12 December 2017
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PRESS RELEASES AND NEWS

31.08.2017

Newly-appointed Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov in an interview with Kommersant newspaper

Question: What do you feel as you depart for Washington? Are you concerned about the close attention given by the US establishment and media to your predecessor, Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who was referred to as “the toxic ambassador”?

Anatoly Antonov: I am going to Washington to work. The main mission for any ambassador is to uphold and protect the interests of his country. The ambassador must be ready to do this under any circumstances and regardless of the situation in the interstate dialogue with the host country.

Unfortunately, Russia-US relations have seriously deteriorated over the past few years because of the actions taken by the previous US administration, which was set to undermine the foundations of Russian-US cooperation that took a very long time to create. As President of Russia Vladimir Putin said repeatedly, this was not our choice. We have always wanted to maintain constructive interaction with Washington on all issues on the bilateral and international agendas.

Moscow appreciated US President Donald Trump’s resolve to improve Russia-US relations, which he outlined back during his election campaign. However, the atmosphere, not to mention the quality of bilateral relations can only improve if joint work is based on the fundamental principles of equality, real respect for the partner’s interests and non-interference in the partner’s internal affairs, without any attempts to blackmail or force one’s will on the partner.

Question: Why, contrary to what many people expected, nothing has come out of attempts to start a dialogue with the new US administration?

Anatoly Antonov: It is no secret that the dialogue with the current US administration is hard-going. On the one hand, this is the effect of the difficult legacy left behind by Barack Obama’s team. On the other, there are persistent attempts by certain forces in the Washington establishment to play the Russian card in domestic political infighting, including by endlessly feeding the insinuations about our supposed “interference” in last year’s US elections and other slanderous charges.

Of course, this stands in the way of interaction and creates a far from simple background for Russian diplomatic operations in the US. We cannot call normal a situation, where the media present the usual, routine contacts maintained by the embassy heads and staff as spying, our diplomats are expelled en masse from the country without being given any official reasons, and Russian diplomatic facilities are expropriated in violation of international law.

The recent US law designed to boost the sanctions pressure on Russia is also a reflection of the “overheated” political situation in the United States and the hyperactivity of the Russophobic lobby. This is a serious blow to bilateral relations and chances for productive cooperation.

For our part, we have repeatedly stated that we do not yield to emotions; we display restraint, despite all the difficulties, and remain open to looking for points of contact and moving forward with a degree of intensity acceptable for the US administration.

On July 28, the Americans were advised of the need to bring, by September 1, the number of their diplomatic staff in Russia, including the locally hired Russian employees, in full conformity with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff on long-term missions in the US. This means that they will have to cut their staff, whose number exceeds 1,200, to 455 persons. We have also reciprocated by suspending, as of August 1, the US Moscow Embassy’s use of its Serebryany Bor dacha and a warehouse in Dorozhnaya Street.

The US decision of August 21 to impose restrictions on the issue of non-immigration visas is regrettable and puzzling. On the same day, this step was clearly and succinctly assessed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said that the main reason for this decision was not the technical problems confronting the highly professional and well-equipped US consular service but clearly considerations of political nature.         

It is high time to stop; anti-Russian actions cannot be multiplied ad infinitum. For the Russian missions abroad, it will be business as usual and they will perform their functions in full.

We hope that common sense and the understanding that all attempts to pressurise our country are futile will gain the upper hand in Washington. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Russia and the United States possess the biggest nuclear potentials and have particular responsibility for global stability and security. The world is calmer and safer when we act together on the international arena.

Bilateral cooperation on the most pressing international issues is still of much importance, including cooperation in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime and the cyber threat. On the whole, our two countries would equally benefit by creating more interactive cooperation that would ensure predictability, rule out unpleasant surprises, minimise opportunistic behaviour, and make it possible to ward off tensions in good time.

As for the Russian Embassy in Washington and all other Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, it ill becomes diplomats to take fright at or fear anything, no matter what our working conditions are. We will consistently work to implement Russia’s foreign policy and the guidelines of its leadership.   

Question: You have the reputation of a tough negotiator who firmly upholds national interests. As far as we know, you were approved for the post of ambassador to the United States back when everyone in Russia and the United States believed that Hillary Clinton would replace Barack Obama as US president. Does the fact that Moscow has not revised this decision when Donald Trump won the presidential election mean that Russia needs an ambassador like you in any case?

Anatoly Antonov: Under Russian law, the appointment and withdrawal of ambassadors is a presidential prerogative. The procedure is clear: the foreign minister submits his proposals, the concerned committees of the Federal Assembly hold consultations, and the application is made to the host country. In my case, all these formalities took place after the US presidential election.

I will work steadily, professionally and openly to stabilise and subsequently improve Russian-US relations jointly with my colleagues in Moscow and Washington. Our relations must be equal, pragmatic and mutually beneficial and based on mutual respect. I will do my best to convince the Americans that we are not enemies and that we must become partners working in the interests of Russia and the United States.

Question: Can Russian-US relations improve if US sanctions against Russia are not lifted?

Anatoly Antonov: The Russian leadership has commented on this issue more than once. First of all, unilateral restrictions violate international law and are a double-edged sword. These restrictions are affecting us in some areas, but not more than they are affecting US exports, which Donald Trump has pledged to stimulate in order to create new jobs.

Russian-US trade has decreased by almost one-third, from $29 billion in 2014 to $20 billion in 2016, due to an unfavourable market situation and the sanctions. But the biggest damage has been done to US exports rather than to Russian consumers. We have even benefitted from this situation by enhancing domestic production and boosting trade with other countries. The US companies that were ordered by the US authorities to curtail promising projects in Russia were hit the hardest, for example, ExxonMobil that has invested $10 billion in Arctic shelf oil projects.

The US business community sent the largest delegation to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2017: it included representatives from 140 companies.

Russia has never asked and will not ask for the sanctions against it to be lifted, although it is obvious that the sanctions are evidence of an unfriendly attitude to our country.

At any rate, Russia and the United States will only develop effective cooperation if pressure, blackmail and attempts to force one’s will on the other party are removed from their dialogue. The ball in this game is in Washington’s court.

Question: The US media recently discussed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s “three-point plan” to improve relations with Russia. What do you think about this plan?

Anatoly Antonov: The media reported that the US Department of State had prepared or was working on this secret document in late June, before a meeting of the Russian and US presidents in Hamburg. It allegedly contains a request to Russia to avoid “aggressive actions” against US interests, to engage on issues that are of strategic interest to the United States, such as the civil war in Syria and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and to work jointly towards mutual geopolitical goals in the sphere of strategic stability.

I don’t think I need to comment on or assess this information. Diplomats don’t work with leaks and speculation. They only work with official information that is provided orally at meetings and talks or in the form of documents. We have not received any information from Washington about the reported three-point plan to normalise relations with Russia.

By the way, back in March we sent a document to our American partners with our ideas on possible ways to improve the atmosphere in our relations in the context of preparations for our presidents’ meeting. That document focused on the areas where we have coinciding interests and where we could therefore achieve practical results very quickly. Apart from counterterrorism, Russia and the United States could also coordinate their efforts to fight other threats and challenges, such as illegal drug trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and cybercrime.

If there was a constructive approach on both sides, we could do a great deal for the settlement of regional crises, including the Palestinian-Israeli, Yemeni, Libyan, Afghan and Syrian crises. At the same time, we should remove the arbitrary and random elements that are complicating our interaction and get rid of the numerous irritants in our bilateral relations.

We discuss these questions with our American partners, but it is a fact that the new Washington team’s views on many international issues have not yet taken final shape. We also need to factor in the complicated internal political situation in the United States. Anyway, we will only be able to return our relations to a sustainable development trajectory if our dialogue is based on the principles of equality and real respect for each other’s interests.

 

To be continued...




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