Obama and Clinton to Moscow by Spring? Or Kremlin Zakazukha?

A few news sources are reporting that Hillary Clinton will visit Russia soon after the US Senate confirms her Secretary of State nomination. The Georgian Daily Times, quoting Itar-Tass, reports that David Siefkin, the Press Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Russia, announced the upcoming visit. The article quotes Siefkin as saying that, while such visits generally take a week to prepare, this will take less time. RosBusinessConsulting, Rosbalt, and Regnum quote Mikhail Margelov, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Federation Council. RBC also says that the trip was announced “just one hour after Barak [sic] Obama’s inauguration ceremony.” The problem is that the White House hasn’t even held its first press conference yet, Hillary Clinton has not been confirmed, etc. The U.S. Embassy website does have a release on Clinton, but nothing about a trip. Also, there are Russian press reports that quote a Foreign Ministry official as saying, “As far as we know, currently there are no concrete plans” for a Clinton visit (outlet quoting Interfax). Even stranger, ITAR-TASS, which the Daily Times cited as its source, quotes a U.S. diplomat as saying essentially the same thing as the Russian diplomat from the Interfax article. To confuse things even more, the Georgian article quotes Siefkin, whereas the ITAR-TASS article quotes an unnamed U.S. embassy employee. And how to explain Margelov’s assertion that the announcement came only an hour after the inauguration, whereas all of the press reports are from late-afternoon today? And what about Siefkin’s statement that the meeting will require less than a week of preparation? First, these meetings generally take months of preparations. Second, if Siefkin’s quote is accurate, that would mean that Clinton would move into her office on one day, and fly to Russia on the next.

Is this a fake visit planted in the media by the Kremlin to provoke a response from the Obama Administration? Or just some misquoted or mistranslated articles? I emailed Siefkin for comment, but he did not respond immediately and he responded by saying that Itar-Tass misquoted him: “Itar Tass completely distorted something I said and turned it into an imminent trip by the Secretary of State to Russia, when she hadn’t even been confirmed yet.”

It is worth noting that Tass is not just any news outlet – it’s the state information agency. This does not mean that any misquote is, ipso facto, proof of some deliberate scheme. Still, the whole issue is complicated by the fact that Margelov – who coincidentally worked for Tass as an Arab translator in the 90s – was pushing a similar story at the same time. Even if Margelov got his information from Tass, it still doesn’t explain his comment about an announcement coming one hour after the inaugural address.

Update:

It just keeps getting better – in today’s Kommersant, a source “close to the State Department” is quoted as saying that President Obama might visit Russia as early as April, and Clinton in March. The article then goes on to quote a Russian presidential administration source, which can only be done justice at length:

Kommersant’s source inside the Russian presidential administration stated that Barack Obama’s visit has for the time being not been agreed to, and that no suggestions on this matter have been received through official channels. The source, however, noted that if the information is confirmed, then it will signify that the new American Administration really considers Russia a first-priority partner, and it might facilitate the long-term improvement of Russian-American relations.

The article also had a Foreign Ministry source, who similarly states that, as of today, they have not yet agreed to any concrete dates for a visit by Hillary Clinton.

The story is of course being picked up by the Russian news outlets, and this time should filter its way into the American media.

This seems to support the idea that there may be some media manipulation going on, for several reasons. First, the tone of the story – an American administration eager to meet in Moscow versus a disinterested, yet open-minded Russian administration – is the Kremlin’s dream script. They are dying to try and soak up some of Obama’s appeal, but they don’t want to look like groupies and definitely want to avoid Washington. Second, it almost seems like the first try at launching the story yesterday failed, and they went out of their way to make sure that didn’t happen today. This is the first story about an official trip by Pres. Obama and published on the front page of Kommersant, probably one of the most widely-read and cited newspapers in Russia, and definitely in the top three most read Russian papers outside of Russia. There is simply no way a story like this would not make it into the Western media.

Again, there’s just no way that this story is true (forget for a moment that the purported source told me his words were distorted). These meetings take massive amounts of preparation, and no single issue – including the date and location – is ever decided upon prior to planning discussions. If Obama really wanted to go to Russia in April, and the whole world knew it, then the Russians could essentially use it as a bargaining chip (like Gorbachev did at Reykjavik with regards to the Washington Summit).

[Zakazukha/Заказуха: term that generally refers to any news article that is paid for by a private individual or organization that has an interest in it being published]

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