What The Impact On Russia Will Be After Expulsion Of Diplomats From U.S.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For more on this Russia story we're joined now by Dr. Angela Stent. She advised presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and she now runs the Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Stent, welcome to the program.
ANGELA STENT: Good to be on the program.
SHAPIRO: We know the majority of the officers being expelled are Russian Embassy employees. The remainder are from Russia's U.N. mission. Why were these specific individuals chosen, do you think?
STENT: Well, they were presumably chosen because they're doing more than just diplomacy. They are in fact undeclared spies doing espionage in the United States. The United Nations has long been used to that. And I guess there were a number of them - 48 of them expelled from the embassy here, too.
SHAPIRO: Do you find that number to be high? Are you surprised by it?
STENT: I'm not surprised by it. We do know that Russian espionage activities in the United States have picked up in the last few years. And they are now said to be at least at if not above the levels that they were during the Cold War.
SHAPIRO: There are now more than a dozen nations expelling Russian diplomats. What do you make of the solidarity being demonstrated here? What message does that send?
STENT: Well, I think it's quite unprecedented. I had a hard time thinking about anything like this. Maybe you have to go back to the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics. So I think the message that the Western countries are sending is this is inadmissible. And I think it's a combination - obviously the most immediate thing is the poisoning in Great Britain. From the U.S. point of view, it's the interference in our 2016 election and allegedly the continuing interference, and the denials by the Kremlin that Russia is doing any of this.
SHAPIRO: Is this more than an annoyance for Russia? Will it have a significant impact?
STENT: I think it will have some impact. Presumably the 60 people who are leaving will not be able to carry out those duties anymore, so it will shrink some of the Russian capabilities. I don't know whether it'll have any impact on changing what Russia's doing, but it will certainly be an irritation to them.
SHAPIRO: And do you expect a tit-for-tat where Russia will then expel diplomats from these dozen-plus countries?
STENT: I do expect a tit-for-tat, certainly vis a vis the United States. Remember; Mr. Putin did not retaliate when President Obama expelled 35 Russian so-called diplomats in December of 2016 because he'd been promised that this might be reversed by the then-soon-to-be-national security adviser General Michael Flynn. But there will be retaliations. The Russian Embassy in Washington's already having, I think, a competition on Twitter to name which consulates, American consulates in Russia, should be closed.
SHAPIRO: And would that have a significant impact on American activities in Russia?
STENT: Well, it will. It will make it more difficult for us to carry out our business. One anecdote I can tell you is after the 755 diplomatic personnel were forced to leave the U.S. Embassy employed by the Russians last year, it's very difficult for Russians to get visas now. There just aren't the personnel. And I know people who live in Moscow who've had to travel thousands of miles to Vladivostok, the other end of Russia, to get their visas.
SHAPIRO: Just in our last half minute or so, President Trump and Vladimir Putin have generally avoided criticizing each other personally. Do you think this will impact that relationship?
STENT: I'm not sure. I think they've definitely avoided doing that. And I just want to remind you that in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan expelled 55 Soviet diplomatic personnel, a year later Reagan and Gorbachev signed a major arms control agreement. Gorbachev came to the United States. So these things do not have to have such a long-lasting impact.
SHAPIRO: All right, Dr. Stent, thanks for joining us today.
STENT: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Dr. Angela Stent is director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.