Foreign diplomats here are closely watched by government agents, and over the years some have been subjected to protracted harassment — including the U.S. ambassador, Michael McFaul, when he first arrived in early 2012. A physical assault is considerably more serious.
Russia is treating the incident as an attack by criminals. But it comes amid escalating disputes between the two countries and Russian fury over the treatment of its diplomat in the Netherlands.
On the night of Oct. 5, Moscow’s No. 2 diplomat in The Hague, Dmitry Borodin, was taken into custody by Dutch police. Accounts differ, but the police apparently forced their way into his apartment after his wife was involved in a minor traffic accident and neighbors complained that the couple had been abusing their children. The diplomat, who police said had been drinking, was detained, then released.
Russia claims Dutch police beat Borodin when they took him into custody and has denounced the way he was treated. The Netherlands has apologized for the incident.
Now a diplomat identified by Russian authorities as Borodin’s counterpart, Onno Elderenbosch, the Dutch chief of mission in Moscow, has been attacked by men he said were posing as electricians working on a circuit-breaker box outside his apartment. He was not seriously hurt, and he called police to report the incident.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday called the assault “deplorable.” The investigative committee opened a criminal probe.
“Our people have to be able to do their jobs in safety, and I want assurances that the Russian authorities will be responsible on this point,” the Dutch foreign affairs minister, Frans Timmermans, wrote in a post on Facebook. He also summoned the Russian ambassador for an explanation.
“We condemn the attack on the minister-counselor of the Netherlands in Moscow,” McFaul tweeted Wednesday. “Such actions are unacceptable.”
2013 was designated as a year to celebrate Dutch-Russian friendship. But activists in the Netherlands denounced a new Russian law curtailing homosexual “propaganda,” and last month, Russia seized the Netherlands-flagged Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and arrested its crew after it staged a protest at an Arctic oil rig.
The ship is in Russian hands, and the crew members face charges of piracy, which carry a 15-year sentence.
Dutch authorities have said that they intend to take Russia to an international arbitration court over the seizure, but such an action could take months to unfold.
Last week, an aide to Russia’s chief sanitary inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, who frequently targets the goods of countries with which Moscow is arguing, announced that Dutch milk products and Dutch tulips face a potential import ban.
“If it was up to me, the Netherlands-Russia year is ‘on hold,’ ” a Labor Party member of the Dutch parliament, Michiel Servaes, wrote on Twitter. “First, clarifications and guarantees for the safety of Dutch diplomats.”
King Willem-Alexander has planned a visit to Moscow on Nov. 9 to wind up the year-long celebration of the two countries’ friendship. It is not clear whether that trip will take place.