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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Traffic War Just Testing Machismo

So now we have the proverbial smoking gun, a document sent out to the city's traffic police by the Mayor's Office telling them to crack down on cars with yellow or red license plates, because foreigners "negatively affect the safety of traffic."

We understand that Moscow is upset by the way its diplomat was recently treated in New York for parking in front of a fire hydrant. But this document, part of which was reprinted in Thursday's The Moscow Times, goes far beyond tit-for-tat. This is tit-for-buckshot broadside.

To begin with, the numbers set out in city hall's own document do not back up the suggestion that foreigners are bad drivers. Quite the reverse. With 7,000 accidents and 1,000 fatalities on the city's road's last year, Moscow does have a driving problem. But cars with foreign plates -- not all of which are driven by foreigners -- accounted for only a small fraction of a percent of those statistics.

Secondly, yellow plates do not belong to the diplomats at whom, presumably, the tit-for-tat exercise is targeted. Nor are all foreigners, or even diplomats, American. Far from it.

Finally, while the tit-for-tat diplomatic spat is an established tradition unlikely to die any time soon, it is surely a tradition more honored in the breaking.

Nobody is saying foreigners should be above the traffic laws in Moscow. But then, there is no evidence they are favored. On the contrary, driving a car with foreign plates has traditionally made one a target for GAI officers looking for a bonus.

In the wake of the city's all-points-bulletin to the boys in gray, however, "operation foreigner" now has official sanction. This gives the traffic police yet more reason to spend their time pulling over cars that look ripe for a "fine," rather than stopping the cars that speed down the wrong side of the road or blow through red lights every minute of the day.

Let's put this into perspective. Foreigners are not a threat to traffic safety in Moscow. And harassing British or Chinese diplomats, journalists and businessmen is not going to change the ways of the New York City police department, or of that city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani.

In fact, so unfocused and provocative are the terms of "operation foreigner" that one has to wonder whether the Russian Foreign Ministry can be involved at all, or whether Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov is -- not for the first time -- freelancing foreign policy.

"Operation foreigner" is not only unfair and pointless, it also looks suspiciously like Luzhkov's response in a macho test of toughness between two big city mayors.