"I was Big Boss when the computer rush seized our civil servants. I had my aides to fish for information, and didn't need to fumble in the web. My dependence on the aides became a habit. I can use a PC, but I have none on my desk. Can't say I am the standard contemporary man in that respect," he said to the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper in an interview to appear in tomorrow's issue.
Snapshots are more precious to Mr. Lavrov than anything else in the room. The ones he cherishes most were in his New York City office when he was Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.
"Some shots, in which I am with Igor Ivanov [Russia's previous Foreign Minister, and now federal Security Council Secretary], were made on the several occasions when he was in New York City. And this here photo was made at a football match of May 2, 1992-the federal government team's maiden meet with the Moscow City Hall's. There we are, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and me, each out to tackle the other." Notable among the New York shots is the one of Madeleine Albright. Then US Ambassador to the United Nations, she was appointed Secretary of State, and was photographed with the other four ambassadors of the Security Council permanent member states at her farewell party. "I had the longest New York City work record at the time-next to Mrs. Albright, so she inscribed the photo, 'To Sergei I am passing the baton of The Five's doyen.' I arranged all those photos in my new office the first thing-I need something material to remember my previous job," says Lavrov.
A chainsmoker, he relishes a frequent cigarette in his office-and was doing so when the room was not his. "I used to have a quick cigarette at conferences Igor Ivanov was chairing. Himself a nonsmoker, boss had no objections.
"My smoking depends on my schedule. I certainly have fewer cigarettes during conferences or at the negotiating table, and more when I look through papers in my own room, especially if it's a creative work-writing or improving a text.
"I know it's a bad habit, but to give up smoking is the last thing I want to do. It doesn't tell on me-I remain a good athlete.
"I made football a regular arrangement as I came back to Moscow. I couldn't manage while in New York City. Tennis was my usual pastime there. As for football, I had to arrange myself every meet I could join. See, the men in my ambassadorial office finished playing at ten every night-the time I finished my office hours.
"Now, I play football every weekend, and go to the steambaths after.
"As for my vacations, I have no choice here, dedicated rafter that I am. Rafting with friends is the best way to get away from it all, and receive the stamina to spend the entire next year a healthy and cheerful fellow. I enjoy every moment of it-the virgin landscapes, camp pitching with axe and saw, and what not. As for camps, I make it a point to choose a good site, with a river panorama opening to all. I want everyone to feel cosy with the scanty means at my disposal. Is there anything better on earth than that?" The Altai mountains, in Siberia's south, are his favourite spot. Lavrov and his friends have been spending their vacations there for nine years now. The Altai offers the hardest routes to be found, and its scenery is unsurpassed for beauty.
"It's real sport! You negotiate rapids and then pitch camp, make a good stock of firewood-and collapse on the ground to admire the landscape. Then, you climb a mountain, or walk along a creek and, all of a sudden, see a waterfall!
"There is something else that matters. We become kind of savages as we get out there. We have only ourselves to rely on. When you go abroad, you need a guide. The bosses will never let you out without one in Africa. America has privatised everything-you're trespassing wherever you are. In other countries, you haven't the vacationer's most precious thing-the chance merely to sit round a fire in a friendly circle, when you sever all contacts with the world. There's no music, no radio- Wonderful!" The interviewer asked Sergei Lavrov whether he hoped to spare the time for all those pleasures now that he has Foreign Minister of a huge country. "I'll go on rafting. That's sure. Mustn't a diplomat have the chance to spend his well-deserved vacation in the wilderness?"