Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Russia's Public Diplomacy: Have You Ever Tried to Call the Russian Embassy?

The Russian Embassy welcomes you.

Not long ago, in the Huffington Post, John Brown lamented the difficulty of trying to reach the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. My own attempts to contact the Russian embassy have been similarly frustrating. I'm working on a paper about Russian PD in the United States, and I'd hoped to include some first-hand information on the embassy--so I decided to try to set up a meeting.

The embassy's website is in decent shape. The links work, the translations are good, the layout is modern, and the press releases in the "Latest News" section are all from this week. But every time I called the number on the website, I got a busy signal. I tried a number from an older website without much faith (it listed an incorrect address for the building) and found my doubt well justified. The phone rang. And rang. And rang. Eventually I hung up. Trying a different tactic, I called 411 and asked to be connected. After a brief pause, a fax machine started screeching in my ear. Clearly more decisive action would be necessary.

Today I decided to storm the embassy. Leaving my derelicte-style grad fashions in the closet, I dusted off my glad rags and set out for the Northwest quadrant.

The embassy is an imposing building, made all the more inviting by a thick iron fence. A barrier greets cars with the welcoming message: STOP. Undaunted, I marched up to the gate and pressed a buzzer. A voice greeted me in Russian. "Hi," I said. "Hello," said the voice. I explained that I'd like to speak with somebody at the front desk. There was silence.

I waited for a response, or for somebody to materialize and open the gate, or for a buzzer to sound, indicating that I could enter. Nothing. I waited a few minutes, strolled around the gate to see if there was another entrance, then tried again. This time, nobody even responded to the buzzer. After several long minutes in the balmy D.C. sunshine, I gave up and headed to campus.

The embassy, of course, is not the only destination for the PD-curious. A visit to the Russian Cultural Center a few weeks ago proved much easier. My colleague and I marched right up to the entrance and received a friendly tour. But it's not totally unreasonable to expect an embassy to open its doors--or is it? Mr. Brown questions whether U.S. diplomats and their Chinese counterparts are afraid to mingle with the natives, but the Closed Door Policy isn't simply the province of U.S. and Chinese embassies.


  1. LOVE IT! :))) Yay! We should send this to their press attache, what do you think? :P

  2. FYI, some good news on the Embassy front: I called the Israeli Embassy not long ago to make an appointment for my class; a friendly and polite employee answered the phone; a 90-minute meeting was quickly arranged at the Embassy during which we'll discuss PD with Israeli diplomat(s).

  3. L -- I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's not always that difficult to get in. Perhaps if I'd spoken Russian, or if I'd managed to set up an appointment ahead of time? It can't simply be an inpenetrable fortress.

    JB -- Glad to hear you had better luck with the Israeli Embassy. I've done well with some Latin American Embassies in the past. Chile, in particular, was very pleasant.