Letter From the Editors: Aug. 14 - 27, 2017

Author: Laurence Bogoslaw

Putin the Judo Master: Can He Use His Opponents’ Strength Against Them?

The Russian media have been abuzz for months about a ruthless fight going on between the US State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry. To hear the Russian side tell it, the Obama administration started it all last December by expelling 35 Russian diplomats and seizing property they were using on US soil. After a long and chilling silence, Russian President Putin announced in late July that in order to attain "parity" between the two countries, there must be an equal number of diplomats on each side: This meant that 755 State Department employees working in Russia would lose their jobs.

President Trump’s reaction is the subject of this issue’s first feature: Giving just 48 hours’ notice, he ordered the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco, as well as two properties of Russia’s trade mission in New York and Washington, to be closed as of Sept. 1. Then US officials showed up at these premises for "inspections." Russian experts and authorities alike believe that the US’s actions regarding Russia’s foreign property in the US violate both international and civil law.

This argument prompted Putin’s next move: He ordered the Foreign Ministry to file a lawsuit against the US government for the illegal seizure of Russian diplomatic property. And here’s a curious twist, perhaps inspired by the judo principle of using your opponent’s strength against them: Putin said the suit may be filed in a US court, adding with his trademark sarcasm: "Let’s see how effectively the vaunted American justice system works."

Indeed, Russian law professor Dmitry Labin explains that even now that the diplomatic facilities have been stripped of their consular status, Russia remains their rightful owner - and is thus protected by US property laws. Labin describes the ironic consequence of this logic: "It looks like the defendant ...

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