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Russia to U.S.: Since We Can’t Observe Your Election, You Can’t Observe Ours

A new spat over election monitors marks the latest dismal chapter in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
putin-crop
putin-crop

Amid Trump’ed-up cries that the American election may be “rigged,” Russia last month graciously offered to send monitors to observe the proceedings. After all, if anybody knows about rigging elections, it’s the Russian government.

But the United States declined the offer. And on Tuesday, Russia reciprocated. As Americans headed to the polls, Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that the presence of U.S. diplomats at any future Russian elections would be “undesirable.”

“We do not expect to see representatives of United States diplomatic missions at any upcoming elections in Russia, regardless of their level and nature. We believe that their presence in any capacity at sites in Russia, unless it is associated with international observation missions, would be undesirable," a senior Russian diplomat said according to Meduza.

Amid Trump’ed-up cries that the American election may be “rigged,” Russia last month graciously offered to send monitors to observe the proceedings. After all, if anybody knows about rigging elections, it’s the Russian government.

But the United States declined the offer. And on Tuesday, Russia reciprocated. As Americans headed to the polls, Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that the presence of U.S. diplomats at any future Russian elections would be “undesirable.”

“We do not expect to see representatives of United States diplomatic missions at any upcoming elections in Russia, regardless of their level and nature. We believe that their presence in any capacity at sites in Russia, unless it is associated with international observation missions, would be undesirable,” a senior Russian diplomat said according to Meduza.

On Oct. 20, Russian outlet Izvestia reported that the State Department rejected Russia’s offer to send monitors to observe the election.

“Any suggestion that we rejected Russia’s proposal to observe our elections is false,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement, clarifying that individual states “maintain the authority to approve or deny requests from outside parties to observe their elections.”

The State Department also clarified that Russia could have participated in election observation through the official Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission. That apparently wasn’t good enough for the Russian government, which rejected the offer.

The fact that they have chosen not to join the OSCE mission makes clear this issue and the story are nothing more than a [public relations] stunt,” Toner said.

“The U.S. administration’s law enforcement officials stop at nothing to cut off Russian representatives from an opportunity to assess the provisions of holding the upcoming elections,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on Tuesday.

Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana all rejected Russian requests to send a delegation of election observers last month. Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, called Russia’s request a “propaganda ploy” and added that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI “told us not to do this.”

Unsurprisingly, everyone’s favorite Russian propaganda outlet RT was up in arms. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s chief spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook that Russian diplomats faced “open intimidation” in assessing the U.S. elections. She described how an “entire special operation was conducted, Hollywood-action-movie-style, with the blocking of the car belonging to an employee of the Russian general consulate” in Houston, RT reported on Tuesday. Foreign Policy could not verify that this incident took place, nor how blocking a car might constitute a Hollywood-style special operation. (Maybe newly anointed Russian citizen Steven Seagal could offer the Kremlin some advice?)

Russia and the United States are struggling with some trust issues in their relationship relating to the election season right now. U.S. intelligence officials confirmed last month that Russia was behind the recent hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other top U.S. political operatives. U.S. officials told NBC News last week that they have prepared cyberweapons for use against Russia if it meddles in the election.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, a “puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin in their final debate last month. Trump, for his part, has kept lavishing praise on Putin, underscoring the outsized role Russia has already played in the U.S. elections.

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which codifies the rights of diplomats in host countries, guarantees their freedom of movement and travel in the host country pursuant to law and national security constraints. Both the United States and Russia are party to the treaty.

Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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