Diplomats the target of Russian police crackdown
January 23, 1997
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT)
MOSCOW (CNN) -- The long-standing concept of diplomatic
immunity is wearing a bit thin in Moscow.
Police in the Russian capital are in the midst of "Operation
Foreigner," a coordinated effort to target errant drivers
from other countries.
"We have seen a very marked increase in the number of reports
of embassy employees who have been stopped by the road
police," said Richard Hoagland, U.S. Embassy spokesman in
The crackdown apparently is in retaliation to a spate of
complaints by New York City police that diplomats from Russia
and the former Soviet Union regularly abuse their diplomatic
status and immunity from prosecution in the United States.
Two weeks ago, two diplomats from Russia and Belarus
complained of being roughed up by New York officers during a
dispute over a parking ticket.
Girl's death sparks furor
Nonresidents in Moscow are easy to spot. Russian license
plates are black and white; those of outsiders are
color-coded. Some non-Russians identify their nationality by
displaying their country's flag on their vehicle.
The furor over immunity has reached fever pitch, following
the death of 16-year-old Joviane Waltrick in Washington,
D.C., earlier this month. She was killed in a traffic
accident police said was caused by a speeding diplomat from
the Republic of Georgia.
Officials suspect alcohol was involved, but couldn't
administer a breathalyzer test at the scene, because the
envoy invoked his diplomatic status. The Georgian government
is cooperating with the United States and may waive the man's
diplomatic immunity so U.S. attorneys can prosecute him.
The Georgian government issued a formal apology for the
accident and paid for the teen-ager's funeral.
New York mayor angered
Also in early January, New York Mayor Ralph Giuliani accused
the ambassador of Belarus of telling "a pack of lies"
relating to an incident on December 29 in which two policemen
got into an altercation with a diplomat from that republic.
Ambassador Alyksandr Sychou said the diplomat was roughed up,
his arm and glasses were broken and his clothes torn, even
though he offered no resistance.
A Russian diplomat who was riding in the car complained of
similar treatment by police. Both men said they were unfairly
targeted by U.S. authorities.
Police say the Belarus diplomat was drunk, parked illegally
in front of a fire hydrant and punched an officer. Giuilani
said Belarus diplomats owe $41,000 for 828 traffic summonses
issued in the first half of 1996.
Traffic rules are for everyone
For the Russians, the accusations have been humiliating, and
they are striking back, stopping as many as 1,000
non-Russians on just one day last week.
Russian police officers say diplomats shouldn't receive
special privileges and that traffic rules should apply to
everyone -- without exception.
Alexei, a police officer, says he is particularly irked by
diplomats who behave defiantly when stopped, although he has
only encountered a couple of such incidents. He said many
diplomats are more polite than Russians.
"Operation Foreigner" is said to be a temporary maneuver,
designed to show that Russia is still boss. At least that's
the hope of one Japanese diplomat, who was involved in an
automobile accident this week in which a pedestrian was
killed. No charged have been filed.
Moscow Bureau Chief Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.
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