Tensions between Russia and the U.S. are heating up—and it’s not just over politics on the world stage. U.S. diplomats, embassy staff, and their families are increasingly becoming the targets of a harassment campaign by Russian intelligence and security services in Moscow and capital cities across European nations. And the intimidation tactics have only gotten worse since the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions against Moscow in 2014 over the Ukraine conflict.
The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin explains:
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.
In Moscow, where the harassment is most pervasive, diplomats reported slashed tires and regular harassment by traffic police. Former ambassador Michael McFaul was hounded by government-paid protesters, and intelligence personnel followed his children to school.
But as Rogin notes, this didn’t just start after the 2014 sanctions. It’s been going on since at least Obama’s first term in office, when Russian intelligence officials killed the U.S. defense attache’s dog after breaking into his house. Now, however, it seems to be getting worse. Earlier this month, a Russian federal security service guard who was stationed right outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow assaulted a U.S. diplomat who was about to enter the compound. The diplomat had to be flown out of the country to receive urgent medical care.
“Since the return of Putin, Russia has been engaged in an increasingly aggressive gray war across Europe,” Norm Eisen, former U.S. ambassador the Czech Republic, told the Post. “They are hitting American diplomats literally where they live.”
So what’s the U.S. response been? Aside from giving new diplomats training in how to handle the harassment and holding meetings about tracking and responding to the incidents, all Secretary of State John Kerry has done is ask Putin to stop, which, of course, was a plea that went unheeded.
In fact, the Russian Embassy in the U.S. went on to justify their actions, blaming the U.S. for starting it, if you will. Such accusations have been dismissed as nonsense, with the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia saying there’s “no equivalence between whatever restrictions Russian diplomats are subjected to in the United States and the harassment and intimidation that U.S. diplomats suffer at the hands of the Russian security services.”
And President Obama’s approach to the issue has been as feckless as Kerry’s.
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, McFaul said.
“The problem is there have been no consequences for Russia,” GOP Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, told the Post. “The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that Russia can be our partner. They clearly don’t want to be our partner, they’ve identified us as an adversary, and we need to prepare for that type of relationship.”