Ask This General

Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack {Ret.}


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tensions between Washington and the Kremlin are at one of the most dangerous points since the cold war. Vladimir Putin’s government is furious over an incendiary story by a U.S. government funded news agency Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports two U.S. officials with diplomatic passports were drugged last year in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The report sites a U.S. government official saying the two people were slipped a date rape drug at a bar and one of them had to seek treatment at a clinic. The State Department inquired about the alleged incident with the Russians.

MARK TONER, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: We are looking into it. We are investigating it just as we would any credible allegation.

TODD: The Russians are outraged over the allegation. The deputy foreign minister says Russian investigators responded quickly, but didn’t get the specifics they asked for from the U.S. embassy or even the victims’ names.

In a statement, the minister says, quote, “At the time, no Americans had sought treatment at any St. Petersburg medical institutions. If they had just been boozing at a hotel bar, they have only themselves to blame.”

[00:35:13] The State Department has wrapped up its complaints about what it says is a pattern of intimidation toward America’s diplomats in Russia.

TONER: Apartments broken into. You know, evidence left behind that people were in an apartment of a diplomat, this kind of stuff.

TODD: “The Washington Post” reported this summer that U.S. diplomats in Russia had furniture rearranged in their homes and said one diplomat reported someone defecated on his living room floor.

In June, an American diplomat was tackled by a Russian guard as he tried to enter the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The Kremlin said the guard was doing his job protecting the embassy from a potential threat.

U.S. officials say the harassment has gotten more intense since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Peter Zwack was the top military official at the U.S. embassy in Moscow then.

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK, NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY: Everywhere that we went, we had a sense that they knew where we were. We were being surveilled. You can have this feeling of constant very nervous tension.

TODD: If Putin’s government is harassing American diplomats, what’s his message?

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: That there aren’t any rules anymore. That you America have declared economic war on us, political war, you’re isolating us, you’re punishing us, and you’re signaling to us that you don’t have to take us seriously. So we’re going to use whatever weapons we have, asymmetric if necessary, to up the temperature.

TODD (on-camera): Russian officials have countered recent allegations of harassment by saying the same thing happens to their diplomats here in the United States. The Russian Foreign Ministry says U.S. security services have taken, quote, “unacceptable measures” against Russian officials in America, even sometimes putting psychological pressure on them in front of their families. State Department officials say those allegations are unfounded.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.