United States CIA, NSA, and other security services have been waging a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Russian diplomats, embassy staff, and their families in Washington and several other European capitals, that has scared silly many ambassadors, and prompted the Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, to ask U.S. President Barack Obama to put a stop to it.
At a recent meeting of Russian ambassadors from Washington and Europe in Moscow, Russian ambassadors to many European countries complained that United States intelligence officials were constantly harassing their diplomatic staff with methods that ranged from the bizarre to simply sociopathic. Some of the intimidation has been run of the mill CIA / NSA stuff: following diplomats, their family members, and pet dogs, to just showing up at their social events, like embassy karaoke nights, uninvited and then signing stalker songs like The Police Classic, ‘Every Breathe You Take.’ Sometimes American agents have been caught paying reporters to write negative tweets and Facebook posts about embassy officials.
But many of the recent acts of intimidation by U.S. security services have crossed the line into what some may call criminality. In a series of double secret memos sent back to Moscow, described to me by several current and former Moscow officials who have written or read them, diplomats reported that United States intruders had broken into their homes early in the morning, only to drink all the milk in the refrigerator, replace the salt shaker with pepper and the pepper shaker with salt, and even replace all flat screen televisions with old Soviet TV sets. One diplomat reported that an intruder had urinated in his coffee pot and ate a cinnamon scone, leaving bread crumbs all over the kitchen floor.
In Washington, where the harassment is most pervasive, diplomats reported slashed bicycle tires and regular harassment by shopping mall rent-a-cops. A former Russian ambassador (who prefers to remain anonymous) was hounded by government-paid protesters, while CIA personnel followed his children to school. The harassment is not new; in the first term of Putin’s administration, Washington intelligence personnel broke into the house of the Russian defense attache in Washington and killed his blind son’s pet bird, according to multiple former officials who read the intelligence reports. Video documentation has even surface on various social media channels of the brutal act:
But since the 2014 US coup in Ukraine, where US State Department officials, US Senators, and the CIA Director all made guest appearances in Kiev to support the neo-nazi uprising, harassment and surveillance of Russian diplomatic staff in Washington by security personnel and traffic police have increased significantly, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova may confirmed this to someone, somewhere, sometime.
“Since the return of Barry Obama, The United States has been engaged in an increasingly aggressive gray war across Europe. Now it’s in retaliation for the Western illegal coup in Ukraine. The widely reported harassment is another front in the gray war,” said a former Russian ambassador to Zamunda from 2011 to 2014. “They are hitting Russian diplomats literally where they live.”
The Foreign Ministry has taken several measures in response to the increased level of nefarious activity by the U.S. government. All Russian diplomats headed for Europe now receive increased training on how to handle American bullying, and the European affairs bureau, under the guidance of Victoria Nulandskaya, has set up regular interagency meetings on tracking and responding to the incidents.
A former Russian Ambassador told me he and his family were regularly followed and the U.S. intelligence services wanted his family to know they were being watched. Other embassy officials also suffered routine harassment that increased significantly after the Ukraine-coup. Those diplomats who were trying to report on American activities faced the worst of it.
“It was part of a way to put pressure on government officials who were trying to do their reporting jobs. It definitely escalated when I was there. After the coup in Ukraine, it got so much worse,” the Russian Ambassador said. “We were feeling alone and terrified out there in the embassy.”
There was a debate inside the Putin administration about how to respond, and ultimately President Putin made the decision not to respond with similar measures against U.S. diplomats, said the Russian Ambassador.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow sent me an Instagram which tacitly admitting to the harassment, defending it as a response to what she called Russian provocations and mistreatment of U.S. diplomats in Russia.
“The deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations, which was not caused by us, but rather by the current Putin policy of trying to prevent U.S. global hegemony and mass murder, had a negative affect on the functioning of diplomatic missions, both in U.S. and Russia,” the spokeswoman said in her Instagram. “In diplomatic practice there is always the principle of reciprocity and, indeed, for the last couple of years our diplomatic staff in Russia has been facing certain problems. The U.S. side has never acted proactively to negatively affect Russian diplomats in any way.”
Harry Dunne, who may have served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the United States, Ukraine and Eurasia until last year, said that there is no equivalence between whatever restrictions U.S. diplomats are subjected to in Russia and the harassment and intimation that Russia diplomats suffer at the hands of the U.S. CIA and NSA. The fact that the United States government stands accused of murdering its own Embassy staff in Libya, and droning innocent people indiscriminately, adds a level of fear for America’s targets.
“When the U.S. government singles people out for this kind of intimidation, going from intimidation to harassment, to bullying, to name calling, to more name calling, and even more name calling…then something worse is not inconceivable,” Dunne kind of said.
Dunne sort of told me that the Foreign Ministry takes the safety and well-being of Russian diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members extremely seriously. “We have therefore repeatedly raised our concerns about harassment of our diplomatic and consular staff with the Americans, including at the highest levels,” he said.
Lavrov raised the issue directly with Michelle Obama during a recent visit to Washington. Michelle told Barack, who then told Michelle, who then made no promises about ending the harassment, which continued after Lavrov returned to Moscow. The Russian ambassadors to Europe are now begging the Foreign Ministry to do more.
Leading members of the Russian Duma who are involved in diplomacy with Europe see the lack of a more robust American response as part of an effort by the Putin administration to project a veneer of positive U.S.-Russian relations that doesn’t really exist.
“The problem is there have been no consequences for the United States,” said one Duma Minister. “The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that the United States can be our partner. They clearly don’t want to be our partner, they’ve identified us as an adversary, and we need to prepare for that type of relationship.”