Maria Zakharova, an official spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, caused an international scandal that affected Russia's ally, Serbia, by simply posting to Facebook.
Zakharova's post on Facebook shocked the political establishment both in Russia and in Serbia. Zakharova, the "face of Russian diplomacy," apologized, having habitually criticised the Serbian administration for being misunderstood.
After years of ups and downs in the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic visited the United States on September 4, 2020, and, through the mediation of his US counterpart, Donald Trump, concluded an agreement on economic cooperation with Kosovo. The agreement stipulates the following:
Formally, the agreements reached in Washington do not mean that Serbia has recognized Kosovo. Nevertheless, the Americans contributed to productive solutions, which became an important step in resolving the conflict in the region.
News from the capital of the United States went almost unnoticed by Russian federal television channels, which can only trumpet about Russia's fruitful role in solving Serbia's problems. Perhaps it was against this background that prompted Maria Zakharova to express her attitude to the event.
The publication of photographs of the meeting between Donald Trump and Alexandar Vucic, in one of which the latter was pictured sitting on a lonely chair opposite his American counterpart at his desk, triggered public reactions.
On Saturday, September 5, 2020, when Moscow was celebrating its City Day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova published a post on her Facebook page at 11:12 p.m.:
"If you are invited to the White House but your chair stands like you are in an interrogation, you should sit like in the picture number 2 (Sharon Stone's iconic pose in the 1992 film "Basic Instinct" - ed.) Whoever you are. Just trust me," Zakharova wrote.
Having identified Stone's character Chatherine Tramell with the President of Serbia, Maria Zakharova made her regular readers on Facebook shudder. Needless to say that her post raised too many eyebrows in Russia's allied country as well.
Marko Djuric, director of the office for Kosovo and Metohija at the Serbian government, was outraged by Maria Zakharova's post, who is seen as an official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry under any circumstances, even when she uses her personal Facebook account to comment:
"This president did not say a single bad word against Russia, not even in that place. That president waited for an hour and a half to be received by the Russian president and never asked for a special chair. I will not allow you to attack proud Serbia. Shame on you!" Djuric tweeted in defense of the Serbian president.
Aleksandr Vucic himself did not leave Zakharova's post without a comment either.
"I understand Zakharova, our negotiations were successful, but I'm sorry, because there too I defended our relations with Russia and refused to sign an agreement on the purchase of more expensive liquefied gas, which was in the original document. People do not appreciate the fact that Serbia is the only country, which has not imposed sanctions against Russia, that Serbia is a militarily neutral country and is not going to join NATO, that this is the only country that buys gas and weapons from them, I will not explain someone else's primitivism," the President of Serbia pointed out.
After the outbreak of the scandal, Maria Zakharova apologized and posted a new text for her readers:
"I beg your pardon, but my post was misinterpreted! Its only message was not to accept arrogant attitude on the part of the"exceptional" ones.
"Protocol tricks have become one of the techniques that American officials regularly use to artificially create the appearance of their own exceptionalism, which is unacceptable."
Apparently, Zakharova tries to backpedal on what she said, but the damage is done. She used absolutely unambiguous, understandable phrases and images. Strangely enough, her apology did not sync with the removal of the picture of Sharon Stone's legs from the post.
Zakharova received weak support from her fans, who do not see the difference between popular culture and diplomacy. Most of the comments were of the following type:
"Well done. She got nasty, apparently under influence, with one of the few conditional allies that Russia has left. The Serbs have already answered (Djuric and Defense Minister Vulin). Excellent work of a diplomat, one can analyse it with students in the diplomatic academy later."
"For such a publication, the Russian Foreign Ministry should fire Maria Zakharova. Even an apology is not enough here. This is profoundly incompetent."
"Thank you, Maria Zakharova! Now everything has become clear! The main objective of the Russian Foreign Ministry is to completely destroy respectful relations with allies, partners and friends of Russia. The results are impressive! ... Brothers, Serbs, please do not be offended by this post from Mrs. Zakharova!"
"Is it professional to write something like that? Please tell us what you do there at the Foreign Ministry, besides dancing and writing posts from schoolboy humor category? Maybe I am not an expert at intricacies of diplomacy, and your posts serve a vivid example of powerful domestic diplomatic school, but so far, apart from vulgarity and baseless mockery, I have not noticed anything else."
"And this comes from the Russian Foreign Ministry ... What a shame ... Serbs, sorry, we, the Russians, have nothing to do with her."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Aleksandr Vucic against the background of the scandal. According to news reports, the Russian minister and the Serbian president talked about friendly relations between Russia and Serbia, discussed joint projects and support for each other in the international arena.
The latter looks quite bizarre. Most likely, Lavrov called Vucic to apologise for the woman, as it was impossible to turn a blind on what she wrote.
It just so happens that President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic suffered a double blow to his reputation, which will not go unnoticed for Serbian voters. Not only was he ridiculed by a Russian official, but it was not his Russian counterpart, who apologised for the confusing situation.