The Russian government just turned the heat up a notch on U.S. officials in what is an already heated diplomatic climate. In the past few weeks, Russia and the U.S. have expelled several of each other’s diplomats. This past Tuesday night, U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) chairman Jeff Shell was summarily detained by Russian security in the airport in Moscow, following a visit to Prague.
Shell, who held a Russian visa, was presented with a document in Russian and told to sign it. He refused and was then locked in a room for three hours before being put on a plane to the Netherlands. The pilot was handed his passport and told not to return it until he was on Dutch soil. Stunned, Schell was told he was banned from Russia for life.
The treatment accorded Shell smacks of Cold War days—like much other recent Russian behavior, from its aggressive propaganda campaign to the destabilization of Ukraine to the incursions of Russian planes and submarines in European territorial waters and airspace.
U.S. diplomats have reportedly been the subject of harassment in Russia with their homes broken into and pets killed. One diplomat was even tackled by a Russian operative outside the U.S. embassy and just managed to slide into the embassy compound on his back, with the Russian still struggling on top of him.
Secretary of State John Kerry has twice recently addressed the harassment with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Given the weaknesses in the Obama Administration’s Russia policy, it will not come as a surprise that Kerry’s interventions have had little impact.
Russian propaganda warfare has increased dramatically since the Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014, which makes the targeting of Jeff Shell of particular interest.
The U.S. government’s efforts to counter the Russian propaganda avalanche have centered on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG has scrambled to put Russian language-programming on the air in countries along Russia’s borders, and the half-hour news program Current Time is considered the BBG’s flagship effort in this area.
Shell’s summary expulsion from Russia could be interpreted as a sign that the Kremlin has taken notice of the BBG programming and does not like it. Good news from Russia.