It hasn’t been talked about much in the Western press, but the closure of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco was a big deal.
In fact, it was a very big deal in Moscow, and the accompanying searches of the Russian trade ministry in Washington caused an even bigger stir. The incident very much made the front pages of papers in the Russian capital, and the Russian Foreign Ministry is still tweeting like crazy in protest.
The way the Russians see it, the search by the Americans of their sovereign property in the United States was a deliberate insult and a violation of the Vienna diplomatic conventions.
Under the Vienna agreements, according to Wikipedia, the “premises of a diplomatic mission, such as an embassy, are inviolable and must not be entered by the host country except by permission of the head of the mission. Furthermore, the host country must protect the mission from intrusion or damage. The host country must never search the premises, nor seize its documents or property.” A separate article of the compact extends this protection to the private residences of the diplomats.
The State Department said the building’s diplomatic immunity expired Saturday afternoon, after which American authorities entered the building in force, inspecting even the ceiling areas and the personal rooms of Russian diplomats, according to the Russian news service Tass.
The Russian Foreign Ministry posted videos of the searches online. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “Looking at the footage of searches at Russian diplomatic missions, I realize that this was some kind of an infernal buffoonery — foolish, illegal and senseless. Maybe they wanted to insult us. Surely they did, no doubts about that. However, it’s the U.S. law enforcers whose dignity was insulted, who had to pry into other people’s corners, poke about in their closets and fake a smile while turning their faces away from cameras. I feel sorry for them.”
To show its displeasure, Russia summoned Anthony Godfrey, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, to deliver a protest note over the planned searches.
Of course, Russia has been causing problems for American diplomats in Moscow as well. There have been reports of harassment and even violence.
In my opinion, the Russian reaction springs from President Obama’s weakness and policy of appeasement. In fact, Moscow blames the sad state of affairs between the two countries squarely on the previous U.S. administration.
If the Russians interfered in our elections or are hacking our power grid or are acting with impunity in destabilizing eastern Ukraine, it is simply because they could.
What we are seeing under President Trump is not a failure to communicate; it is a good old-fashioned reset, the real kind, with no plastic buttons from Staples needed.
Mr. Trump is resetting expectations with Russia and the Kremlin. In other words, Daddy’s home. Yes, the searches were meant to humiliate; that is exactly what the administration wanted. The image of the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry basically unable to answer questions from the press about the incident in a satisfactory manner was priceless. They made Mr. Putin look weak in the eyes of the Russian people, a dangerous place for the Russian president to be. When you combine this with the reduction of visa services to the Russian population, the effect is even more striking.
Mr. Putin later commented that Russia “reserves the right” to expel another 155 American diplomats to even the ledger.
Perhaps Mr. Trump is doing this only because of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian election meddling. That, indeed, is what the media and the Left will say.
However, the people I talk to who are in the know tell me Mr. Trump is hitting Mr. Putin in exactly the right spot, right where it hurts.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.
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