This year, U.S.-Russia relations have been shrouded in acrimony and distrust. Washington and Moscow have butted heads over a range of geopolitical crises, from turmoil in Ukraine to resolving the bloody civil war in Syria.
But away from the glare of the headlines, the delicate art of diplomacy continues. That's very much on display in the State Department's mandatory annual listing of gifts received from foreign dignitaries, published yesterday in the Federal Register.
The listings of gifts received in 2013 include a couple of conspicuous offerings from Russian President Vladimir Putin. To President Obama, he offered the following items:
- Six piece porcelain espresso cup set with gold inside and silver leaf patter on outside. Received 6/17/2013, $540
- Three 9.5" porcelain plates with Russian city scenes, one with Peterhof Palace, one with an equestrian statue, and one with the Monument of the Emperor Peter I and the Konstantin Palace. White porcelain tea set with two half-circle cups and one tea pot with blue, red, black, orange, and green stripes. White porcelain tea set with two tea cups, two large coasters and a tea pot. DVD, title: "Jewels" from the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet. Received 9/6/2013. $1,084
The manufacture of porcelain has a rich tradition in Russia, dating to the era of Czar Peter the Great. It's not surprising that Moscow's latter-day potentate goes about distributing such fine pieces.
Here's a clip of the Mariinsky Ballet in action, by the way.
Putin also presented Secretary of State John Kerry with the following, according to the Federal Register: "Framed enamel scenes depicting a church, a bridge, and various buildings. 4" x 5.75" framed enamel picture of the Kremlin." It was valued at $430 and gifted in the first week of May 2013. A couple of days later, Kerry's counterpart in Ukraine — then still positioned favorably in Moscow's orbit — gave the secretary of state "an orthodox Easter egg" valued at $430.
Russia's minister of internal affairs, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, gifted a pair of watches to then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder. Napolitano's gift was described as a "watch in white gold or sterling silver with a white band," estimated at $2,976. Holder's watch was appraised at a more miserly $367.
The circumstances for accepting the presents in the first place are almost always the same: "Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. government," read the listings.
It's one instance, at least, where Washington cares about Putin's feelings.