Staunton, June 12 – This week, for the first time in 25 years, the US government did not send public greetings to Moscow on the occasion of Russia’s national day, a move already sparking comment in Russia but one the US State Department says simply reflects a new Trump Administration policy not to publish such declarations but rather to allow the addressees to do so.
National day messages from one government to another are an important part of diplomatic etiquette, typically prepared and read by the addressee government and people as an indication of the state of bilateral ties and of the prospects for better or worse relations in the future.
For 50 years, to give an example the author is most familiar with, Baltic peoples and emigres carefully read these declarations issued on the national days of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as barometers of where Washington was regarding their occupation and American relations with the Soviet leaders.
When US-Soviet relations were at low points, these national day statements often were fulsome in their comments about US-Baltic ties; when relations between Washington and Moscow were warmer, it often happened that these national day statements were less warm and more pro forma.
That makes this policy shift by the new US administration a problem because it sets the stage for speculation baseless or not about where relations between Washington and Moscow now are and also and perhaps especially about how Washington sees those relations developing in the future and what the US cares most about in that regard.
The Russian embassy in Washington said that it had not received a copy of any national day message from the State Department, noting this was the first time this had happened in 25 years and that all were free to draw their own conclusions (rbc.ru/rbcfreenew/594063b49a79477199f74ae3?from=main and ria.ru/world/20170613/1496426112.html).
Neither the Department website nor that of the US embassy in Moscow posted it either, something both have done in the past. When Russian journalists asked about this, department spokesmen said that this reflected a new policy of not publicizing such things but allowing others to do so (versia.ru/v-gosdepe-ssha-nazvali-prichinu-otsutstviya-pozdravleniya-s-dnem-rossii).
But when pressed, Russian outlets reported, the State Department press office “had difficulty responding” as to whether “a corresponding greeting had been handed over via the diplomatic representation of the United States in Moscow.” They promised to get more information about this.
Not surprisingly, many Russian articles commenting on this new situation are saying that it reflects not a new general policy but rather the worsening of relations between the US and Russia, relations that many in both capitals suggest are now at a level as bad as during the Cold War.
But some pro-Soviet Russian nationalists are thrilled: As one put it today, there is no reason for the US to greet Russia on what is for Russians a day of shame that led to the end of the USSR. It would be as if Moscow were to send a message of greetings on the anniversary of September 11 or Pearl Harbor (forum-msk.org/material/news/13326885.html).
Presumably the Russian government will release any national day statement it does receive from the US, but until it does so, many in Russia and perhaps elsewhere will continue to speculate on what it contains and what that portends for the future.