Kerry, Lavrov meet in Brockville

A red armoured vehicle drives by the Russian, Irish and British flags at the Brockville Arts Centre Saturday.


I have been barred, by three countries' national security agencies, from reporting this story.

Interestingly enough, they said nothing about a blog entry...

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry diverted his homebound plane for hastily-arranged diplomatic talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, it turns out the talks were not held in Paris, as widely reported in international media.

In fact, they happened at the Brockville Arts Centre – and they were planned long before Kerry's plane went through the elaborate fiction of a “last-minute detour” to the Brockville 1000 Islands Regional Tackaberry Airport.

According to my source in the Kremlin, who asked to be identified under the pseudonym Den Duraka, both Washington and Moscow agreed long ago on a “neutral site” for preliminary talks aimed at de-escalating the Ukraine crisis.

The State Department fought long and hard to have Moscow agree on Canada, which is not neutral in this crisis but close to the United States geographically and even closer to Russia in climate.

Negotiators conceded that the choice of Ottawa would make it look too much like a state visit, while Toronto was too conspicuous.

Duraka and his counterpart at Canada's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lirpa Loof, then negotiated over a site in the immediate area of those two cities and settled on Brockville at Lavrov's final insistence, because it was the only city in the area not to fly the Rainbow Flag during the recent Sochi Olympics.

By the time Duraka finally told me of these developments, it was early Saturday evening, Kerry and Lavrov were deep in talks in the lobby of the Arts Centre (or perhaps in the auditorium watching a re-screening of 'Gravity,” which was another of Lavrov's conditions) and a security perimeter manned by CSIS, the Russian FSB and the U.S. Secret Service surrounded the building, extending as far north as the Buell Street Bistro, as far east as Broad Street and as far west as the Brockville Country Club.

I managed to snap a shot of the Russian flag flying, appropriately, on the Arts Centre's east face before I was approached by three heavily-armed Russians who quizzed me extensively on my Ukrainian ancestry, then escorted me to the gazebo at Hardy Park.

(“Zajac? That's Ukrainian for 'Rabbit,'” one of them remarked with a contemptuous guffaw as the trio walked away.)

All three governments made extensive preparations days ahead of this supposedly last-minute meeting.

As a result, the Brockville and Area Music and Performing Arts Hall of Fame gala was stripped of its trademark white limousines at the last minute Thursday because Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown personally insisted a local company be used to ferry the dignitaries from Tincap to the Arts Centre.

The vehicles had to be retrofitted extensively to meet the security standards of the United States and Russian Federation.

Similarly, Arts Centre administrator Peter Dunn was enlisted to make the inside of the theatre look as much as possible like the Russian Ambassador's residence in Paris, to preserve the location's secrecy.

Dunn put Brockville Theatre Guild and Operatic Society set designer Calvin Prescott to the task.

The French fiction was enacted all the way to the officials' parting meal, which was intended to be a series of French dishes at the Bistro.

Further negotiations ensued, however, after which Bistro staff agreed to serve Lavrov Chicken Kiev and Kerry Boston Clam Chowder.

A Bistro server who requested anonymity tells me that, as the white limousines returned to pick up the dignitaries, Lavrov could be heard asking no one in particular: “That cultural deal between Brockville and Zabaikalsky... that's still on, right?”