Steal Russian Secrets the Easy Way: Beat Up the Ambassador?

PHOTO: Vladimir Titorenko

Forget painstaking clandestine surveillance or risky "black bag" operations, according to the Russian government, Qatari officials have come up with a faster way to steal state secrets: beat up the ambassador carrying them.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement today it was downgrading diplomatic relations with Qatar following an alleged violent assault on one of its ambassadors in a Doha airport late last month.

Calling the incident "outrageous" on its Twitter feed, the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that on Nov. 29, Russian ambassador to Qatar, Vladimir Titorenko, was assaulted by security and customs personnel who were "trying to force him away from sealed bags" held in the diplomatic pouch. RIA Novosti, a state-owned Russian news outlet, said the security officials were reportedly attempting to X-ray the diplomatic mail.

Titorenko was injured in the attack along with two other Russian embassy officials who were at the airport, Russian officials said. The Russian ambassador is reportedly being treated for injuries suffered in the attack in Qatar.

The day after the alleged attack, the Russian government said it delivered a note of protest to the Qatari embassy in Moscow demanding an immediate investigation into the incident and a public apology for the "flagrant violation of universally recognized norms of international law." Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke with the Qatari Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to notify them of the change in diplomatic relations, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Qatari officials have not publicly responded to the Russian allegations and officials at the Qatari embassy in Moscow and the U.S. did not immediately return requests for comment on this report.

Titorenko, Russian officials said, had been returning from a "business trip" to Jordan when he was accosted.

Diplomatic pouches, a longtime favorite method for sending extremely sensitive communications across international lines, are protected from being "opened or detained" by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Any official carrying the bag, the international agreement says, "shall be protected by the receiving State in the performance of his functions... [and] shall enjoy personal inviolability and shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention."

PDF: Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961

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