MOSCOW — “Wars in Europe rarely start on a Wednesday.”
That’s how a top Russian diplomat brushed off speculation in the West that Russia could invade neighboring Ukraine as soon as Wednesday, Feb. 16.
As the U.S. and other NATO members warn of the potential for a devastating war, Russia is not countering with bombs or olive branches — but with sarcasm.
It’s a tool that officials in Moscow have long used to belittle their rivals and to deflect attention from actions seen as threatening to the West or Russia’s neighbors. Laconic quips dovetail with the Kremlin’s domestic agenda by making Russia and its all-powerful president look more cool-headed and clever than countries in the panicky, democratic West.
As worries mushroomed that Wednesday could be the day President Vladimir Putin launches an invasion of Ukraine, Russian officials ridiculed them.
In a Facebook post, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova asked the “mass media of disinformation” in the West “to reveal the schedule of our ‘invasions’ for the upcoming year. I’d like to plan my vacations.”
“To the regret of many Western media, the war again failed to start,” Zakharova said at a briefing on Wednesday. “Fighting has erupted on their pages, but it has no relation to reality.”
Ukrainians, meanwhile, have been living amid signs of a possible invasion for several weeks, with an estimated 150,000 Russian troops surrounding much of their country for military exercises. Russia said this week it was starting to pull back some troops, but Western military officials say there’s no evidence of a serious withdrawal.
Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, accused Westerners of “slander” for alleging an invasion was afoot. He insisted in an interview with German daily newspaper Welt that “there won’t be an attack this Wednesday.”
Then Chizhov added: “Wars in Europe rarely start on a Wednesday.'”
The statement seemed more flippant than historically significant. World War I started on a Tuesday and World War II started in Europe on a Friday, but Europe’s history of war over centuries includes conflicts that kicked off throughout the week.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also took the West’s growing fears lightly. Asked Wednesday whether Russia’s presidential administration operated differently overnight, he told reporters that everyone slept calmly and resumed work in the morning as usual.
“Western hysteria is still far from its culmination,” Peskov said. “We need to have patience, as the remission will not come quickly.”
The master of Russian diplomatic snark is Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He is known worldwide for his quips – often said in English — over 18 years as the Kremlin’s top diplomat.
On Wednesday, Lavrov mocked the West as sadly “lacking basic upbringing” for trying to dictate or predict Russia’s plans.
Beneath the sarcasm, Russia has narrated the current Ukraine crisis from the outset: first by moving troops toward Ukraine, then by periodically holding out the possibility of a diplomatic solution, keeping foreign officials and global markets on constant edge.
While Putin offered more talks this week, his intentions in Ukraine remain unclear. Western intelligence suggests an invasion of some kind could still happen – on a future Wednesday or any day of the week.