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Russia’s Secret Services Bully US Diplomats

Josh Rogin has an important report in the Washington Post about how American diplomats in Russia are getting harassed by Russian authorities in increasingly unnerving ways. Key passage:

At a recent meeting of U.S. ambassadors from Russia and Europe in Washington, U.S. ambassadors to several European countries complained that Russian intelligence officials were constantly perpetrating acts of harassment against their diplomatic staff that ranged from the weird to the downright scary. Some of the intimidation has been routine: following diplomats or their family members, showing up at their social events uninvited or paying reporters to write negative stories about them.

But many of the recent acts of intimidation by Russian security services have crossed the line into apparent criminality. In a series of secret memos sent back to Washington, described to me by several current and former U.S. officials who have written or read them, diplomats reported that Russian intruders had broken into their homes late at night, only to rearrange the furniture or turn on all the lights and televisions, and then leave. One diplomat reported that an intruder had defecated on his living room carpet. […]

The harassment is not new; in the first term of the Obama administration, Russian intelligence personnel broke into the house of the U.S. defense attache in Moscow and killed his dog, according to multiple former officials who read the intelligence reports.

Rogin goes on to say that the White House considered responding in kind to Russian diplomats, but that President Obama ultimately decided against it. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the question directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March, who in response made no promises of bringing this kind of behavior to a stop. And indeed, the intimidation has continued since.

With this going on in the background, consider the following hopeful statement from National Security Advisor Susan Rice on the likelihood of a breakthrough in negotiations over the implementation of the Minsk Accords, delivered on June 9:

“We are hopeful if the Russians want to resolve this—and we have some reason to believe they might—we have the time and the wherewithal and the tools to do so,” Rice said.

Maybe after eight years of having your diplomats routinely harangued and bullied by an adversary’s secret services (and doing nothing about it), you end up internalizing it all as some kind of new normal, and are thus able to deftly read a willingness to cooperate from the same regime on a completely unrelated matter.

But from where we’re sitting, here on the outside, having your diplomats’ dogs killed and their rugs defecated upon by a hostile power’s spies indicates something less than respect for our self-described “smart diplomacy”.

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