Fall of the Russian Diplomats

It seems that the word ‘fall‘ is the most appropriate, although we should talk about continuity, maybe even about a strategic tendency. The process reminded of the domino effect until it was generalized by a traditionally rev…

It seems that the word ‘fall‘ is the most appropriate, although we should talk about continuity, maybe even about a strategic tendency. The process reminded of the domino effect until it was generalized by a traditionally revengeful intention of Moscow announced on 28 April to make a list of ‘unfriendly countries’. The President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed a decree “On application of measures against foreign countries for their unfriendly acts’. The list already includes the United States, Estonia, Czechia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and United Kingdom; Australia and Canada are in the ‘waiting’ list (so far).
‘Unfriendly’ countries are not allowed to hire citizens of Russia in embassies operating in its territory, which is usually done for technical workers not to occupy quotas of the diplomatic officers. For instance, the Embassy of the United States in 2019 hired a local administrator, the Embassy of the UK was looking for a trade counsellor before Moscow included it in the list of ‘unfriendly countries, etc. After Moscow took measures cultural programs of some countries have stopped; the ambassy of the US stopped granting visas to citizens of Russia.
The situation described here probably should be considered as an ‘overture’ if such a situation (the text “Moscow is Seeking Influence by All Means) when the Czech police and the Chief Directorate for Combating Organised Crime on 17 April launched a search appeal of the known GRU agents Anatoly Chepyga and Alexander Mishkin known already from poisoning of the former Russian Counter-Intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom (UK) in Salisbury in September 2018. In Czechia both of them were suspected of contributing to the explosion in the explosive warehouse of the company Imex Group on 16 October 2014 in Vrbětice village in the east of the country at the border with Slovakia and Austria. Explosion of tens of explosives killed two people; liquidation of its outcomes lasted until September 2020 and was the most expensive in the history of Czechia.
The history experienced a diplomatic continuation when Czechia expelled 18 Russian diplomats from the country right after this fact, who were considered secret agents. The government of the country asked partners of NATO and the European Union (EU) also to expel some potential agents working in embassies of Russia.
Moscow reacted nervously as always and announced 20 employees of the Czech Embassy in Moscow persona non grata and asked them to leave Russia by 19 April. Almost all employees of the political department of the Embassy had to leave and only five Czech diplomats stayed there.
In solidarity with Czechia the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland on 15 April called up the Ambassador of Russia to hand a note announcing three employees of the Embassy in Warsaw persona non grata and the response of Moscow was expulsion of five Polish diplomats on 23 April.
On 23 April Lithuania announced about expulsion of two employees of the Russian intelligence; Latvia and Estonia expelled one Russia diplomat each, Romania expelled one and Slovakia three Russian diplomats.
A member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Maria Zakharova reacted in pugnacious spirits as always. ‘Governments of the Baltic States should not even doubt about our response. Their diplomats might already try guessing who would have to pack their belongings’. The Ambassador of Lithuania to Moscow Eitvydas Bajarūnas who was called up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia and was given a note saying about expulsion of two employees of the Embassy of Lithuania. Ambassadors of Estonia and Latvia were called up to the Ministry together, then Slovakia to be informed of expulsion of three Slovak, one Estonian and one Latvian diplomats.
After Russia expelled employees of the Lithuanian Embassy the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis on 28 April indicated that they were expecting this response, however he emphasized that in contrast to the Russian diplomats, Lithuanians did not spy Moscow. According to the Minister, who was visiting Georgia at that time, such a response was not symmetrical in this point of view.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria on 23 March announced two Russian diplomats non grata persons on other similar issue after Bulgarian prosecutors revealed the network of Russian spies recruited by GRU, as a result of which six officers of the Ministry of Defence were arrested. This was not the first expulsion from the country, in October 2019 eight Russian diplomats were asked to leave Bulgaria because of spying, in December the military attaché of Russia Vasily Sazanovich was expelled from the country for the same reason.
The response of Moscow was expulsion of two Bulgarian diplomats.
In March Italy expelled two Russian diplomats also because of the spying scandal. Russians responded by expelling ‘just’ one employee of the Italian Embassy maybe because Rome is not too ambitious and is tying to keep friendly relations with Moscow.
On 29 April the Presidential Secretary of Russia Dmitry Peskov told that Russia would not tolerate such a behaviour that is being demonstrated by Czechia, Bulgaria and Baltic States, although it wants good relations with them. It is not a very significant sign that maybe the Kremlin would like to go back to civilized relations.
On the other hand, talking about the primary ‘culprit’ Czechia it should be noted that almost at the same time information spread about circumstances of the explosion in Vrbětice village, the Mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib recalled that the Embassy of Russia has been occupying part of the capital part of Czechia in Stromovka Beubeneč district for years (since 1968 when countries of the Warsaw Treaty lead by Moscow supressed the democratic revolution in then Czechoslovakia), where Moscow built several buildings and the Orthodox church of Saint Ludmila and fenced the territory with a spectacular no see through fence.
Then a case came into the light (since 2008) with landlords regarding a villa that was nationalized after World War II and transferred to Russians by a decree, which is also used by the Embassy of Russia to Czechia and holds solemn receptions. The territory of the Embassy of Russia in Prague is simply awesome compared to others, also of the greatest Western countries and the size of which equals to a small district of the city.
On the whole, everything is not so civilized with some ‘grey’ zones in a legal point of view. It is not probable that Russian diplomats as well as their bosses in Moscow would agree to talk on these matters.
According to the political commentator of the Czech radio Libor Dvořák, reaction of Moscow to accusations and claims of Czechia to expel a big number of diplomats was strict as always, because Russia as always tries to position itself as a geopolitical power. The President of Russia Vladimir Putin in his last statement during the federal meeting of Russia held in January did not get around without remarks about ‘howking puppies’ and ‘jackals’.
Libor Dvořák indicated that he did not expect a very big reaction of the allies EU and NATO that was seen, for instance, after poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury when about twenty western countries expelled total 146 Russian diplomats. Therefore, as long as the geopolitical power of Czechia is far too lower than of the UK and because of political reputation, since the relation to Russia still splits the political class of Czechia.
However, this time East and Central Europeans presented an account for impudence, although probably it will remain just their initiative and other European states will not follow its example.
A term ‘political hooliganism’ defines an irresponsible and challenging behaviour that ignores treaties and rules in the international arena. This term suits Moscow well. According to the portal Graphika disinformation spread by Russians within the last 6 years, the ‘trolls of the Kremlin’ had posted over 300 fabricated websites. According to the number of veto Moscow is the leader among all full members of the United Nations Security Council (USA, Russia, China, France, and the UK). While France has not once used it since 1989, the US 8 times, Russians blocked resolutions of the EU for 22 times, 16 of them since 2011, the beginning of ‘mature Putinism’ era. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia quite often ‘reduced’ interstate relations to the level of a quarrel or open lie. At the beginning of Alexey Navalny poisoning ‘saga’ the Ministry blamed Germany in a murderous attempt; after a few weeks the President of Russia in the press conference ‘simply’ specified: ‘…if our secret services wanted, they would finish everything. Who needs Navalny, anyway”… and so on and so forth.
These are the forms of a ‘hooligan foreign policy’ – cyber wars and ignorance of the opinion of the international community. 44th president of the USA Barack Obama in volume I of his memoirs “The Promised Land’ described Vladimir Putin as a person who created the state to be afraid of but not followed the example of. There is no place for conscience nor high ideals in such a political reality.
A price shall be paid for a ‘special’ relation with rules. As the U.S. Deputy-Secretary General Stephen Biegun told, although Russia was trying to retain power in the Eastern Europe and the region of the Baltic Sea, the regime of Vladimir Putin is still having hard time because of persistent pressure of the West. Degradation of democracy cannot be without outcome, either. Self-isolation has become the main feature of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
As people say, constant dripping… By the way, it is also obvious that ‘stringing’ of the Kremlin would take time, which is demonstrated by a rather combative tone of its representatives.
Arūnas Spraunius

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