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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Giant Crows Don't Mean Hardship

Somebody needs to tell the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that -- with all due respect -- the Cold War is over and it is time for American diplomats to take a little care in showing that they too understand this fact of history.


Of course in terms of diplomacy and policy, the U.S. government has long since made the jump. President Bill Clinton can rightfully count himself as one of Russia's best friends. But as an institution, the embassy in Moscow seems yet to have got the message.


The reasons that a recently leaked internal embassy report gave for maintaining Moscow as a hardship post were excruciatingly embarrassing to hear for any U.S. citizen who happens to live in Russia's capital. Three-foot drifts of pukh? Giant Siberian crows that attack pets? Have they been watching too many Hitchcock movies?


It could well be that the unfortunates who had to compile the embassy report were stretching a point. Nobody likes to see their salary cut by 20 percent. And it certainly is true that crime and pollution detract from Moscow's charms. For that reason many Western embassies still classify the city as a hardship post.


But the devil was in the details of this report, which seemed to continue in the vein of a series of recent and more public statements suggesting that the embassy still feels itself in a fundamentally hostile and prickly relationship with Russia.


First there was the travel advisory warning that St. Petersburg -- Russia's primary tourist attraction -- was a dangerous place to visit. Well, in that case so is New York. That advisory simply angered the relatively forward-looking authorities in St. Petersburg and encouraged the common Russian belief that, aid programs be damned, the West and the United States in particular want the Russian economy to fail.


Then there was the State Department statement on Russia's domestic airlines, ordering government employees not to fly inside Russia as it was too dangerous. It is, of course, true that many of Russia's domestic airlines have a terrible safety record -- but not all of them. There is nothing wrong with Transaero, for example, nor with a number of other new Russian airlines that are making extraordinary efforts to succeed in the capitalist way. To lump them all together was quite unjust and lacked what one might call diplomatic sensitivity.


Someday, pukh will be regarded as no more hazardous to the American abroad than raccoons -- for the hundredth time -- turning over the garbage of a Russian diplomat in the suburbs of Washington D.C. Then the Cold War will be truly be over, even in the minds of the diplomats who first fought it and then helped to end it.