The US State Department just seems to lack attentiveness when it comes to minor details in US-Russian relations: the Russian flag was hung upside down in the conference room in Zurich ahead of a meeting between the top Russian and US diplomats.
Ahead of the key negotiations between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry on the fate of Syria, the situation in the Middle East and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, US State Department officials were left red-faced when a cameraman pointed out the fact that the Russian flag in the conference room was hanging upside down.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Glen Johnson led journalists to the appropriate rooms before the diplomatic teams arrived, a cameraman alerted the US State Department official to the obvious mistake.
“Hey Glen, the Russian flag is upside down so the colors [are] in the wrong direction,” the cameraman said.
“What, are you serious?,” Johnson replied. “You’re not bulls**tting me, right?”
“I’m not bullsh**ting you,” the cameraman confirmed.
“So the white should be on top?,” Glen Johnson double-checked, just in time to save face ahead of the diplomatic round.
The flag of Russia is a tricolor flag consisting of three equal horizontal fields: white on the top, blue in the middle and red on the bottom.
Back in 2009 the sharp-sighted cameraman was unfortunately not around to correct a previous high-profile diplomatic mistake by the US State Department team, then led by the former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton. A symbolic gift to Lavrov at the time, which was supposed to symbolize a thaw in US-Russian relations, turned out to be a total embarrassment for the entire US State Department staff.
The American side had mistakenly attached the word “peregruzka” on a gift (a ‘reset’ button symbolizing a resetting of relations). However, the Russian translation for the word “reset” was incorrect and Lavrov could not resist a lighthearted remark about the oversight.
“You’ve got it wrong,” Lavrov commented with a smile, explaining that the big red button actually read “overload” (the correct choice of word should have been ‘perezagruzka’). But the Russian minister nevertheless thanked Clinton for the warm intentions.
Thanks to the sharp-eyed cameraman, a similar embarrassment was avoided this time in Zurich.