Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 155

The U.S. State Department has recalled from Russia an embassy political attache who, on the evening of August 18, was involved in an auto accident that left a Russian pedestrian seriously injured. The U.S. diplomat, Matt Bryza, was serving as second secretary in the Moscow embassy’s political section. State Department spokesman James Rubin said in Washington on August 21 that Bryza had cooperated fully with the Russian authorities investigating the accident and that Moscow had made no move to obstruct the diplomat’s return to the U.S. Rubin also said that there was no reason to believe that alcohol was involved in the accident, but he deflected questions as to whether Bryza was at fault for the mishap. (Reuter, AP, August 20)

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, commenting yesterday on the incident, appeared to corroborate Rubin’s account, but he also emphasized that the investigation into the accident remains ongoing and implied that charges could still be brought. The official also used the opportunity to charge that U.S. diplomats in Moscow have been responsible this year for a disproportionate number of the traffic violations committed by foreign diplomatic personnel. He called upon the embassy’s leadership to ensure that U.S. diplomats conduct themselves with greater discipline in the future. (Russian agencies, August 21)

Whatever the particulars of Bryza’s situation and however accurate the Russian Foreign Ministry’s charges might be, the U.S. diplomat’s accident clearly comes at an inopportune time. In January of this year an ugly row broke out between the U.S. and Russia following an incident in which a member of Russia’s UN delegation was involved in a brawl with New York city police. Acrimony over that affair quickly escalated when New York authorities refused to back down in the face of Moscow’s protests and began instead to target the vehicles of Russian diplomats for ticketing. City officials claimed that, among foreign diplomatic personnel, Russian diplomats were the worst violators of New York traffic laws. Moscow reacted angrily then, and authorities there would clearly relish the opportunity now to turn the tables on the U.S. In early April, moreover, the two countries again clashed following an incident in which a Russian diplomat was cited by Maryland police on charges of drunken driving, leading the U.S. to ask Russia to waive his diplomatic immunity.

Bryza’s accident also comes in the wake of an incident in January of this year when a Georgian diplomat, apparently under the influence of alcohol, was involved in a car crash in Washington that killed a 16-year-old girl. Under intense pressure from the U.S., Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze agreed to lift the diplomat’s immunity so that he might stand trial.

In 1993, the U.S. itself refused to waive diplomatic immunity when an American diplomat hit and killed a Russian pedestrian in a late-night accident in Moscow. Although the man was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, U.S. officials determined that was not the case and recalled him home. (AP, January 8)

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