Open letter to His Excellency, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation

By Ambassador (Ret.) Stefano Stefanini

Rome, May 14th, 2022

Dear Sergey,

You are surprised by Italy’s stance over Ukraine? The surprise is mutual. Yours for Italy’s position on the war in Ukraine. Mine for your choice to lend credibility to the Russian Federation’s narrative about the war itself. I admire your professionalism. But the conversations we have had over the years clash with the official defense of a war of aggression and its tragic humanitarian and political consequences.

No, I’m not going to recount what we said. Those were private conversations, with the help of a glass of vodka, between two friends and colleagues whose paths crossed – in New York, Moscow, Oslo, Corfu. Private they must remain.

I make one exception, for a sentence which was not spoken in private in Oslo in 2007 at the NATO-Russia Council. I had just been appointed ambassador to NATO. I accompanied Minister Massimo D’Alema. In shaking his hand you said to him, pointing to me: “You have a true multilateralist”. From you, a great compliment. Professional, intellectual and, above all, human. It was the legacy of our experience as young first secretaries at our respective UN representations in New York, in the early 1980s, in endless meetings of the Second Commission – and friendly matches of North vs South football.

If I was a multilateralist, what about you? You had returned to the United Nations as Permanent Representative of Russia, becoming one of the most authoritative and most listened to voices – even by those who did not agree with the positions you took. At the UN headquarters you swam like a fish in water.

If we had another face-to-face conversation today, I wouldn’t ask you if you really think that Hitler was Jewish – your Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid is taking care of that – or if the Azov battalion was nestled in the maternity ward of Mariupol hospital. But I would ask you how you reconcile the multilateralism of your DNA with the invasion of Ukraine. The war was initiated on February 24 by the Russian Federation, with no semblance of provocation or accident.

You know the United Nations Charter better than I do. By invading Ukraine, Russia is doing exactly what Article 1 categorically prohibits: “The threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. Article 51 establishes “the inherent right to individual or collective self-defense in the event of an armed attack against a member state”: exactly what Ukrainians do by defending themselves and what others, like Italy, do by helping them defend themselves.

In this war there is an aggressor and an attacked. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “There are Russian troops in Ukraine, there are no Ukrainian troops in Russia”. You were beside him. It must have been a difficult meeting. Not so much for the defense of your country’s actions: you are used to it and you are good at it. But because you had to stand up for them in the face of an interlocutor who did not come to Moscow as an adversary or an enemy. The UN Secretary General does not represent a regional organization, such as NATO or the EU. He is not biased, and you know it very well. He represents a universal organization to which you have dedicated energy and passion. How did you feel when your country gave him a farewell with two missiles that hit Kyiv during his visit – and killed civilians? Where did the multilateralism we were proud of when we met, even in opposite fields of the Cold War, end up?

So, let me conclude this letter by responding directly to your stated ‘surprise’. It is not difficult. You say you are surprised that Italy is “in the front line among those who promote anti-Russian sanctions”. Russia has forgotten the Charter, we have not. We have put it in our Constitution. We have repudiated “war as an instrument of offending the freedom of other peoples and as a means of resolving international disputes” – which is what Russia is doing. This is why we sanction Russia and will continue to do so as long as the aggression against Ukraine continues.

Obviously you don’t know us.


Stefano Stefanini
Ambassador (Ret.) of the Republic of Italy, former Permanent Representative of Italy to the North Atlantic Council and Member of The Alphen Group. This letter was first published by