Russia Will Not Win a Diplomatic Tit-for-Tat With the US

COMMENTARY Europe

Russia Will Not Win a Diplomatic Tit-for-Tat With the US

Sep 11th, 2017 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Helle C. Dale

Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy

Her current work focuses on the U.S. government’s institutions and programs for strategic outreach to the public of foreign countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President Donald Trump, right, meet at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS/Newscom

The recent U.S.-Russian tit-for-tat—the expulsion of diplomats and the closing of consulates—appears to be resulting in more parity of representation between the two global powers. That is no bad thing.

According to the White House, the United States and Russia now have three diplomatic facilities in each other’s countries and a like number of diplomats of about 455.

It is easy for countries like Russia, China, or Iran to exploit the openness of American society and the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression to conduct enter the media market and to spread propaganda and fake news.

The Russian government, with its extensive programs in information warfare in Western nations, including the United States, is perhaps the primary abuser of such freedoms on the international scene.

While being careful not to undermine U.S. international relations or democratic principles, the U.S. government is right to argue for parity between Russian and U.S. representations. It is a tough yet reasonable response to Russia’s own actions.

On Saturday, the Trump administration advised the Russian government that it must close its consulate in San Francisco and two trade missions, in Washington and New York respectively, in a measured response to Russia’s expulsion of 755 U.S. diplomats in July.

The Russian action in itself was a retaliation for the passage of the American Russia sanctions bill. This bill was passed by Congress in July and signed by President Donald Trump to punish Russia for its attempts to interfere in the U.S. elections, and for its invasion of Crimea and subsequent actions against Ukraine.

Before anyone bemoans the loss for international relations, it is worth recalling that there are diplomats, and then there are diplomats.

Shortly after the Russian government was told to shutter its offices in San Francisco, acrid black smoke was seen billowing from the Russian consulate. A Russian official jokingly reassured CNN that the Russians were not burning down the building. “They are not electing a Pope.”

russian consulateBlack smoke billows from the chimney of the Russian consulate in San Francisco on the last day before its ordered closure. (Photo: John Orvis / Splash News/Newscom)

Actually, what Russian staff were burning is not hard to imagine.

The Russian consulate, located conveniently on a hillside overlooking the city of san Francisco, has occupied an outstanding position for espionage and eves dropping (as indeed does the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C.).

As Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., tweeted, “If there ever was doubt that espionage was going on in the SF consulate, black smoke clears the air on the issue.”

Subsequently, the Trump administration ordered a search of the offices of the two Russian trade missions in New York and Washington—which the Russians protested, yet was in line with the Foreign Missions act of 1982.

While the back and forth between Russia and the United States may be reminiscent of the Cold War days, Russian President Vladimir Putin should be on notice that there will be pushback against Russia’s actions.

This response was measured, but firm—just as it should be.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

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