MOSCOW — "English is not my mother tongue; I don't know whether this may sound decent," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began, as though channeling an overwhelmed exchange student. He had been asked what he thought about Donald Trump's "Pussy" moment. Well, actually, he had been asked about Trump's "Pussy Riot" moment.
It was a trap. The trepidation was fake.
"There are so many pussies around your campaign on both sides that I would prefer not to comment," Lavrov concluded in a grave deadpan.
Such is 2016, not the first year the word "pussy" entered the elections (Hi, Clint Eastwood) but certainly the first time it has dominated multiple news cycles. Call Wednesday's remarks Moscow's most pointed commentary yet on this raucous U.S. election cycle (never mind the hacking).
"Oh my goodness, I wasn't expecting that," Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for CNN, said with a laugh. Lavrov, the veteran Russian diplomat "fond of cigars, whiskey and outfoxing the U.S.," as the New York Times once put it, chuckled. Russia's embassy in Washington, or whatever verified being runs that account, promptly tweeted it out.
Though outrageous, Lavrov's remarks fit a trend. For all the talk of Russian President Vladimir Putin praising Donald Trump (he did call Trump "talented," but not "a genius"), Russian officials have largely passed on journalists' requests to explicitly support Trump or Hillary Clinton.
But Moscow has offered indictments of the U.S. election process, saying that accusations of Moscow's meddling were a Clinton campaign scheme to divert attention from scandals in the Democratic Party. At an economic forum this summer, Putin asked journalist Fareed Zakaria: "Do you really think presidential elections there are democratic?"
Things have gotten worse since then. U.S.-Russian relations are in a nosedive, primarily over the war in Syria and the bombing of Aleppo. Amanpour may also have upset Lavrov by bringing up an old bone of contention in her question: "Russia had its own Pussy Riot moment. What do you think of Donald Trump's Pussy Riot moment?"
And Russia's senior diplomat, a gruff negotiator of the old school, enjoys the effect of a sharp word.
"Who are you to f---ing lecture me?" Lavrov told David Miliband, then-British foreign secretary, during the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, according to the Daily Telegraph. (Lavrov said he was quoting a colleague.)
Often, Russians enjoy needling Americans for their prudishness. T-shirts with Lavrov telling off Miliband have appeared from time to time in Moscow since 2008. It won't be a surprise if they print a new run tomorrow.