- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

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What? Nonstop caviar, flowing vodka, heartfelt toasts and a major turnout of VIP guests at a Russian Embassy party honoring a distinguished former U.S. ambassador to Moscow? Yes, and it all happened Tuesday night in the midst of one of the messiest spy scandals between the two "former" rival powers in years.

In the bad old days of the "Evil Empire," a similar event would have been canceled immediately in the wake of major espionage revelations. Former Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin hardly would have been clinking glasses of Stoly with Americans if he had just discovered the CIA was operating a secret surveillance tunnel directly beneath his embassy.

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"It´s a different world. We´ve moved past those days of the Cold War," guest of honor Robert S. Strauss said as he greeted Margaret Tutweiler, Al Hunt, Sandy Berger, Adam Clymer, Frank Carlucci, Michael Deaver, Katharine Graham, Tom Foley and other guests atop the grand marble staircase with his host, Russian Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov. "Both the Russian and the American people need to know there´s always going to be a spy scandal. It´s part of the game."

So it was merrymaking as usual or sort of, anyway at the decidedly non-frosty affair, where "tunnel talk" predominated, even though the party took place at the "old" embassy on 16th Street NW (now the ambassador´s residence) rather than at the Russians´ new Wisconsin Avenue redoubt.

"I would have preferred it being at the new one," Carol Ross Joynt told several like-minded friends. If it had, she predicted, "everyone would have been asking for tours."

After 45 minutes of open bar (the blinis came later), guests moved into the elaborately gilded ballroom for a short program that included the traditional welcome of bread and salt and a superb musical performance by a Russian cellist and pianist playing selections from Sergei Rachmaninoff and George Gershwin´s "Porgy and Bess."

Mr. Ushakov took pains to laud his guest of honor as a man whose "wit is wise whose wisdom is witty." He then followed with a story about Mr. Strauss´ arrival in Moscow in August 1991 at a time when tanks were rolling all across the city during the attempted coup against then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"He called his old friend (Mr. Dobrynin), asking what he should do and my predecessor gave him simple but valuable advice: 'Just do nothing.´ Bob followed this advice, and the next day, everything was over; the putsch ended in failure."

Mr. Ushakov then revealed that he had asked Mr. Strauss the same question shortly after taking up his duties here.

"He said, 'Just do nothing,´ and I have been following this recommendation for two years, and it works for me."

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge time in the audience. Guess that means Mr. Ushakov is waiting for the spy thing to blow over.

Mr. Strauss had his own anecdotes to share, including an amusing story about having to accompany Boris Yeltsin on a goodwill tour to Miami Beach. All his diplomatic skills were put to the test, Mr. Strauss related, after the Russian leader´s security detail found a drawer full of lady´s lingerie in his hotel suite.

"They thought it was a plot to embarrass him, and I had to explain that it belonged to hotel owner Dwayne Andreas´ daughter," who had hastily vacated the premises to accommodate Mr. Yeltsin.

"Not complicated diplomacy," Mr. Strauss told his audience, "but certainly effective."

The same also might be said for the participation of U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins on the day U.S. diplomats in Moscow were being summoned by the Russian foreign ministry to explain the existence of the secret tunnel.

His tribute to Mr. Strauss and his soothing words to both Russian and American guests afterward obviously were meant to help deflate the situation as well.

"Security is one side of our relationship, but there are other important sides, as well: economic, environmental, commercial and human," Mr. Collins said.

What U.S. officials will reveal about the tunnel is anybody´s guess at this juncture. Meanwhile, the Russians were making a fine effort to keep their sense of humor.

"If we find it, perhaps we can use it as a sauna," Mr. Ushakov said, the barest trace of a smile fleeting across his face.

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