Escalating vandalism and clashes with elderly protesters show no love lost between Russians and their North American host cities
Eggs. Tennis ball. Industrial quality paint guns. Inside their North American embassies and consulates, Russian diplomatic personnel are preparing for an unusually hot fall.
Last Thursday was a dark day in the history of the world. Vladimir Putin has opted to try to revive his crumbling war efforts with an Orwellian spectacle at home – signing ‘annexation’ documents on four Ukrainian territories in the biggest attempt to take over a sovereign state in Europe since World War II.
While illegal referendums at gunpoint are accepted by almost no one in the world and Ukraine continues to rout the Russian military as it crumbles from Kherson to Kharkiv, Putin has gotten a big splashing rock concert from his home Publicity stunt.
Aside from the blatant illegality and international rejection of the bogus annexation, it was also, strangely, an echo. As historian Dan Snow noted on Twitter: “Putin has annexed parts of Ukraine 84 years to the day since Britain and France agreed to Hitler’s annexation of a similar proportion of Czechoslovakia at the Munich conference. Pretty weird.”
Well, story rhymes, it’s true. But people really doesn’t like that particular tune, it seems. And they’re making it loud and clear to Russians all over the United States and Canada.
I first started writing about the red paint protests in Russian embassies in the summer, documenting the phenomena through spring and the February invasion. At that time, the epicenter seemed to be Eastern Europe, among neighboring states and Ukraine’s strongest allies. Strong actions have also taken place in Western Europe.
But seven months later, it’s the North Americans who are doing their own show.
The Canadians in Ottawa, of course, attracted international attention everywhere. They were at the heart of the most intrigue-laden international incident and diplomatic scandal – the August event at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa in which embassy staff were caught in the act of vandalizing a memorial to murdered Ukrainian children and of Z-bomb painting on city sidewalks.
The fallout from the incident has led to calls for the most serious consequences from groups like the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and other supporters. The UCC testified in Parliament about the incident, calling for the expulsion of the Russian diplomatic mission from Canada, a declaration of Russia as a terrorist state, and the suspension of Russian visas. So far nothing yet.
Such a lack of action is likely to be behind the fact that some angry Ottawa residents have taken matters into their own hands in recent weeks: from a massive warning from a man shouting “get out of Canada”, who was later arrested peacefully, at a mid-night Molotov cocktail attempt caught on surveillance video.
And while most North American art, protest or mischief has focused on the embassies in Ottawa and Washington DC, some of the consulates are now history as well.
The American and Canadian consulates saw several thousand protest the initial invasion in February, but those in Toronto and Houston have remained relatively peaceful since. This is no longer the case in Montreal or New York.
Indeed, a few weeks ago, Montreal finally recorded its own diplomatic incident, matching its federal cousins in the Canadian capital.
Like Ottawa, Montreal has its fervent daily protesters at the Russian consulate, with Ukrainian flags waving, signs against war crimes and the daily playing of music and a supposedly distressing gunshot horror soundtrack.
The situation escalated a few weeks ago when 91-year-old protester Claude Fournier was assaulted by Russian consulate security, his speakers thrown to the ground. Yet since the incident, Fournier and his compatriots have made it clear that they have no intention of stopping their daily visits.
With so much going on at their Canadian counterparts, it was only a matter of time before New Yorkers also made their way into the embassy news. And they did it – the very night of Putin’s mock annexation – with a bang.
The Russian Consulate in New York is in a large Manhattan mansion on East 91st Street. The former John Henry Hammond House was built as a gift to a banker upon his marriage to a distant Vanderbilt relative in 1901. Designed in the fin-de-siècle Renaissance palazzo style, it is as charming as an Old New building York located on the uber of the city. – the chic Upper East Side.
It’s just a shame for architectural historians that the Russians bought this gem, because it will probably never be the same again.
At 1:30 a.m. on Thursday evening, just hours after Putin intervened Anschluss redux, the consulate was hit by a dramatic vandalism attack. Unlike Ottawa and embassies in other European capitals, the consulate has no fence; the facade of the building is directly at the level of the sidewalk. Surveillance video captured a hooded and masked man who managed to completely besiege the grand old mansion with an industrial-strength paint gun in just 45 seconds.
Another video on Friday saw workers trying every chemical removal method possible, but to no avail. The building remains a shocking eyesore days later, its historic facade completely obliterated by accusatory blood-red streaks high up from the floors. It is not yet known how the damage can be repaired.
Indeed, this attack on Manhattan is certainly the worst Russian embassy attack of the war in North America, visually and aesthetically speaking – perhaps even in Europe too, given the building’s provenance and its state of disaster. total.
In both cases, “the police are investigating”. Similar to the Ottawa Molotov cocktail attack several weeks ago, video shows a lone actor, but police have no suspects at this time.
And as with the escalation of the Ottawa attacks, Russian government officials in the two host countries and in Moscow are protesting that their embassies and consulates in North America are not adequately protected in hostile terrain. They announced that they had asked for more police protection and had not received it. The Canadian envoy to Moscow was called and reprimanded in September. Americans might be expected to receive similar treatment in the coming days – even as most Americans were deported in April and their embassy in Moscow now operates only on an emergency basis.
Such conflicts disappeared months ago in some European countries – those that simply expelled Russian missions to their own cities in the spring. It now remains to be seen which Russian embassies in North America will get first: the increased police protection they demand, or the message that it’s time to pack it up. Time will tell us.