Tit For Tat For Tit: Russia expels two US diplomats over unprovoked attack at US Embassy Moscow

Posted: 3:12 am ET
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On June 6, a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)  guard reportedly attacked one of our accredited diplomats posted in Moscow. About three weeks later, somebody told the Washington Post about the attack.

This previously unreported attack occurred just steps from the entrance to the U.S. Embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in Moscow’s city center. After being tackled by the FSB guard, the diplomat suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries. He was eventually able to enter the embassy and was then flown out of Russia to receive urgent medical attention, administration officials confirmed to me. He remains outside of Russia.

RFE/RL reported the response from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 30  — that the guard attempted to stop the man to check his identity, but the man struck the guard in the face with his elbow before running into the embassy. “In the tussle that followed, the unknown man shoved away the guard employee and disappeared into the embassy,” she said.

Here’s TASS with a quote from the Russian deputy foreign minister about the incident:

“A video of that incident was broadcasted on July 7 by the NTV channel and speaks for itself – in the middle of the night some man wearing a hat pulled on his eyes, though it is summer, rushes from a taxi to the embassy entrance without any attempts to present a pass,” the Russian deputy foreign minister said. “Then, as the police on guard in order to prevent any threat for the diplomatic mission from the stranger, hurries to the person, the man gives him a punch by elbow into the face, thus actually committing a crime.”

Well, now, here’s the video, which was released earlier this week by Russian state-owned NTV.

Can we please file the deputy under the “Baghdad Bob” folder?

In any case, on July 7, WaPo reported that Congress is now investigating the attack on the U.S. diplomat in Moscow.

On Friday, July 8, State Department spox, John Kirby told reporters for the first time that Russian diplomats were expelled from the US on June 17 in response to the attack. “We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple years,” Kirby said.

Gotcha. One month, two days.

On July 9, Russia’s Sputnik News confirmed from the Russian Foreign Ministry that “Washington urged Russian diplomats to leave the US, while not voicing any complaints concerning their activity.”

Also on July 9, TASS reported that “two CIA officials working for U.S. Embassy were declared persona non grata.”  Apparently, Moscow has also warned Washington that “further escalation of bilateral relations will not remain unanswered.”

Here’s something to read via The American Interest:

The Obama Administration really wanted to keep this incident quiet. Whether due to wishful thinking or for reasons knowable only to those on the inside, the White House seems to think it can make progress with Russia on both the Ukraine and Syria portfolios. The harassment of State Department personnel in Moscow by security personnel was not exactly a new phenomenon, even though it had increased in intensity since Russia annexed Crimea, fought a covert war in Donbas, and had sanctions imposed on it. The White House probably saw this latest assault, egregious though it was, as fitting into a well-established pattern (one at odds with whatever hopeful signs it thought it was getting directly from the Kremlin).The Administration knew the video of the beating looked bad and could inflame U.S. domestic opinion if it leaked. But to its credit, it did not completely turn the other cheek either. Rather, it stuck to the informal, accepted procedure of quietly PNGing two Russian spies with diplomatic cover and gave zero notice to the press. Whatever the original reason for the assault, the thinking must have gone, it’s important that it not get in the way of improving relations with the Kremlin.

Read more: Kremlin Paranoia Leads to Escalation in Spy War and Why Russia Published Footage of an FSB Agent Beating an American in Moscow.

Below via the DPB with the official spox on July 8:

QUESTION: Okay. On the incident outside the Russian embassy, there’s been more comments out of Moscow or wherever. Seems like they’re bent on humiliating you over this incident. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: So I’ve been clear from the podium that we would prefer to deal with this matter in private government-to-government channels. However, because, as you noted, the Russian Government continues to make allegations about this incident, I am now compelled to set the record straight. On the 6th of June, an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself in accordance with embassy protocols, entering the American embassy compound was attacked by a Russian policeman. The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.

In addition to the attack on the 6th of June, Russian security services have intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations. We’ve privately urged the Russian Government to stop the harassment of American personnel in Russia, and as I said before, the safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION: All right. On the individual, the diplomat, there were some reports that he sustained injuries, including maybe a broken arm. Is that true, and has he since left the country, been PNGed, or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: Privacy considerations restrict me from speaking about health, and, as a standard practice, I’m not going to comment on the status of any of our employees serving overseas.

QUESTION: In Congress there’s calls for an investigation. Do you support those? Will you undertake an investigation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigation that we are going to undertake. If that changes or something, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And then what does this say about the broader U.S.-Russian relationship? Is it getting – if you can’t even operate in normal manner in the country, is it getting to a level – a worse level than it’s been in a very long time?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think it certainly speaks, as I said, of – to the kinds of harassment over the last couple of years – I mean, this is a very graphic example and a very violent one. But it comes on the heels of two years of increasing diplomatic harassment by Russian authorities that is also unprovoked and unnecessary. And as I said I think a week or so ago, Russian claims that they’re getting harassed here are simply without foundation. So you want to have a conversation about in-kind treatment, it’s time for Russia to treat our diplomats with – in the same manner in which they’re treated here when they come to the United States.

And as for the broader relationship, the – our relationship with Russia is complicated, and we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything. There are areas where we have in the past and I think we’ll continue to seek cooperation with them, such as on Syria and the political process there. There are obviously still areas where there’s tension; Ukraine and Minsk implementation is one of them, and certainly this. There’s no need for this when there’s so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia and so much real, meaningful geopolitical progress that could be had. There’s no place for this kind of treatment and there’s no reason for it.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to make an official complaint about a Vienna Convention violation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that to say today.

QUESTION: And then lastly, are – do you have – are you considering any countermeasures against Russia in terms of diplomatic presence in the United States, whether it’s expelling embassies, limiting movement, or otherwise responding to this incident?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things on there. I’d say in – certainly in a sign of how seriously we take it, as I said earlier, the Secretary raised it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the very day that it occurred.

(Ringtone plays.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: That’s okay.

We’re well aware that such efforts against U.S. personnel are not always sanctioned by all elements of the Russian Government. So we’re going to look to senior Russian officials with whom we engage to reign in those elements seeking to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in – I’m sorry – in Russia and our bilateral relationship. And again, this has been raised at the very highest levels – this particular incident – and I think you’ll continue to see us do that.

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