Will Vladimir Putin’s Diplomatic finesse bring longer-term benefits?
On 29 Dec 16, in a rare and provocative gesture, the Obama Administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and their families; giving them 72 hours to leave the country. President Barak Obama had publicly threatened to take action against Russia, for their alleged role in disrupting the US Presidential election. Russia has repeatedly denied having played any role but US Intelligence agencies have suspected the hand of Russian Intelligence agencies, in the providing embarrassing disclosures to WikiLeaks. The expelled diplomats work at the Russian Embassy, Washington DC and the Russian Consulate, San Francisco.
What are the Russians accused of?
Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton lost the Presidential election to Republican candidate Donald Trump. Major opinion polls in the US had predicted Hillary Clinton to win comfortably. Though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes, she lost key states, allowing Donald Trump to win 304 electoral college votes to Hillary’s 227. The Democrat campaign was marred by embarrassing leaks of personal emails, posted on the WikiLeaks website. One batch of stolen e-mails, from the Democratic National Convention (DNC) servers, revealed that some DNC staff were not impartial to Senator Bernie Sanders, who stood against Hillary Clinton for Democratic party nomination. A second batch of stolen e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Manager revealed embarrassing details of her campaign strategy. Many Democrats feel that the leaks and their timing, were the major reason for Hillary Clinton to lose the election. Both the FBI and CIA have issued statements that the hacks appear to have been engineered, with help of Russian Intelligence.
In 1986, US President Ronald Regan expelled 80 Soviet diplomats, after a string of damaging thefts of American secrets. While expelling diplomats is a legitimate action for a government to convey ‘displeasure’, it is also diplomatic convention, for rebuked nations to reciprocate, identically. In response to the US rebuke, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recommended retaliatory measures, mirroring the ones imposed by the US Administration.
Vladimir Putin’s Response
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin abruptly changed course. He announced that he did not want to downgrade himself to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen diplomacy’ and that he looked forward to restoration of US-Russian relations, when US President-elect Donald Trump takes office, on 20 Jan 16. In fact, he went a step further by inviting all the children of American diplomats accredited to Russia, to celebrate the New Year and Russian Orthodox Christmas, with him at the Kremlin. President Putin has earned a reputation for smart & unexpected tactics.
President Vladimir Putin’s deft diplomatic gesture is a ‘put down’ for the Obama Administration. By avoiding retaliatory measures, the US provocation has been made to appear ‘lame-duck’ and irrelevant. President Putin has demonstrated, yet again, that he can play diplomatic games with great skill. President-elect Donald Trump has already praised President Putin’s gesture, as a ‘smart move’. However, the new incumbent shall also be under test. Will he be convinced with the evidence US Intelligence agencies, say they have? Or more important, will he accept President Putin’s invitation to move US-Russian relations, beyond the prism of the erstwhile ‘Cold War’.