Russia threatens U.S. if seized compounds in Maryland and New York not returned


Krishnadev Calamur, “Russia Threatens to Expel 30 U.S. Diplomats; Moscow is angry about the Trump administration’s refusal to return two diplomatic compounds seized last year by the Obama administration,” The Atlantic, July 11, 2017.

Calamur reports,

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says his government is considering “specific measures” against the U.S. over its refusal to hand over two compounds seized last year by the Obama administration.

It is “simply shameful for such a great country as the United States, a champion of international law, to leave the situation in such a state of suspended animation,” Lavrov told Russian media. He did not elaborate upon what steps Russia would take.

Earlier, an unnamed foreign ministry official told Izvestia, the Russian newspaper, that up to 30 U.S. diplomats may be expelled from the country if the Trump administration doesn’t return the compounds in Maryland and New York.

President Obama ordered the compounds seized and expelled 35 diplomats last December in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Although Putin and Moscow have denied any interference, U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia tried to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump against his rival, Hillary Clinton…

The shamelessness of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in referring to international law is not new, but it merits calling out. Russia invaded the Crimea in February 2014, and the eastern Ukrain in the summer of 2014, with regular Russian troops entering the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in August 2014. Russia purported to “annex” the Crimea (an action void under international law) in March 2014 and continues to station Russian troops and equipment in the eastern Ukraine, in violation of the Minsk II Protocol of February 12, 2015. It has also failed to return control of the Ukrainian border with Russia, as required by the Minsk II Protocol.

Russia intervened massively in the U.S. elections in November 2017, in flagrant violation of the international law prohibition of intervention in the internal affairs of another country. President Obama adopted sanctions against Russia in response to these violations, in what were lawful countermeasures in accordance with international law.

If Russia expels 30 U.S. dipomats as it seems to be threatening, and seizes U.S. diplomatic properties as threatened, the United States should expel an additional 30 Russian diplomats, and take further action against Russian properties in the U.S. that are not protected by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

This pattern of threats against U.S. presidents is not new. Putin used it, not without effect, in Syria and other places, against President Barack Obama.

Russia intervened in the U.S. elections in gross violation of international law. The U.S. lawfully responded by adopting sanctions including the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats (including spies) and the seizure of two properties. The adoption of broad sectoral sanctions against the Russian economy would have been justified, but Obama decided to adopt milder sanctions.

If Russia now chooses to renew it aggressive actions against the United States, such sectoral sanctions should be adopted forthwith by the Congress.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.