The Foreign Service Journal, March 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2020 39 Michael A. Lally (“Lucky 21” on the PNG list) was Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs for Eur- asia, based in Moscow, from 2017 to 2018. He is cur- rently assigned to the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels. Moscow assignments were never easy, but the dramatic ordered reductions of diplomatic staff in 2017 and 2018 were distinctly difficult. BY M I CHAE L A . LAL LY FOCUS O ver recent months, there has been much media focus on the Foreign Service, including its role to protect national security and advance U.S. interests. Less is known about the people, who often work behind the scenes and beyond the headlines. While Foreign Service officers are contractually bound for world- wide assignment, jobs in Russia were never for the fainthearted. High-stakes policy issues, unblinking and aggressive surveillance of diplomats and family members, a heavy workload and a recal- citrant Russian bureaucracy made this a self-selecting hardship post. In the bygone days of U.S.-Russian cooperation, more than 30 U.S. government agencies once formed U.S. Mission Russia, fromMoscow to our consulates in Yekaterinburg, St. Petersburg ON DEALING WITH RUSSIA & UKRAINE Drawing Down Mission Russia WhenLightningStruckTwice and Vladivostok. Scores of direct-hire employees, Foreign Service Nationals, contractors, eligible family members (EFMs) and TDY (temporary duty) staffers serviced the engagement, which ranged fromhigh-level visits and basic diplomatic tradecraft to facilitating U.S. business and people-to-people exchanges. Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea and its launch of the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Moscow and Washington diverged on many issues, from arms control and Ukraine to the very size and nature of our diplomatic missions. As U.S.-Russia relations deteriorated, staff were caught up in the diplomatic conflict. In December 2016 President Barack Obama expelled 35 Rus- sian diplomats and announced a series of sanctions in response to Russian interference in the U.S. election. Seven months later, in July 2017, in response to stepped-up sanctions, President Vladimir Putin ordered a dramatic drawdown of hundreds of U.S. mis- sion staff in Russia. Eight months later, in March 2018, the United States expelled 60 more Russian diplomats and ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle in response to an assas- sination attempt in England on a former officer of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). And a few days after that, in response, President Putin expelled 60 U.S. diplomats and shuttered the consulate in St. Petersburg.