Russian television has made a fresh sally in an ongoing diplomatic dustup between Washington and Moscow, airing purported footage of an altercation outside the U.S. Embassy between a Russian guard and a U.S. diplomat who Moscow says was a spy returning from a mission.
The video, broadcast by Gazprom subsidiary NTV, shows a uniformed man spring from a guard station and tackle the diplomat after the latter exits a taxi and heads toward the embassy door.
They struggle on the floor until the American manages to force himself along the ground through the door of the embassy, whose premises are “inviolable” under a UN convention.
The leaked video follows a slew of mutual allegations after the incident on June 6.
Washington accused the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of attacking a U.S. diplomat meters from its embassy in central Moscow and breaking his shoulder.
It also accused Russian agents of harassing its diplomats: intruding into their homes, subjecting them to frequent traffic police checks, and conspicuously surveilling them and their families.
The Russian Foreign Ministry hit back on June 30, alleging the diplomat in Moscow was a CIA agent returning from an unspecified mission.
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also described the incident as getting physical only after the “suspicious person…hit the sentry in the face with his elbow,” although the NTV clip appears to show the Russian guard initiating the physical contact.
In an interview aired in the NTV report, Zakharova said the Russian guard reacted correctly by intercepting the diplomat because the U.S. official was allegedly disguised and did not show any identification.
“[The diplomat] could have been anyone: a terrorist, an extremist, a suicide bomber,” she said.
The NTV report went further, identifying the American as Daniel Van Dyken and publishing his photograph. The report accused Van Dyken of working undercover as third secretary of the political department of the U.S. Embassy.
NTV said that Russia had declared Van Dyken persona non grata and that he had already left the country.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington on July 7 that he had seen the NTV report but that he was not “in a position to verify the authenticity of the video” or to “question its authenticity.”
“I don’t know the source of it,” Kirby said, stressing that the American involved in the June 6 incident was “an accredited U.S. diplomat.”
Kirby said that Secretary of State John Kerry raised U.S. concerns about the incident with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on June 7, the day after the altercation.
“We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple of years, and we have raised those concerns at the highest levels,” Kirby said.
“Harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and by traffic police have increased significantly, and we find this absolutely unacceptable.”
By Tom Balmforth, RFE/RL
With contributions from Washington by Carl Schreck