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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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  • Nevis07

    Well it’s no wonder that Obama’s diplomatic service has revolted against him. Turns out he’s not willing to protect Americans overseas or in our own country.

    Of course, I’d recommend turning up the heat against the Russians, but then it’s been going on so long to our diplomatic corps that it looks less like retaliation and more like an offensive increasing the chance of real conflict. Congrats Obama, nice reset! This is what weak diplomacy brings you with countries that only respect power!

  • adk

    Here’s the actual quote about Obama’s decision:

    “There was a debate inside the Obama administration about how to respond, and ultimately President Obama made the decision not to respond with similar measures against Russian diplomats, (former ambassador to Russia) McFaul said.”

    So It wasn’t simply that Obama decided not to protect his diplomats (Benghazi, anyone?), it was that his administration — Kerry, specifically, also tried to carry on business with Russia as if Putin was a partner in anything. The main goal, as Obama saw it, was not to upset Putin (same as with Iranian mullahs). Thus, we would send blankets and MRE rations to Ukraine but not weapons. We’d also ignore Russian “numerous aggressive interceptions of U.S. military aircraft in flight, especially over the Black and Baltic seas.”

    Well, as Putin once remarked, “Weakness is provocative”, and under Obama we are seen as weak. Hence the increasingly thuggish Russian behavior.

  • Andrew Allison

    “smart diplomacy” is Obama (mal)administration double-speak for “pass the Vaseline”

  • leoj

    Where’s the communiqué, Lebowski?!

  • gabrielsyme

    Let’s stop for a second to think about just how brilliant this is – most will see that Putin effectively exploits weakness, secure in the knowledge that the consequences of these activities will be minimal. But it might not appear at first glance what this gains for Russia – in other words, why bother? Firstly, it gives Putin a negotiating chip – now that this behaviour has been going on unchallenged for a time, Putin can trade kinder behaviour for real considerations. Secondly, it allows his intelligence agents to practice in the real world, while probing for security weaknesses. Thirdly, it contributes to Russia’s perception as an unpredictable wild-card, a strategic posture with significant benefits. Fourth, it allows Putin to conceal genuinely important operations under the appearance of this trouble-making.

    As usual, Putin is playing chess while Obama is playing… well, not checkers. Probably hopscotch.

  • Fat_Man

    When you show weakness like Obama has done, you invite abuse. In Russia, Putin and the boys are ROTFLTAO with what they are able to make Obama suffer.

  • Angel Martin

    One does not have to go to the crude lengths of the Russians to effectively retaliate.

    For example, feed a Russian diplomat’s dog a powerful laxative and lock it in the diplomat’s house while he is away.

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