Americans must stop this Russian ambassador madness
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Sergey Kislyak, the man in the lead role of this crazy new show called "Have You Met Sergey?" — a man whose fortune seemed to be waning — is now is back with a vengeance.

I suspect he never knew how much power he actually wielded.

He has an all-star American cast on tour and attracted some of America's top actors in leading roles. On his way out the door, he was undoubtedly depressed about having to leave the American stage without a last big hit, but magically found a great new script and oh, what potential! The show is raking in big profits for his executive producer, Vladimir Vladimirovich.

Too bad the American version would be banned in Russia. The censors there would prevent Kislyak's American counterpart in appearing on the big screen or local TV shows. There would be no publicity there, either. The show would have been shut down and perhaps the actors expelled or sent to the gulags. (Trust me.)

One should be careful not to discard this as a joke, because it is not. There is a serious effort to disrupt the American political system; it's a prize the Russians have been working toward for decades.

They practiced on smaller countries and bigger ones, with great success in Bulgaria, Hungary, Sweden and with lesser success, but success nonetheless, in Germany. We will see the results from France soon.

But America is the big stage, and the Russians are delighted.

On the surface there is nothing wrong with the diplomatic aspects. Kislyak worked the ropes, like any other smart diplomat would do, exploiting America's routine embrace of foreign diplomats.

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The diplomatic community in D.C. has long had its own rules and contacts and most political candidates on the national level are frequent guests around embassy dinner tables. And the Russian ambassador in Washington has long occupied a special place, a prince among princes.

 

Americans love to attend diplomatic parties. It is part of the Washington scene. Remember Anatoly Dobrynin, Moscow's envoy from 1962 to 1986? The late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) once told me that Dobrynin, while being a Soviet hardliner, should be every diplomat's example on how to operate in the U.S. capital.

Dobrynin was so much part of the fabric, the culture and politics that he became a social institution. He knew every player, big or small, in American politics. But back then, his civilized behavior never blinded Americans as to what he represented, whom he really was or that he also ran a "racket" (a network of KGB operatives) to undermine America.

Kislyak is not the issue; he is just one in a long line of successors to Dobrynin.

The present situation is a result of America and the West as a whole letting their collective guard down on Russia. The illusions of the last decade about a "friendly" and potentially cooperative Russia is proving to be just that: an illusion.

Dreams of a Russia which many thought in its weakness will be forced into surrender proved to be just that: a dream.

Warnings from the formerly Soviet-occupied Central and Eastern Europe about the looming danger were discarded with an air of superiority.

For more than 15 years, America and Western Europe have been blinded by their naivete. Remember Edward Snowden, when big parts of Europe thought that America was worse than Russia? In the meantime, Russia developed its strategy of disruption of Western democracies. While the West has practically given up its efforts to influence Russian society, it has left the door wide open to Russian influence within their own societies — to Russian soft power, which proves to be not-so-soft, quite poisonous and with a great capacity to wreak real havoc.

So as the finger-pointing in Washington gets worse by the day, Russin President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCourt finds Russia was behind 2006 poisoning of ex-spy in London Google employees criticize removal of Navalny app Third Russian charged in 2018 nerve agent attack on ex-spy in England MORE is already celebrating a big win. He didn't need his nukes, tanks and missiles; all he needed was to get Americans going for each other's throats and in the process calling a halt to any real government business in Washington, especially actions that might have impeded Russia's ability to play foreign policy god.

What is quite shocking is that anyone thinks this kind of Russian activity is new and was just something special thought up for the Trump administration or for this very election. Please remove your blinders — there is nothing original here and these are not new tactics. This is how Russia has always done business and its efforts to undermine the United States and the West have never really changed.

Meetings with Kislyak and meetings with dozens of other ambassadors from other countries are not, nor ever should be, the issue. Should Trump administration officials been open about it? Absolutely.

But sorry, finger waggers, you have totally missed the point.

It's not the meetings or phone calls or chatter that matters. What matters is that you, all of you, on both sides of the political aisle, have let Putin destroy any vestige of comity left in this town and you have no idea that that was his plan all along.

Was he taking sides in the election?  The only side Putin has ever taken is his own. And boy, have you made victory easy for him! He is truly surprised at how little effort it took to totally mess up the politics of great United States.

So that light you see burning in the wee hours in the Kremlin isn't for some grand strategy meeting; it's part of the all-night celebration of having made a complete and utter mockery of the denizens of Washington, D.C.

András Simonyi is the managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He has held some of the highest positions in the Hungarian diplomatic service, including Hungarian ambassador to NATO and to the United States. Follow him on Twitter @AndrasSimonyi.


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