Tag Archives: State Department

Like hippos in a china store

The government of Hungary is considering kicking U.S. chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend out of the country. It is of the view that the American diplomat is poking his nose into matters that are none of his business.

The country’s State Attorney has asked the foreign ministry to initiate stripping Goodfriend of diplomatic immunity so this office can prosecute him based on a legal action started by Hungary’s taxation administration chief, Ildikó Vida.

The foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said he’s sending an official request to the State Department. Whether he’ll succeed is more than questionable: the stuffed shirts at Foggy Bottom would go through the roof and describe Hungary’s request impertinent to nth degree, while President Barack Hussein Obama is expected to go ballistic.

Except: if the Americans, as is expected, tell the Hungarians to go and fly a kite, Goodfriend will be flying first: he Hungarian government will designate him as persona non grata, and if they are kind and generous, Goodfriend will have 48 hours to pack up and leave. If not, he’ll have to leave forthwith.

First, a bit of a definition: a chargé d’affaires represents his or her nation in the country she or he is accredited to. That means, this diplomat has to receive le agrément from the host government (for whatever reason, French is still the language of diplomacy). This means that the host government can always withdraw its agreement with the diplomat’s continued stay.

The chargé d’affaires enjoys the same privileges and immunities as a regular ambassador. In most cases, the chargé d’affaires only serves on a temporary basis, while the ambassador is away. Still, these diplomats can be appointed for longer periods of time, something that seems to have happened in Goodfriend’s case. As diplomatic protocol rules, a chargé d’affaires could be appointed also when the two countries disagree on something and they prefer to be represented by lower-ranked diplomats, basically in order to save face.

Now that we have the niceties behind us, here’s the scoop: several governments’ diplomatic representatives (including Canada’s) went public with their masters’ displeasure about what they described as corruption running amok in the countries where they are stationed. Not that it had the desired effect. General populations in these (mostly post-communist) countries are perfectly aware that their governments’ standards of honesty and decency are nothing to write home about. Still, they detest it when foreigners wag their fingers and tell them this isn’t cricket.

In the Hungarian case, the country’s chief taxation official, Ms. Vida, and five of her subordinate officers were denied entry visas into the U.S. this past November, based directly on accusations of corruption as expressed by none other than Goodfriend himself. Ms. Vida described his statements as slanderous and defamatory and libellous drivel, but her prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said this wouldn’t be enough. Sue the bloody Yankee, he told Ms. Vida, or I’ll fire you.

Wonderful. Except you can’t sue a diplomat who’s protected by immunity. You can only ask her or his government for permission to strip her or him of that immunity, and if no agreement is forthcoming, you can kick her or him out.

And this is where it seems to be headed.

President Obama, whom most of the post-communist countries’ citizenry detest about the same they used to detest their communist leaders, didn’t help matters when he announced that in Hungary, in his esteemed opinion, the something he calls “civic society” is in danger. What he had in mind precisely remains unclear, but Hungarian officials figured out that the U.S. commander-in-chief was unhappy because they refused to blindly follow his lead and call Russia and Russian president Vladimir Putin all kinds of names.

That the Hungarians might have a reason for a more nuanced view is something Obama has never considered. In fact, he seems to be frightfully unaware of this.

On the other hand, post-communist countries have been up in arms lately. They have detected that U.S. embassies in their countries have been interfering with their internal affairs. They are quite sensitive about these things: they’ve had their share of being ordered about by the communist leadership in Moscow. Bad enough that the European Union bureaucracy has been trying to replace the communist economic community system with a similar structure of their own. Post-communist countries, one and all, view this kind of behaviour askance.

For example, the Czech Republic is livid because the U.S. embassy has been supporting (financially) a movement to teach Islam in Czech schools.

Now, Canada’s ambassador Otto Jelínek has joined forces with his U.S. and Norwegian colleagues, trying to tell the Czechs that corruption is bad. The Czechs are perfectly aware of what kind of swindlers and fraudsters they have in their government. But they still feel that young Jelínek would do better tending to his knitting or, even better, to his family business that produces the finest plum brandy (slivovice) in the world.

What angers them even more is the gall with which the Americans and Canadians invited the Norwegians to join them in the chorus of anti-corruption condemnation. The Czechs and the Norwegians have been at swords drawn lately. A Norwegian social worker has taken away children from a Czech family that was in the northern country, citing abuse, without providing single proof. The Czech government has been trying to reason with its Norwegian counterpart, to no avail, thus far. And these busy beavers are going to tell us how to behave? is the tenor of the Czech public reaction.

That the Americans didn’t notice they were entering a minefield is behaviour typical for this administration. That ambassador Jelínek, who speaks and reads and writes Czech, was not aware of the backlash this step would create in his parents’ homeland is beyond shameful.

And most of the post-communist countries’ public opinion agrees: the Americans don’t like Putin. Not that we love him. In fact, not that we love the Russian bear, period. But, they say, nobody, and least of all Obama, is going to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to act.

They’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirts.

To heck with the Americans. Let them eat cake. But Canada’s government – of all governments in the world – should know better.

Putin’s Russia re-defines chutzpah

So far as gall is concerned, Russian government seems to have perfectly unlimited reserves of it, and then some.

The latest example: Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, demands “legal guarantees” (whatever THAT means) that Ukraine will remain neutral and will not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

As a reminder: NATO is a military alliance, formed in 1949. Canada is one of its founding members.

Growing potential for Soviet post-Second World War expansionism, seen as a major threat by the West, was the original idea behind the treaty. The Soviets, having promised their wartime Allies they would permit free elections in countries they had “liberated” would end up holding elections that were anything but free. Thus, they created a group of countries, called originally “people’s democracies,” only to become a network of communist dictatorships. Since the Soviets were giving all kinds of signs it was not their intention to stop there, the West acted to instill a bit of fear in them and, at least, slow down (if not stop) the Soviet expansionist plans.

The Soviets hated NATO with a vengeance that would have deserved better things.

Now, NATO has committed an unpardonable act: considering Ukraine a candidate for membership, it told the Russians to stay within their borders and stop violating Ukraine’s borders.

On and off

What has happened is this: Ukraine became a NATO membership candidate in 2008. The pro-Russian government of president Viktor Yanukovych, elected in 2010, said it would rather that Ukraine remained non-aligned. Yanukovych’s party changed the country’s policy in an internal document dealing with its political orientation, but it never officially withdrew Ukraine from NATO.

The important thing to remember here: Yanukovych is the guy deposed from his presidency following his about-face when it came to the European Union (EU), and he is, at the same time, the guy who claims he’s Ukraine’s president still, making these pronouncements from the safety of Russian government’s security installations.

Russian government has been acting in the traditional way, maintaining what have been in fact Tsarist imperial policies. These have included hostility toward the West, in general, and the overwhelming wish to have secure buffer zones between the West and Russia proper, in particular.

These policies have existed under the Tsars, they flourished under the communists, and they are alive and well under Vladimir Putin. The fact that they are somewhat outmoded, indeed, stupid, even, now, doesn’t matter. What matters is Mama Rossia (Mother Russia), overseeing her holdings and making sure they are safe (and she is safe doing so).

That one needs to twist historical facts from time to time in order to do so? So what? That the claim that, for example, Crimea has been always Russian and today’s government is only restoring it to its rightful owner is a bloody lie? Who cares? We stole it in the 18th century from its previous owners, and that makes it ours. And if you don’t like it, tough.

But now NATO has mentioned that there is this Article 5 of the treaty. It says the Alliance will help any of its members in case they suffer an attack from the outside. The article makes no difference between full and candidate memberships. And NATO told Russia it is perfectly prepared to meet its obligations.

Whether it will, or would, now, that’s a different question. It could lead to a nuclear exchange. Who would win?

Neither Russia, nor the West, is the answer.

And who would lose?

Here, the answer is less clear, and you can make cases for at least three scenarios (one side loses, the other side loses, they both lose).

That humankind in general would lose, that seems to be nobody’s concern.

NATO and EU: different animals

Russia, in any case, sees that NATO is not as wishy-washy a body like the European Union. That group, formed originally as a body to support the good old continent’s economy, has become a centralized and bureaucratized fossil, run by aging Maoists, Trotskyites and other such political nobodies, with imperial ambitions of their own.

So, NATO – without any sign of diplomatic delicacy – is picking up the stick known as Article 5. That is giving Russia pause. But not much of it, obviously. If Ukraine says it wants no help from NATO, their goes the stick.

But how to achieve that?

Yanukovich seems like a spent force as a Ukrainian president.

But nothing beats using insurgents who say the West has devilish plans with and for Ukraine, stoking up all kinds of more-or-less traditional phobias and paranoias. These guys then attack legitimate Ukrainian government offices, proclaiming this or that region of the country independent and concluding their declarations with calls for help from Mother Russia. We have seen this kind of scenario played somewhere before: oh, yes, Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring of 1968.

In any case, who is going to prove the insurgents were not, in fact, working for Russia’s intelligence forces? The West can refuse to recognize the referendum results in Crimea that said most of its citizens wanted to be Russian. The West can refuse to recognize Crimea’s brand new constitution that says the place has always been and will always remain Russian.

What else can the West do?

In theory, a lot, coming close to military confrontation but not crossing that fateful line.

In real life? Not much. It has lost its willingness and, as a consequence, ability to stand up and be counted. Whether it’s because the West’s hands aren’t too clean, either, that’s another question. It is true, for example, that the West has compromised a huge chunk of its integrity when it only tried to whisper that the atrocities the Russians had been committing in Chechnya were beyond unacceptable. Putin told the West’s leaders, in no uncertain words, too, that he is saving the world from what he termed was “green danger,” meaning Islam. To the extent that, indeed, all kinds of Islamic fundamentalist groups have been using the war in Chechnya as training grounds to prepare their men for sundry methods of combat.

Silence that deafens

What did Western leaders do? To their credit, they didn’t say, oh, ah, if that’s the case, then, pray proceed. To their discredit, they didn’t say anything else, either. Their silence confirmed what Putin had been saying (in Russian tradition) all along: the end justifies the means.

Not that the West hadn’t known this saying before, and from other sources, too. After all, it has been attributed to Niccolo Machiavelli. And he himself stole it from ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. In his play, Electra, Sophocles said (in verbatim translation): “The end excuses any evil.”

But Russian president Putin has taken his administration’s gall to new levels. He’s come close to chutzpah, which is gall to end all galls.

Putin wrote a threatening letter to EU leaders, telling them to mind their own bloody business, and he can turn off deliveries of Russian oil and natural gas to Ukraine any time he pleases, and then, where are you?

He said that Ukraine owes Russia money for some of the stuff that had been already delivered, and it would be only legitimate on Russia’s part to stop delivery until all accounts are settled.

Russian ITAR-TASS news agency published the full text of the letter Thursday, and, on that same day, a U.S. State Department spokesthingie announced that Putin’s threat bordered on blackmail.

Technically, it didn’t. You’ve got to pay your bills, or your phone company or energy suppliers are within their rights to deny you service.

Logically, it did: Putin’s timing defined it.

But, and that was the funniest thing, upon hearing about the U.S. reaction, Putin told all and sundry that nice people don’t read mail that isn’t addressed to them.

And this from a former Soviet KGB spy whose job it had been to do just that!

Combined with his foreign minister open interference in another country’s policies, this goes to show the West should have told Russia to behave or else long ago.

It’s getting too late now.