Will Vladimir Putin escalate the diplomatic tit-for-tat between Russia and the US? Maybe, maybe not, the Russian president told reporters in China, but he’s angry enough to lash out at the governing class in the United States over it. Putin acknowledged the American right to demand parity in facilities as well as personnel after Putin ordered reductions in both for US missions in Russia. However, he complained that it was done in “a clearly boorish manner,” and then suggested that one can’t expect much more than that from ignorant American hicks:
“That the Americans reduced the number of our diplomatic facilities – this is their right,” Putin told a news conference in the Chinese city of Xiamen, where he was attending a summit of major emerging economies.
“The only thing is that it was done in such a clearly boorish manner. That does not reflect well on our American partners. But it’s difficult to conduct a dialogue with people who confuse Austria and Australia. Nothing can be done about it. Probably such is the level of political culture of a certain part of the U.S. establishment.”
How far back does one have to go to get this reference? Putin’s not talking about Donald Trump here, or even Barack Obama, who once notoriously said, “I don’t know what the term is in Austrian.” No, Putin’s reaching all the way back to George W. Bush and a little-remembered faux pas from a decade ago. The Independent explains:
Mr Putin was referring to a 2007 gaffe by former US President George W Bush, when he thanked then-Australian leader John Howard for visiting Austrian troops in Iraq.
Loooooooong memories. However, that’s not likely to count much as a sick burn in the Trump administration, which made its feelings known about the Bush foreign-policy establishment during the Republican primaries. Rex Tillerson has been dismantling much of the leftover establishment since arriving at Foggy Bottom too.
Putin also seemed a little sensitive about Trump, too. He told reporters that he’s still optimistic about working more closely with Trump, which is why he’s going to wait before responding to the latest move from the US State Department. He might go to court to regain access to Russian diplomatic sites first:
“As for our buildings and facilities, this is an unprecedented thing,” Putin said. “This is a clear violation of Russia’s property rights. Therefore, for a start, I will order the Foreign Ministry to go to court – and let’s see just how efficient the much-praised U.S. judiciary is.”
Efficient? Well, not so much, but it’s usually just. The problem here is that American foreign-policy interests probably outweigh the Russian property rights in terms of the use of these facilities. A federal court might force the Trump administration to compensate Russia for lost property value, but may not want to be in position to order the White House to allow them to operate facilities, especially while Russia has forced the closure of American facilities in their country. Constitutionally, the executive has near-plenary power to deal with foreign nations.
As for Putin’s optimism about personal relations, don’t read too much into that either. He rebuked reporters for thinking of the two as married to each other, so words like “disappointed” don’t apply at all:
It’s “very naive” to ask whether he’s disappointed in the U.S. leader because “he’s not my bride, and I’m also not his bride or groom,” Putin told a news conference at the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, on Tuesday. “Trump is guided by the national interests of his country, and I by mine. I very much hope that we will be able, as the current U.S. president has said, to reach some compromise in resolving bilateral and international problems.”
Well, there are at least a few reporters over here who disagree. At any rate, don’t expect to see any new actions in this diplomatic row for a while, but don’t be surprised if Putin eventually ups the ante again. Despite his derision at America’s political class, the main reason Putin’s complaining rather than acting is because the US is answering his provocations now rather than ignoring them.