Posted: 12:20 pm PT
Updated 5:22 pm PT with AP news
Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued the following statement:
Despite Washington’s constant outbursts, we have adhered to responsible and reserved behaviour and have not responded to express provocations until now. However, the latest events confirm that certain circles in the US are fixated on Russophobia and open confrontation with our country.
– Therefore, we suggest our American counterparts bringing the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.
– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.
Russia reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.
Today, according to AFP, President Putin announced that 755 diplomats must leave Russia. Also a report here by Reuters. Let’s look at the numbers.
In 2007, the US Mission in Russia had a total staff of 1,878 (includes over 1300 local employees).
In October 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased operations at the insistence of the Russian Government. USAID Russia had 99 employees including over 80 employees affected by the closure.
In 2013, US Mission Russia (embassy and consulates general) employed 1,279 staff. This included 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies. The State Department typically do not have huge swings in staffing at overseas posts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan excepted), so these are probably close to the current numbers. We don’t have a count on the accompanying family members who are also on diplomatic visas.
In addition to the embassy, US Mission Russia includes consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok. (When did we close the consular agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk?)
The only way the reported numbers make sense is if President Putin is actually talking about the entire mission staff and not just American diplomats. If we go by the 2013 numbers of 1,279 total staff, and only 455 can remain per MFA Russia announcement, that leaves us with 824. That’s close to the 755 number attributed to Putin (69 difference can be attributed to changes in staffing patterns between 2013-2017). But that means, a reduction of all staff, including the local employees.
The July 28 statement from the Russian MFA also says that in “the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.”
In 1986, the then Soviet Union barred all Soviet employes from working for the U.S. Embassy or U.S. diplomats, in response to the expulsion from the United States of 55 Soviet diplomats. We’re not there yet, but this can always get worse.
Posted: 2:50 am ET
Posted: 4:23 am ET
Meanwhile in Mar-a-Lago, where President Trump is hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping:
Posted: 12:41 am ET
The U.S. Diplomacy Center was in the news recently with the opening of the Clinton Pavillion. Note that the U.S. Diplomacy Center is actively seeking artifacts that represent American diplomacy and the work of the U.S. Department of State. These artifacts can come from a variety of individuals and sources. Anyone currently or previously working in a diplomatic capacity might have objects that could be a good fit for the center’s collection. If you have items you might be interested in donating, please contact the center for more information.
As an example of a good artifact, here is a clip of Foreign Service Officer Kevin Covert who shares the powerful story behind an artifact he loaned to USDC, a baseball autographed by Russian human rights activists. Via USDC:
Posted: 1:02 pm PT
ODNI made available online the declassified intel report on Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections. It says that on December 9, 2016, President Barack Obama directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review and produce a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections. ODNI also says that “The Intelligence Community did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election, and DHS assesses that the types of systems the Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”
The original report is posted here. Or you may read the report embedded below:
Note: Click on Cloudup’s lower right hand arrow to maximize the document.
Posted: 1:32 pm PT
Related to the declaration of 35 Russian officials persona non grata for malicious cyber activity and harassment (see USG Declares 35 Russian Officials Persona Non Grata, Imposes New Sanctions), DHS and FBI also released a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) which provide details of the tools and infrastructure used by Russian intelligence services to compromise and exploit networks and infrastructure associated with the recent U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. government, political and private sector entities. Below via us-cert.gov: from the JAR: GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity. Click on image below to read the full Joint Analysis Report from DHS/FBI: JAR_16-20296. Original document is posted here.
In spring 2016, APT28 compromised the same political party, again via targeted spearphishing. This time, the spearphishing email tricked recipients into changing their passwords through a fake webmail domain hosted on APT28 operational infrastructure. Using the harvested credentials, APT28 was able to gain access and steal content, likely leading to the exfiltration of information from multiple senior party members. The U.S. Government assesses that information was leaked to the press and publicly disclosed.
Posted: 1:09 pm PT
On December 29, the State Department declared persona non grata 35 Russian officials operating in the United States “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status.” The Treasury Department also announced that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on two Russian individuals for engaging in malicious cyber-enabled activities pursuant to E.O. 13694. Specifically, Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev and Aleksey Alekseyevich Belan are being designated for their activities related to the significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for private financial gain. Meanwhile, DHS and FBI released a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) which provide details of the tools and infrastructure used by Russian intelligence services to compromise and exploit networks and infrastructure associated with the recent U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. government, political and private sector entities. Below is the State Department statement:
The State Department today declared persona non grata 35 Russian officials operating in the United States who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status. The Department also informed the Russian Government that it would deny Russian personnel access to two recreational compounds in the United States owned by the Russian Government.
The Department took these actions as part of a comprehensive response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to a pattern of harassment of our diplomats overseas that has increased over the last four years, including a significant increase in the last 12 months. This harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk. In addition, the Russian Government has impeded our diplomatic operations by, among other actions: forcing the closure of 28 American corners which hosted cultural programs and English-language teaching; blocking our efforts to begin the construction of a new, safer facility for our Consulate General in St. Petersburg; and rejecting requests to improve perimeter security at the current, outdated facility in St. Petersburg.
Today’s actions send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences.
Posted: 10:30 am PT
Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was killed on Monday, while attending an art exhibition in the Turkish capital of Ankara. Daily Sabah reports that Turkish security officials identified the attacker as Mert Altıntaş, who had graduated from İzmir Rüştü Ünsal Police Academy in 2014. Hurriyet Daily News says that Ambassador Karlov started his career as a diplomat in 1976 and worked extensively in North Korea over three decades before moving to Ankara in 2007. He became ambassador in July 2013.
Posted: 12:52 am ET
On Sunday, the Trump Transition says that “ There will be no announcements on Secretary of State until next week at the earliest.” Even as unnamed sources continue to tell members of the press that Tillerson is the pick, Reince Priebus who is slated to become President-elect Trump’s chief of staff cautioned that it’s a “little premature to be claiming” the secretary of state choice for the incoming Trump administration is a “done deal.” So until the official announcement is made, which could happen tomorrow or on Friday or whenever is the season finale, it may still be open season for the secretary of state candidates.
The secretary of state nomination has to go through a confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). That’s a 10 GOP/9 Dems split. GOP Members include Senators Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, and Rand Paul. If the nomination makes it out of the SFRC, it has to go through a full vote in the Senate. The 115th Congress includes 46 Democratic Senators, 2 Independents, and 52 Republican Senators. A simple majority vote is required to get confirmation. So the Senators. Don’t forget them, particularly the Republican Senators. Makes one wonder if the leak on Tillerson as pick is a trial balloon to see what kind of reception the nomination is going to get, and what the potential confirmation fight might look like in the Senate. Also, add this to your SOS candidate trivia. Rex Tillerson’s salary in 2015 is reportedly $27.2 million. The secretary of state’s annual salary in 2015 is $203,700.
Reactions to the potential Tillerson appointment: