The U.S. diplomats’ departing words — released Friday night in a nearly 12-minute video titled, in Russian, “Thoughts for the Road” — are laced with disappointment and sorrow but also optimism about maintaining a good relationship with Russia. Several talk of their love for Russia, cemented over a lifetime learning its language, literature and history.
Diplomats working on the Middle East, political affairs and the commercial sectors speak in the video, in Russian and English. Maria Olson, who was the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Moscow, held up a book of Russian fairy tales given to her by a Russian journalist, recalling how she grew up reading Russian literature — in translation — with her father in rural Michigan.
In response to expulsions by the West, Russia ejected a similar number of diplomats belonging to at least 20 countries and closed the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. In the past week, Western embassies in Moscow held farewell gatherings for departing colleagues. The ousted diplomats are considered personae non gratae by the Russian government, meaning they are banned from visiting Russia for a certain period — a heartache for those who have devoted so much of their professional lives to the country.
On Friday, three large buses collected the exiting Americans from the embassy in central Moscow, along with their families, including the occasional family pet. “Today, 60 of America’s finest public servants departed Embassy Moscow too soon,” U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. said, adding that stabilizing the U.S.-Russia relationship is “a task now more important than ever before.”
The Americans’ conspicuous adieu came in stark contrast to that of their expelled Russian counterparts. The Russian Embassy in Washington tweeted a photo of its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, solemnly staring at a plane full of departing Russian diplomats on a U.S. runway; his hands were clasped behind his back, which faces the camera.