Cold War style intrigue. Three U.S. Diplomats in Russia Removed From Train

This article of intrigue is buried in the October 17 Wall Street Journal. It invokes the Spy vs. Spy era in Russian American relations.  Interestingly a follow up on line piece in the WSJ downplays the incident.  I would rely on the veracity of the original story which was published before talking heads for Moscow and Washington could weigh in with the “official” party line.

Wall Street Journal 10.17.2019

Three U.S. diplomats were removed from a train headed to Russian cities with restricted access and located near the site of a recent deadly nuclear explosion, according to Russian news agencies.

Russian authorities resorted to Soviet-era style secrecy in the aftermath of the explosion, such as deleting an announcement about a spike in radiation levels from the Severodvinsk city website. The incident triggered fear among residents over possible exposure to radiation and a rush on pharmacies to buy iodide that can help block radiation poisoning, if taken appropriately.

Earlier this month, Maxim Yakovenko, the head of the Russian meteorological service, Roshydromet, was dismissed from his position. Following the blast, his agency reported that “it is supposed” that the spike in radiation in the city of Severodvinsk resulted from “the passage of a cloud of radioactive inert gasses.”

Russia WSJ I 10.17.2019

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave the order to sack Mr. Yakovenko, who had headed the agency since September 2017. No reason was given for Mr. Yakovenko’s dismissal.

Citing a law enforcement source, the official Russian news agency, TASS, reported that the diplomats were taken off the train Monday as it was bound for Nyonoksa, a closed village near the Russian Navy’s main test site, and Severodvinsk, a city that foreigners need special permission to enter.

According to the Russian news agency, Interfax, which cited its own source, the incident occurred at around 6 p.m. Monday at the Severodvinsk station, and naval and military attachés were among the three checked and removed.

“When checking the documents, the passengers of the Nyonoksa-Severodvinsk train found three foreign citizens,” the agency’s source said.

It isn’t known what happened to the three U.S. diplomats after they were removed from the train.

The State Department confirmed in an email that “the American diplomats were on official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities of their travel.”

U.S. officials didn’t respond to further questions regarding the incident.

Officials at neither Russia’s Federal Security Service or Defense Department could be reached for comment.

TASS reported that the U.S. diplomats were regarded to have broken Russian law.

An Aug. 8 explosion during a missile test killed at least seven people and caused radiation levels to spike in the area around Severodvinsk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the incident occurred during the test of a “promising weapons system” and praised as national heroes the people who were killed.

U.S. officials said the explosion confirmed that Russia was working to develop high-grade specialized nuclear weapons, as Moscow seeks to produce a new generation of arms capable of overcoming U.S. defense systems.

Write to Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com