Diplomatic Service of Russia and its Problems

We can say that a diplomatic service is the face of every state shown to the whole world. Here we should discuss what recently is going on with the Russian diplomacy. Of course, it would be hard to talk about the invisible in…

We can say that a diplomatic service is the face of every state shown to the whole world. Here we should discuss what recently is going on with the Russian diplomacy. Of course, it would be hard to talk about the invisible internal processes, which most probably are very interesting, however it is enough to discuss the major moments of this topic and so-called visible sides, which suggest that the diplomatic service of the Russian Federation is degrading alongside the present authoritarian regime of the Kremlin.  
Russia quite actively uses diplomatic missions in different countries of the world for espionage. Here, of course, Moscow is not original. The fact that intelligence agents can work ‘under the diplomatic shield’ is some type of unwritten rule of the diplomatic world. On the other hand, in this case Russia stands out for its cheeky behavior and abundance of agents. Here we can remind that after agents of the Main Intelligence Directorate supposedly tried to poison the former agent of the Russian Special Forces Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the territory of Great Britain, one of the forms of the global response to this attack was massive expulsion of the staff from the Russian Embassy. The United States of America stood out then and expelled 60 employees of the Embassy. The United Kingdom asked 23 Russian diplomats to leave their country and Ukraine expelled 13 employees of the Embassy. Most other countries that demonstrated solidarity with the UK expelled from 4 to 1 Russian diplomats. It was stated that majority of the mentioned persons were suspected of being employed as agents of the Russian intelligence under the diplomatic cover.       
Some strange scandals were associated with the Russian diplomatic service. One of them – when almost 400 kilograms of cocaine were found in the premises of the school of the Russian Embassy for children of diplomats in Argentina in 2016.  It was mentioned that the above-mentioned narcotic substances were masked as a shipment of the diplomatic mail. Finally they managed to find out that the former caretaker of the Embassy was associated with the drug smuggling and a businessman Andrei Kovalchuk was participating in the smuggling (he was arrested in Germany and deported to Russia).
Another scandal was associated with a conflict of two Russian diplomats in the Embassy in Prague. In spring 2020 news reached Czechia as if an agent from Moscow came to the country and brought poisonous agents to the territory of the country. His goal, as Czech media told was to poison the mayor of Prague because the monument to the Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev was removed in Prague. Finally it turned out that the news were fake. An employee of the Russian Embassy leaked ‘information’ after he got into a quarrel with his colleague. Finally, Prague expelled both Russian diplomats involved in the scandal, emphasizing that this incident affected bilateral relations.
Maybe we should ignore all this in making evaluation of both: the incident with cocaine and the ‘poison scandal’ in Czechia as separate and random episodes and simply accept the fact that Russian diplomatic missions abroad turn into centers of espionage. On the other hand, we have more signs that the Russian diplomatic service is degrading as it has been mentioned at the beginning of the article. 
Here we should pay some attention to participation of the Russian diplomats in spreading propaganda narratives. A case when in 2016 the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov commented the so-called incident of the ’girl Lisa’ and blamed law enforcement authorities of Germany can be taken as probably the most pronounced example. We can remind that in January of the mentioned year a notice rocked the public domain of Germany that a group of illegal migrants from the Middle East supposedly kidnapped a girl from Russian-speaking emigrant family called Lisa and gang-raped her all night. The Kremlin propaganda actively spread this story. The radical German political party Alternative to Germany caught on this story, too. As it has been already mentioned, Sergei Lavrov also commented this story. Finally it turned out that although a girl with a name Lisa actually existed and was gone for one night – she had nothing to do with illegal migrants. The minor girl spent one night at his boyfriend’s place voluntarily.   
We should mention that German diplomatic service quite strictly reacted to the comments of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany accused his colleague from Russia of using this incident ‘for political propaganda’. He also recommended Sergei Lavrov to refrain from ‘interference with a complicated internal discussion about migrants in Germany’.
We can mention other episodes, too when Russian diplomatic mission was involved in spreading propagandist narratives. Not long ago the Russian Embassy to Latvia barefaced presented interpretation of the Soviet tragic events in 1940 (we are talking about loss of Latvia’s independence) in its profiles on social networks, thus mentioning the 80th anniversary of this day   in some way). Of course, all this reflects the official position of Russia, however a strong involvement of the diplomatic service to propaganda wars demonstrates the essence of all contemporary Russian authoritarianism. Here we can also remember the previous attempts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to spread ‘all truth’ about the post-war resistance in the Baltic States.  Again, according to the Soviet tradition, struggles for independence of Lithuania. Latvia and Estonia were presented as ‘outrage of bandits’.    
We also have to consider that the current propaganda of the Kremlin quite often is rather primitive (it is making information noise but not convincing) and presents a strongly slanted view of the world. We can imagine the situation that this propaganda could be considered as a product designated just for Russian auditorium. In this case we should talk only about propaganda for internal mobilization – with all traditional tales about the ‘enemy at the gate’ ‘threatening and traitorous West’ and so on.  Meanwhile, at a higher governmental level rationality could dominate and at least pragmatic approach. The diplomatic service in particular should be a guide of such pragmatic approach in international relations. We can say that China now is realizing such a module (however, here we could argue, too).   
In any case, occurrence of propaganda narratives in the rhetoric of Russian diplomats, spreading of them via diplomatic channels (e.g. via official notes of embassies) demonstrate there is no need to speak about rationality at a higher level. Corrupt approach of both the history and reality has penetrated into all levels of Russian ‘government verticals’. We can say that this is a lethal injection namely to diplomacy as a system that is designated for keeping international relations, avoiding conflicts and settling them. Probably not accidentally rumours reached the information space in spring 2018 that Sergei Lavrov wanted to retire from the Minister of Foreign Affairs because of ‘being tired’. When in January 2020 the government of Russia resigned, he was also avoiding a direct question whether he was going to stay in the same position with the new government (which later happened). It is hard to say whether rumours about Sergei Lavrov’s ‘weariness’ actually reflected reality, however we can presume that they had some grounds. Anyway, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia is an experienced diplomat. He cannot simply not see what is going on with the service he is managing and under what conditions of the political ground – first of all internal, it has to work. Making it simple – what it is turning into. If at least one crystal of professionalism is left there – then it might be very complicated.
Viktor Denisenko 

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