Add this to the growing string of connections between the Trump administration and the Russian government: There is a move afoot to return control of diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland to Russia, even though there is evidence they were used for intelligence-gathering by Moscow. The U.S. seized the compounds last December and expelled 35 Russian operatives over election meddling.
At the time, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies had confirmed that Moscow had used a variety of tactics to influence the presidential election. Moreover, U.S. diplomats in Moscow and Europe had been subjected to sustained harassment by Russian security forces.
But there’s been a change of administration since then, and none of that seems to matter. Incredibly, despite the ongoing investigation into Russian interference, President Donald Trump may be on the verge of inviting them back in, where they could presumably resume their intelligence-gathering. Even more surprising, an earlier, modest demand that Moscow drop its block on building a new U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg in return for regaining its compounds was dropped last month. The next meeting on the matter is scheduled for this month, in St. Petersburg.
It was — and this shouldn’t surprise anyone — then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who first indicated to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that his government should sit tight on possible retaliation, because U.S. policy would change under Trump. The shuttered compounds have remained high on the Russian grievance list ever since.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others, is calling on the administration to halt any planned return of the compounds to Russia, rightly calling it “unjustifiable.” Returning control, Klobuchar said, “would both make it easier for the Kremlin to continue its intelligence operations in our own backyard and make it clear that they can avoid consequences for their actions.”
Moscow appears to be losing patience and is now threatening to seize U.S. property in Moscow unless its demands are granted. Russian officials have even set a deadline — the July G-20 summit in Germany, where Trump may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Well, let them. If the compounds are returned it will be at a time and manner of this nation’s choosing.