Over the weekend, Vladimir Putin made it official. He announced that he’s planning to expel 755 US diplomatic workers from his country, in response to sanctions that a rare unified Congress passed late last week.
The number 755 (out of over 1200) was reached by equalizing our allowable diplomatic limits, after Obama expelled Russian diplomats in December over allegations of election meddling.
Maybe you’re somebody generally opposed to sanctions, who believes they are often a prelude to war and an escalation of hostilities, an assault on free trade, or merely ineffective. If so, your first reaction to Putin’s expulsion may be that it’s a vindication of your beliefs about the dangers of escalation. Maybe you’re more of a hardliner on Putin, believing he’s an authoritarian kleptocrat that presents a unique danger, from erasing Democratic gains in Russia to outright invading countries on the outskirts of Europe like Georgia and Ukraine, and possibly meddling in a US election. If so, your first reaction to Putin’s expulsion may be that it’s a vindication of your beliefs about how Putin has no real interest in diplomatic solutions that don’t favor him personally.
Or maybe you’re like the vast majority of Americans, who’s first reaction was probably “why the hell do we have 755 diplomats to lose in Russia in the first place?” I’m no populist, but I’ll admit to sharing the exact same thought.
Robust diplomacy in Russia, in this day and age, is understandable. Tensions are high enough where all this talk of a “new cold war” may not be hyperbole. Putin, through the influence of Aleksandr Dugin– the Kremlin’s modern take on Rasputin- has clearly been acting like it’s returned for even longer than we have. The country is massive and many of those 755 are merely members of American consulates, not necessarily diplomats in the strict sense of the word. It must also be understood and expected that a certain amount of CIA activities in foreign nations run under diplomatic cover, further inflating those numbers.
Maybe I’m overlooking some complexities of international relations here. Maybe I’m a rube who doesn’t know enough about Russia or geopolitics or modern statecraft to have an opinion that’s as educated as the experts. If so, I expect the internet to tell me exactly how I’m wrong.
But let’s be honest. Diplomacy with Russia has become nearly exclusively diplomacy with Putin, and a very small group of wealthy, corrupt, corporatist plutocrats keeping him in power to preserve their own. With such a small grouping holding such an over-sized influence, I fail to see much advantage to having over a thousand diplomats working with them.
Obviously Putin is sending us a message, but I fail to see what he expects to change. The sanctions passage specifically prevents the administration from overturning them, and it passed by too strong of a majority for Congress to get cold feet. In December, Putin showed restraint when Obama expelled Russian diplomats, despite his foreign minister recommendation to expel US diplomats in response. Instead, he invited US diplomats and their children to a party. However, I don’t think anyone really thought that proved his unwillingness to do so, or that this little shindig was anything other than a political stunt dismissing the outgoing administration.
Putin shows himself, time and again, to be an intelligent yet ruthless bastard, willing to do whatever suits his needs. But in this particular case?
The way I see it, if we don’t merely reassign the 755 diplomatic exiles to other governmental jobs, Putin just saved the US government a whole lot of money we’ve been wasting on non-essential employees.
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