about our list of sanctions but apparently you are not interested so I won’t.”

“Okay, shoot.”

Manny proudly listed his EU sanctions:

“The use of the Trans Siberia Express is prohibitted, in particular the driving around in circles, while normal use of the East-West connection still is allowed, in both directions.

Use of the rocket launching places in Russia is prohibitted, except for launching a rocket.

Marriage to a Russian is prohibitted, except those marriages that occur between January 1 and December 31 of a particular year.

The import of Russian caviar is blocked, except those imports intended for the West.

At receptions at a Russian Embassy, Western diplomats will not engage in Russian polka’s or Kozak or Derwish dances, unless they are sure to beat the Russians and impress the ladies.

At negotiations on new oil and gas pipelines, the West will refuse to accept pink pipes and insist on normal grey coloured ones that blend in with the landscape.

TV stations in the West will show more often those pictures of president Putin with bare chest on horseback, while the TV presenters will laugh hysterically about the nonsense of it, though they need not hide their admiration.

Whenever a piece of Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky is played or a piece of Dostoyevsky or Pushkin is read, or a paper of Alexander Herzen is discussed, it is explained that is wasn’t made by president Putin, though he might have done it if he hadn’t been involved in saving the Crimea for Russia.”

Jose Manuel Barroso now looked like two puppies who had proudly peed for the first time on schedule.

“Okay,” I agreed. “You are set on tough negotiations with Putin. If you are wearing Google Glass, you might forget that other people don’t. So the first step is to make sure that also the Russians get it.”

Manny’s glasses flickered, so I presume that someone at Google headquarters understood.

My lunches with EU Commission President Manuel Barroso are generally rather boring but occasionally Manny springs a surprise on me. “Both the Russians and the Americans want this transcript to be leaked but they are afraid of being traced. You have a widely read weblog so you are perfectly placed for the job. You still owe me one,” he whispered yesterday. I hadn’t been aware that I owed him a favour but I can’t quite refuse when he feels like that. So here is the transcript. I include some notes within brackets for those who are new to diplomacy.


March 12, 2014. Moscow 22:00 hours. Washington 14:00 hours.

“Hello Mr President. /  Hello Mr President” (Both have been instructed to say this at the same time so that there is no discussion who is calling whom.)

Obama: “Dober dan.” (He has been told that this is Russian.)

Putin: “Dober dan.” (He has been told that this isn’t English.)

Obama: “I like to thank you for the crisis on the Ukraine. It is saving my Presidency. I seemed to be lost in frustration on national debt and health care but foreign policy allows me to be Commander in Chief again. I feel reborn.”

Putin: “Glad to be of service. It is part of Russian history to always help the West. And if we Presidents didn’t care for each other, nobody would. It is lonely at the top, isn’t it ? Perhaps you could give me an excuse to crack down on dissenting journalists again ?”

Obama: “I especially appreciate your patience now that Angela Merkel is calling you all the time. Michelle wonders whether she doesn’t have a husband she should be looking after.”

Putin (laughing): “I have an actor here, who does my voice, and who knows “Danke schön” in German. I also have a highly trained team to provide him with the empty non-committing phrases she appears to enjoy. I had to promise my actor that he would not have to meet her, for he would strangle her.”

Obama (laughing): “Well, I would  be an actor too, except for your Ambassador who is watching across the Oval Office. Would you like to say hello to each other ?”

Putin: “No, I hear his whistle now. You may block Apple and Google technology from coming to Russia but we have some elementary tricks that you seem to have forgotten about.”

Obama: “Like taking the Crimea as you have done. My compliments, Vladimir ! This will go down in history as a classic. We Americans sense that it is something like the Battle of the Alamo, and we can recognise how important that is to Russia. You have earned the warm respect and appreciation of the American people.”

Putin: “I now understand what the Battle of the Alamo means to the American people. So how would you feel if I would take the entire Ukraine ?”

Obama: “Ah, yes. I was hoping to talk about that too. Did someone ever tell you about my problems with health care in America ?”

Putin: “Why are you changing the subject ? Of course I have been told about your Health Plan. You want my advice, on how I take the Ukraine, that you might copy that for your Health Plan ?”

Obama: “I meant to say: if you would take the Ukraine then your problems would be similar like those that I have. Are you aware of the quagmire, the horror … ? It is Hell on Earth ! You have one actor now to deal with Angela Merkel, a bit like I have Joe Biden to go around and pat people on their shoulders. If you would take the Ukraine, you would need at least a hundred actors to deal with the fall-out. You know how obnoxious actors can be, even if they aren’t gay.”

Putin: “Russian actors aren’t gay.”

Obama: “Well, if you have a hundred Russian actors and you pack them in the Kremlin to control the crisis then some may well become gay. Do you really want this to happen ?”

Putin: “дooрьмо́. (“Shoot”.) Pray Mother Mary to save us !”

Obama: “Say, I have been thinking. Anyone can understand that Russia needs its naval base and cannot be dependent upon whatever government in the Ukraine. As I said, you earned the respect and the appreciation of the American People by taking the Crimea as you did. Why don’t we keep it like that ? And what if I lift most of the bans on Apple and Google technology ? My Ambassador in Moscow has been wanting to give you a smart-phone for ages.”

Putin: “Mатерщи́на. (Something about mothers.) I don’t even have a BlackBerry. You in the West always depict me as a huge dictator but the common person in the West has more power under his fingertips than I do.”

Obama whistles himself.

(67 seconds silence.)

Putin: “Okay, I want to acknowledge for diplomatic purposes that I have received a smart-phone from the US Ambassador, who has returned to his seat across the room, blowing his nose and wiping his tears. Apparently the phone comes with a prepaid annual subscription registrered at the US Embassy in Moscow to my name. I hate to say this, but do so for diplomatic purposes, that I am deeply touched. Does this mean that Americans understand that Russians are cowboys too ?”

Obama: “I presume that we will be seeing each other more often now, either at Camp David or at you dacha. Can I ask Michelle to send you the details of our diets ?”

Putin: “Ah, yes, the details.”

Obama: “And can I beg you not to tell your actor about this ? For some reason she thinks that the world is interested in her opinion, and for now I would like to keep it like that. Nothing worse than a scorned woman.”

Putin: “Of course. Well, I am holding our traditional red phone in one hand and my new smart-phone in the other. I feel torn apart. Shall we use the Apple next time ?”

Obama: “Ahem. Well, this is a bit embarrassing … We have a secure direct link now. I hesitate using my smart-phone because of all the people listening in. You understand what I mean ?”

Putin: “Ah ! Don’t forget that I was at the KGB ! You gave me a bugged phone ?”

Obama: “No, no, not at all ! A secure version, actually. But let me tell you what I understand of this NSA stuff. (…)”