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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lost Without Commands

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When two little girls disappeared in Belgium recently, the entire country followed the story on the front pages of newspapers and leading every television newscast. Anyone who could help joined in the search. When the search ended tragically, the entire country was devastated.

When four Russian diplomats were kidnapped in Iraq (a fifth resisted and was killed during the kidnapping), to the best of my memory the event was never the lead story on the state television news programs. For the three weeks that they were held, officials were virtually silent. They noted that they were doing everything they could and that the public should not interfere in these delicate matters.

Actually, the public wasn't clamoring to interfere. The Russian public was almost indifferent to the tragedy.

This was the first time Russians were killed in Iraq since the invasion. But it was not the first time foreign citizens were kidnapped.

When an Italian journalist was captured in Iraq, there was a spontaneous campaign of solidarity and support for the journalist, her family and friends. Before that, the same kind of campaign was organized for the release of French journalists. They were all freed and given heroes' welcomes in their homelands.

There were other cases of foreign hostages, many of which ended tragically. Japanese and South Korean hostages were executed. When they were kidnapped, the public in their countries organized large demonstrations and demanded that their troops be withdrawn from the international coalition in Iraq. There were also political demands made by the general public when the Italian journalist was captured. But note that the public reaction wasn't just about politics in these situations; in France this wasn't even an issue, since it had no troops there. People simply wanted to express their solidarity with those unfortunate people, their fellow citizens, who were in dire trouble. Just like that, out of compassion!

Like France, Russia doesn't have any troops in Iraq. But the Russian public was indifferent. Indifferent to who was kidnapped, what measures were taken to rescue them and, ultimately, how they were killed. They might have sighed, "Oh, the poor guys," in front of the television, but that was all.

At our magazine, we wanted to find out about the men who were killed and tell our readers about them. When we contacted the Foreign Ministry, we ran into a wall of red tape. Everyone we spoke to was worried about saying the wrong thing. But how could a few words about the men be the "wrong thing," even if they weren't diplomats, but undercover intelligence officers? At the Russian Embassy in Iraq, they panicked and refused to talk to us. They told us to call the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. In Moscow, they thought about it for a long time, and then asked us to send an official request. They needed a special written request on letterhead and with seals just to tell us what those murdered diplomats were like as people, how their co-workers remembered them.

We wrote three or four letters. Only in one case did someone agree to speak with us -- after we appealed to a deputy minister and listened to irritated grumbling that "it would be better to write to Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov." Good Lord! Why would we need to contact Lavrov just to hear simple, heartfelt words in remembrance of coworkers?

In the end, we didn't get any heartfelt words. Instead we got a dry, official announcement about the importance of fighting international terrorism and the tireless efforts being made by the Foreign Ministry to do this.

We weren't even able to find out if the ministry intended to give posthumous awards to their deceased colleagues. Apparently it hadn't occurred to them. They must be waiting for an order from the Kremlin.

And apparently all of the other people in the country are used to waiting for commands from the Kremlin, including the command to begin feeling sorry for Russian hostages or to hit the streets and demand their release. If there's no order, they won't go out on the street and won't feel sorry for them.

On the other hand -- the moment the news came that the diplomats had been killed, many Russian politicians rushed to say something. They accused the United States, which was supposedly to blame for not providing adequate security.

Thank God that the public remained indifferent to this, and hotheads didn't demonstrate against "the American killers of Russian diplomats" outside the U.S. Embassy.

Georgy Bovt is the editor of Profil.