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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Update: June 29, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
As in Soviet Era, Russian Intelligence Harasses Diplomats, Reporters as Relations Deteriorate with West


Josh Rogin, a journalist for the Washington Post, has published two articles about the harassment of US diplomats by the Russian secret police.

In the first dated June 27, Rogin writes that the Russian intelligence and security services have been "waging a campaign of harassment and intimidation" against US diplomats, embassy staff and families in Moscow and other capitals that has even compelled Secretary of State John F. Kerry to ask President Vladimir Putin to put a stop to it.

At a recent meeting of U.S. ambassadors from Russia and Europe in Washington, U.S. ambassadors to several European countries complained that Russian intelligence officials were constantly perpetrating acts of harassment against their diplomatic staff that ranged from the weird to the downright scary. Some of the intimidation has been routine: following diplomats or their family members, showing up at their social events uninvited or paying reporters to write negative stories about them.

But many of the recent acts of intimidation by Russian security services have crossed the line into apparent criminality. In a series of secret memos sent back to Washington, described to me by several current and former U.S. officials who have written or read them, diplomats reported that Russian intruders had broken into their homes late at night, only to rearrange the furniture or turn on all the lights and televisions, and then leave. One diplomat reported that an intruder had defecated on his living room carpet.

In Moscow, where the harassment is most pervasive, diplomats reported slashed tires and regular harassment by traffic police. Former ambassador Michael McFaul was hounded by government-paid protesters, and intelligence personnel followed his children to school. The harassment is not new; in the first term of the Obama administration, Russian intelligence personnel broke into the house of the U.S. defense attache in Moscow and killed his dog, according to multiple former officials who read the intelligence reports.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed that the harassment has grown worse since the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and says the issue is raised "at the highest levels" repeatedly.

But this is done privately, and some believe this enables a sense of impunity, says a congressman interviewed by Rogin:

“The problem is there have been no consequences for Russia,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who serves as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. “The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that Russia 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.”

Not surprisingly, RT.com, the Kremlin's leading propaganda outlet abroad, tried to turn the tables on the stories of harassment with an article titled "Russian Diplomats Harassed by US, Not Other Way Around

Yet they could not cite any concrete allegations of harassment, and only repeat Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, who said vaguely that the US used "unacceptable measures" including "psycological pressure in the presence of their families."

"There even had been cases when such actions were carried out in the presence of pregnant wives of our diplomats," she said, without naming names.

Zakharova slammed Rogin's article as "shallow" and based on "hearsay," and said Ambassador Michael McFaul "failed in his diplomatic mission" and "contributed to the worsening of bilateral relations."

Rogin followed up with a second story, which for some reason was placed in the "Opinions" rather than the "News" section of the Washington Post, publicizing a previously unreported attack on a US diplomat near the entrance of the US Embassy complex in Moscow. The diplomat was tackled by a Federal Security Service (FSB ) guard and suffered a broken shoulder and other injuries and was flown out of Russia for medical treatment. US officials said privately that possibly the man was an intelligence agent operating under "diplomatic cover."

In 2013, Russian intelligence services arrested US diplomat Ryan Fogle and accused him of working for the CIA. A video of his alleged spy activities, allegedly showed him using crude techniques like wearing a wig and handing over a letter openly promising euros, seemed staged. Ultimately, Fogle was expelled and the US did not comment on his role in Russia.

While McFaul served in Moscow, NTV would at times stalk him and try to "expose" him meeting opposition and human rights figures, much as it does with those individuals themselves, in a kind of caricature of a dogged investigative reporter while actually in collusion with intelligence.

Zakharov in fact confirmed what has long been an unspoken practice between Russia and the US -- reciprocity -- indicating that diplomats' difficulties were directly related to US sanctions against Russia: 

“Diplomacy is based on reciprocity. The more the US damages relations, the harder it will be for US diplomats to work in Russia,” she said.


"Reciprocity" has long operated between Washington and Moscow. If Russia uncovers and expels a spy, the US responds by doing the same thing back.

But beating a diplomat -- who is supposed to enjoy immunity under the Vienna Convention -- is a much harsher step.

Journalists have also been routinely harassed in Russia in a variety of ways, including by the "camera crew surveillance" tactic.

Steve Rosenberg of the BBC found himself a target of the method in February 2016.

Earlier in 2014, while reporting from Astrakhan on the death of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, Rosenberg and his camera crew were attacked and equipment was smashed; the cameraman had to be treated for concussion and other injuries.

The practice of harassing foreign diplomats and journalists in a variety of ways from petty to alarming, a hallmark of the Soviet era, has been revived under Putin's regime. 

Luke Harding, a journalist for the Guardian who worked in its Moscow bureau, writes in Expelled: A Journalist's Descent into the Russian Mafia of how he and his family were frequently targeted.

One day he returned home to find the window in his young son's room, which he usually kept shut for safety reason, had been left deliberately opened. He also found a tape left playing in a cassette player which he hadn't left on and later an alarm clock he hadn't set went off in the middle of the night.

He wrote:

"The dark symbolism of the open window in the children's bedroom is not hard to decipher: take care, or your kids might just fall out. For any child, the 10-story drop would be deadly. Mission accomplished: the men -- I assume it is men - have vanished like ghosts. I find myself in a new world. It is a place of unknown rules, of thuggish adversaries. I lack the vocabulary to explain what has just happened to us: a burglary, a break-in, an intrusion? Suddenly, it appears we have become the objects of a malign psychological exercise, a dark experiment on the human soul. Our souls. I hug my son close. But who are these ghosts? And who sent them?"

The tradition of harassing foreign diplomats and reporters began in the Soviet era with not only spying on diplomats in the most elaborate ways but even kidnapping and drugging some or harassing them in the ways Rogin now describes, with slashed tires and other forms of intimidation.

In 1983, US Embassy officials found what was dubbed "spy dust" on doorknobs of the embassy and steering wheels of diplomats' cars in order to track them.

The Evening Independent wrote on September 3, 1986 of the multiple ways in which correspondents were harassed with tires slashed or windows smashed, and even set up to be arrested as "spies" as happened with Nicholas Daniloff.

At that time, Whitman Bassow of the UPI interviewed 73 present and former Moscow correspondents and concluded:

"The Kremlin's relationship to the press is very dependent on the Soviet Union's diplomatic relations with the United States. If there is no communication, the reporters suffer. They get the dirty end of the stick."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick




The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Detained Kirov Governor Belykh Declares Hunger Strike

The state-owned TASS news agency reports that Nikita Belykh, the governor of the Kirov region who was arrested on suspicion of bribe-taking at the end of last week, has declared a hunger strike.

According to TASS, Belykh gave "official notice" to the authorities at the Lefortovo pre-trial detention center (SIZO) in Moscow, that he was beginning a hunger strike this morning.

His lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov, said:

"This morning, before my arrival, Belykh gave notice to the head of the SIZO of the beginning of his hunger strike as mark of protest against the charges made against him, and also due to the fact that his wife and brother have still not been allowed access to him.

Belykh categorically denies that he received a bribe, insisting on his innocence." 

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Senator Sees Link Between Terrorist Attack on Istanbul and Erdogan's Overtures to Russia, Israel
Konstantin Kosachev, a Russian senator, suggested on his Facebook page that the terrorist attack on the Istanbul Airport last night was aimed against attempts by Turkey's leadership to repair relations with Russia and Israel, TASS reports.

As we reported, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made an expression of regrets to Russia that fell short of an actual apology for Turkey's shooting down of a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border last November. The pilot ejected but was later killed by militants. 


Kosachev, who is head of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council or upper house of the Russian parliament wrote (translation by The Interpreter) on his Facebook page:


"The tragedy in Istanbul is terrible. First of all, deep and most sincere condolences to the relatives of those killed. The threat of this form of terror is terrible precisely because anyone may become its victim.

The Turkish leaders' version of events, of the possible involvements of IS militants, seems most likely. These are not Kurds who are so feared in Ankara. And all the more obvious is the danger of any steps by Turkey itself in some form of support or another of any terrorists, including buying oil or providing them opportunities for medical treatment, rehabilitation or training. Help to radicals is always a boomerang, which the Americans who 'cultivated' Bin Laden in their day as a weapon against the USSR can confirm.

Now versions of events are recalled, that exactly two years ago, June 29, 2014, the 'Islamic State' announced the creation of the so-called 'caliphate' with its own laws and government bodies. But that's not the only point. The terrorist act was clearly aimed as well against the attempts of the Turkish leadership to smooth relations with Russia and Israel. Judging from everything, Turkey is being 'warned' so that it does not take part in the formed united anti-terrorist front, created by the forces, above all, of Russian diplomacy.

As for the return of Russians to Turkish beaches, that was premature even without Istanbul. It's not even a question of the fact that we are only at the very beginning of the path of restoring normal relations. It's just that the terrorist threat as before is great, and therefore  many Europeans who had not spoiled relations with Turkey have not not traveled there. Well, and as for the dialogue of our leaders -- I am confident that the terrorist act will not move it apart but rather bring it closer.  Because, despite everything, we are in solidarity with the people of Turkey today."


The notion that the US contacted and supported Osama Bin Ladn when it backed the mujahideen during the Soviet war in the 1980s is a cherished staple of Russian propaganda. But scholars, journalists and former officials have thoroughly discounted such support of Arab mujahideen as distinct from Afghan natives.

It's important to note that Soviet forces killed a million Afghans during the war, and Afghans had their own reasons to oppose Russians.

Franz Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of the Federal Council's Defense and Security, did not speculate as explicitly about "message-sending" by terrorists in the latest terrorist attack in Istanbul, regarding Erdogan's overtures to Russia and Israel. He commented:

"Terrorist attacks are always an intimidation method. In Turkey terrorists want to sow chaos, completely destabilize the situation, something that naturally worries Russia," the parliamentarian has told TASS commenting on the blasts that rocked the Istanbul Ataturk airport on Tuesday. "Attempts to stir up Turkey from inside undoubtedly wreak havoc on the Middle East region as a whole," he added.


-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Phone Call Between Putin and Erdogan Scheduled Today; Kremlin Changes Text of English Translation of 'Apology'

The Kremlin has changed the English translation of the text of the letter from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan so as to diminish the implication that it is an apology, Novaya Gazeta and RBC reported.

As we reported on Monday, June 24, in order to begin to amend relations with Russia, which have badly deteriorated since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter near the Syrian border last November, President Erdogan sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, described as an "apology" by world media. 

The Kremlin propaganda site RT made much of the gesture.


But a spokesman for Erdogan subsequently told Reuters that the Turkish leader had not apologized as such but had expressed regret and asked the pilot's family to "excuse us."

A clarification was made in the Turkish and some Russian media that Erdogan's "apology" was not immediately directed to Putin, but to the family of the airman killed after he jettisoned from the Su-24 and was shot dead by militants. Turkey is to pay some compensation for the death.

Yesterday June 25, independent media spotted a change made on kremlin.ru. As RBC noted, the text of the English translation originally stated:
"I once again express my sympathy and profound condolences to the family of the Russian pilot who was killed and I apologise to them." 

RBC found a copy of this original in Google cache (no longer available) and took a screen shot:


Set as default press image
2016-06-29 07:34:15

But the text was subsequently changed to say, "I am saying, 'Excuse Us.'"

This expression in English is similar to the Russian expression Izvinite, which conveys regrets but not apology.

Putin and Erdogan were scheduled to hold a telephone conversation today and TASS reported this morning that it would take place "as planned."

But late last night, there was a terrorist attack on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul in which at least 36 people were killed and 146 injured, the BBC reported. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early signs suggested ISIS was behind the attack. It is not clear now if the phone call will go ahead as scheduled.

Erdogan said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against militant groups, the BBC reported:

"The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world," he said.

Among those wounded was one Russian man, RBC reported.  A children's dance troupe that happened to be at the airport was unharmed but will face difficulty in returning home now, said RBC.

Russia has halted planes to Turkey, RBC reported.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

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