After its consulate in Seattle was ordered to be shut down, the Russian Embassy in Washington tweeted out a poll asking which U.S. consulate Russia should shutter in response.

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When countries decide to expel diplomats, the measures are usually supposed to send a serious message: Enough is enough.

Monday’s expulsion of more than 100 Russian spies and diplomats by two dozen countries may very well pose practical challenges to the Kremlin’s ability to gather intelligence overseas. In comparison to the measures taken after Russia stood accused of being involved in the 2014 shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, the West appeared to offer an unusually strong rebuke following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Russia, however, is very good at appearing unfazed and diplomatic sanctions often result in a cheekiness, ridicule and trolling that appears to be intended to take away at least some of the gravity Western nations may have hoped to trigger.

After its consulate in Seattle was ordered to be shut down, the Russian Embassy in Washington tweeted out a poll asking which U.S. consulate Russia should shutter in response.

Russia in USA tweeted “US administration ordered the closure of the Russian Consulate in Seattle @GK_Seattle. What US Consulate General would you close in @Russia, if it was up to you to decide”

The tweet followed a common pattern that has emerged in recent years, and is far from being constrained to the account of the Russian Embassy in Washington. In an attempt to show the apparent hypocrisy of the West, Russia’s Twitter-savvy diplomats in Moscow, London and Washington frequently resort to memes to mock Western allegations of election interference or human rights abuses.

Russian consulates

Russia’s U.S. Twitter account has yet to dethrone its British counterpart that has refined the “art” of trolling Western governments for years, using the handle @RussianEmbassy.

Not all of the photos or memes shared by the official accounts are actually produced by Russian diplomats. The one below was first circulated in pro-Trump groups on Reddit, according to my colleague Adam Taylor, and then shared by the account of the Russian Embassy in Britain – in an attempt to ridicule allegations of Russian election hacking in Europe and North America.

Russian Embassy, UK tweeted “It’s like epidemic, or fashion? in the West with everybody claiming being hacked by Russia.”

When then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats over the country’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election, Russia mocked him for being a “lame” duck.

Russian Embassy, UK tweeted “President Obama expels 35 diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm.”

According to Moscow-based journalist Alexey Kovalev, many of the tweets used by official Russian accounts in response to Western allegations follow a similar pattern. They deny “basic facts,” and “deflect any responsibility,” Kovalev wrote on Twitter in February.

While Russia’s diplomats may use modern platforms, their strategy is also rooted in far older concepts. The Russian responses rarely directly disprove the allegations made by Western officials, but are instead a mere attempt to expose the alleged hypocrisy of the West itself. This strategy, known as “whataboutism,” has long been deployed by the Soviet Union, but appears to work especially well online.

Finally, Kovalev argued, the choice of a “comically bad pic” gives the tweets their final touch. It further distracts from the often serious nature of the allegations the tweets seek to address.

“(Those tweets) are seeking to disrupt conventional narratives and to provide an alternative perspective in a way that is hard to counter with the usual style of ‘rational’ argument,” London School of Economics professor Charlie Beckett told Vice in 2017. “Even when they attract critical responses they have achieved their aim of raising the profile of the Russian point of view,” he said.

As of 7 a.m. EST on Tuesday, and with three hours to go, over 50,000 people had participated in the poll which U.S. consulate the Russian government should shut down.