Report: State Department Does Little to Halt Russian Harassment of U.S. Diplomats

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin / AP
June 27, 2016

The Obama administration has done little to stem systematic harassment of U.S. diplomats abroad by Russian government officials, the Washington Post reported Monday.

U.S. ambassadors serving in Russia and across Europe disclosed at a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., that Russian intelligence officers have perpetrated ongoing intimidation tactics in Moscow and numerous other capital cities.

Diplomats reported in secret memos sent to Washington that Russian officials had followed them and their family members, slashed their tires, and broken into their homes under the cover of night just to rearrange furniture or turn on lights.

While Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Vladimir Putin about the incidents during his March visit to Moscow, harassment has been ongoing.

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said President Obama decided not to pursue similar tactics against Russian diplomats after deliberation in the administration.

McFaul said that during his service in Moscow intelligence officers followed his kids to school and government-backed protestors harassed him.

"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 invasion of Ukraine, it got much, much worse," McFaul told the Post. "We were feeling embattled out there in the embassy."

The intimidation and surveillance of American diplomats escalated after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, according to State Department press secretary John Kirby. Russia's invasion had spurred Obama to issue sanctions against Russian officials and businesses linked to Putin.

The State Department now provides training to diplomats going to Europe regarding how to deal with Russian harassment, but U.S. ambassadors are asking the administration to step up its efforts.

Rep. Mike Turner (R., Ohio) said the issue is that Russia has not faced repercussions.

"The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that Russia can be our partner. They clearly don’t want to be our partner," he told the Post. "They’ve identified us as an adversary, and we need to prepare for that type of relationship."