Relations are a tad … strained … between the United States and Russia this year, what with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent hemorrhaging of blood and treasure — not to mention a potential humanitarian crisis and increasing unrest if Kyiv’s grain can’t escape Russia’s Black Sea blockade.
Enter into this tense milieu a purported U.S. naval attaché, who took a selfie flicking off a Russian army “Z” in Moscow, prompting outrage and calls for revenge from Russian lawmakers.
Video of the bird and televised Russian outrage was posted to Twitter on June 23 by Julia Davis, creator of the Russian Media Monitor website and a columnist for The Daily Beast.
Military Times was unable to confirm whether the helmeted bicyclist in the video is in fact a U.S. naval attaché, but those khaki cargo shorts and nerd-adjacent bike helmet scream America.
Navy officials referred questions about the attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which pushed questions to the Defense Intelligence Agency, which declined to answer any questions about the video.
“The Defense Intelligence Agency is looking into the matter and will refer credible allegations for appropriate action,” DIA spokeswoman Amanda Schuler-Zepp wrote in an email Thursday.
Either way, Davis’ posting and translation of an excerpt from a Russian TV show indicates that the American bird flipped at the Z — which has been painted on Russian military vehicles since the invasion of Ukraine began — aroused local ire.
“Let this bitch step out once again,” a lawmaker in the Russian Duma, Aleksey Zhuravlyov, says in the video, according to the subtitled translation. “We’re going to find him. He should be in prison for insulting our army. Can he take a dump in the Red Square because of his immunity? No!”
The show’s host, Olga Skabeeva, also known as the propagandizing “iron doll of Putin TV,” interjects at one point, noting that Zhuravlyov’s fiery words are “not a threat, we are polite people.”
But Zhuravlyov was having none of that.
“This is a direct threat from me,” he warned. “And you, bastard, will know what country you’re in.”
Zhuravlyov said he would “spit” on the purported attaché's diplomatic immunity and understands that would be illegal.
“I’ll personally explain to you, bastard, what country you’re in and how you’re supposed to treat these symbols,” he continued. “If I don’t manage to do this, then our activists will do that.”
Zhuravlyov also threatened to stick the attaché's finger “where it belongs.”
“You’ll be taking selfies with a finger up your ass,” he warned.
The other show’s panelists start chuckling at this point.
“In the interest of diplomacy, we recommend for him to go home, since many people are concerned and cannot be held back,” Skabeeva said.
“I think the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is ahead of us,” an unidentified panelist added. “He’ll go home before our recommendations reach him.”
So far there is no word on the location of the middle-finger-giving supposed U.S. naval attaché. If you’re out there, contact this reporter to tell your side of the story.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.