World

Ukraine triumphs on Russia's turf

26 April 2022

9:12 PM

26 April 2022

9:12 PM

‘Jaw jaw’ remarked Churchill ‘is always better than war war.’ And some of London’s finest jaws were being put to good use last night as the cream of the capital’s consular circuit mingled, chatted and wolfed down canapés at the Diplomat magazine awards. From Namibia to Nicaragua they came, packed into Mayfair’s glitzy Biltmore hotel in Grosvenor Square, ambassadors and High Commissioners aplenty.

The attractions of the evening were explained by James Landale, the BBC’s diplomatic editor, moonlighting as Master of Ceremonies for the shindig: ‘This is effectively the diplomatic office party – you can drink and gossip and moan about whoever you want with gay abandon’ as it is ‘the one reception of the year where you do not have to listen to another country’s national anthem, where none of you have to suck up to some junior minister who you find really boring.’

And the assembled envoys and emissaries certainly took that decree to heart, judging from the amount of champagne-soaked schmoozing to toast the resumption of post-pandemic diplomatic shindigs.

One of the loudest bursts of applause greeted the announcement that João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s ambassador to Britain, had been named ‘diplomat of the year from Europe’ – a tongue-in-cheek recognition, perhaps, of the problems which his appointment caused.


Vale de Almeida’s arrival in London last year caused a three-month diplomatic stand-off with Dominic Raab’s Foreign Office over whether the EU ought to have the status of an international organisation rather than a full diplomatic mission. Clearly, such little local difficulties are behind the Portuguese functionary now, as he was all smiles when collecting his award.

Referring to Landale’s welcome, he told the audience: ‘You said this is not the Oscars but this is the closest we’re going to get… for the sake of my physical security, I will not make any undue comments about the wives.’

Dismounting from the stage, he remarked to Mr S that his current office is in fact situated in Smith Square, Westminster – the former home of Conservative Central Office and scene of Margaret Thatcher’s great election night triumphs in the 1980s. Vale de Almeida now works on the floor above Maggie’s old office, where he no doubt hopes some of that lustre of greatness will rub off on him.

Yet his current set-up wasn’t the only irony of last night. For the biggest cheer of the evening went to Ukraine’s man in London, Vadym Prystaiko, winner of the ‘diplomat of the year from Eurasia and the Western Balkans.’ Sadly, the Russian ambassador’s reaction was unknown.

Prystaiko gave a moving speech in which he declared that: ‘Being in this particular nation, a nation which is supporting us militarily, humanitarily, financially – this is the pinnacle of a diplomats career.’ Yet it wasn’t till afterwards that Steerpike appreciated the irony of the location: for 16 years ago, the Biltmore was the site of the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, under its previous name of the Millennium Hotel.

What an appropriate setting to raise a glass and salute the efforts of Ukraine and its people.

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