WASHINGTON -- The Russians were up to their old tricks. Late Thursday night, President Clinton signed a law designed to stop them, but in the hard light of Friday morning, it seemed clear that this timeless battle would go on.
The Russians still were parking illegally.
Four blocks from the White House, lining both sides of the busy street in front of the Russian Embassy, 25 Russian diplomats' cars sat in bold defiance of the no-parking signs, the parking meters, the parking enforcement people and the newly toughened law of the land.
Each car had drawn a big, pink, $20 District of Columbia parking ticket -- just like the ones strewn on the sidewalk from previous days.
Over the years the Soviets -- and now the Russians -- have received thousands of tickets, $3.9 million worth since 1990, and they haven't paid a single one.
But because of the principle of diplomatic immunity, the usual means of dealing with such outlaws -- fines, towing, tire boots -- aren't available to Washington or any other city where diplomats break the rules of civilized society.
This year, that awkward fact of international relations led Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a dedicated foe of the Russkies, to amend the foreign aid bill so that the value of any unpaid diplomatic parking tickets, along with a 10 percent penalty, would be deducted from U.S. foreign aid earmarked for that country.
The bill bearing Mr. Helms' amendment passed both houses with little debate and quickly got the president's signature Thursday night. It was hurried along, oddly enough, because Congress and Mr. Clinton are so interested in getting $2.5 billion in new help to Boris N. Yeltsin's strapped country.
The resolution of the Russian parking dilemma is less likely to come from more enforcement than the fact that the embassy is being moved out of the crush of downtown Washington in the next year.