And with Russia of all places. This is my shocked face…
In late December of last year, during the initial fallout of America realizing Russia’s campaign to influence the election had been more broad than originally thought, the Obama administration grasped a few last breaths. They retaliated against the Russian campaign in a few of the ways it had remaining. We seized two compounds in Maryland and New York, long operated by the Russian state for various diplomatic and business interests, but had long been suspected of being home to intelligence operations as well. Our government followed this action by subsequently expelling 35 diplomats and state operatives, accusing them of intelligence efforts.
The seizure wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, since there were already increased tensions in Moscow last year, with Russian security services harassing American staff and even physically assaulting a diplomat outside the entrance to the US embassy in Moscow. The Obama administration had threatened to shut down the two seized properties then, but did not do so.
The action was, at the time laughed off by the Russian leadership, but the trump administration sought almost immediately to salve the wound. In early May of this year, the US government offered to return the properties in exchange for approval of American attempts to build a new embassy in Moscow, which itself was frozen by the Russian government in response to the 2014 sanctions levied by western nations for it’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, two days later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian ambassador Segey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and dropped any connection between the two. We were no longer asking for a fair trade. Why did we surrender our leverage in the discussion? No one knows. Perhaps unrelated (but not necessarily), in 2012, Rex Tillerson was recipient of Russia’s highest honor of a foreign national, the “order of friendship.” We won’t get into that here.
Now, the Post is reporting that the trump administration is considering the return of the compound without any trade at all. While no agreement has been formally reached, the administration is evaluating possible restrictions placed on the properties and its inhabitants, such as removing diplomatic immunity from them.
The move comes while Russia reorganizes the deck of international representation. America’s most infamous Russian, Sergey Kislyak is set to be replaced by new ambassador Anatoly Antonov, set to take the reins sometime this summer. Antonov, a general in Russia’s armed forces, is known as a hardliner against the west, and is particularly steely against the United States. Kislyak, for his service, appears slated to take over as undersecretary of counterterrorism at the United Nations. He served as US ambassador since 2008.
In the end, the shift within the last month from a seemingly fair trade to a diplomatic gift does not appear to be diplomacy at all, but simple surrender. It’s an odd turn of events for an administration that claims to be such a great deal maker.
No matter where one sits on the current investigations into election meddling, the reality is that Russia did invade Ukraine in 2014. And in response to resulting sanctions from the United States, Russia froze our construction plans in Moscow for our own diplomatic operations. Then, two years later, Russia did involve itself in an effort to influence the US election for president. Those efforts ranged from gathering voter info and hyper-targeting individuals with propaganda, to hacking operations and massive, coordinated social media trolling. The reasons for Russia’s involvement may vary, but it happened. Everyone, including the president himself has accepted this. So, the full surrender on the compound seizure appears weak at best, and suspect at worst. In the least, the optics are terrible. Even the Kremlin’s Yury Ushakov acknowledged the “political situation” faced by the American administration, but said Russia may be open to some reciprocation if the US adjusted it’s position.
I don’t understand the gestures at all. Our president spends more time criticizing our closest democratic and economic allies than publicly acknowledging what the Republican Party has long understood (but apparently completely forgotten within the last 10 months) – Russia is aggressive, and a geopolitical foe. How things change.
Since when do we send flowers ahead of crossing the bridge, before getting our own hostages in return? Every time you look at how this administration handles Russian affairs, you wonder why anyone would not expect tensions to exist between Washington and Berlin… or London… or Paris… rather than Moscow.
If I had a time machine, I would go back to the Republican Party of November, 2014. We were awesome then, and still had a soul.