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Russian Ambassador to the US weighs in on relations with America

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov Alexander Shcherbak/TASS
Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov
© Alexander Shcherbak/TASS

Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky has just visited the US. What are the results of his trip? Can it be considered a step toward negotiations? Or was the decision to supply Patriot air and missile defense systems a move towards escalation?

— We all saw a theatrical show. The Ukrainian president had his part to play. He demonstrated servility, loyalty and readiness to continue pitting the Ukrainian and Russian people against each other. He came here to beg for handouts of money and weapons. He kept speaking about his commitment to democratic ideals and willingness to subordinate the interests of his country to Washington’s policies. The administration did not skimp on flattering promises, it gave him the red-carpet treatment and the opportunity to address the US Congress. It also gave him some alms and promised continued support in the fight against Russia. Today, nobody is hiding the White House’s true goals regarding us. Political commentators on all TV channels say that the US proxy war against the Russian Federation must be intensified.  Let me remind the audience that proxy wars are fought with someone else’s hands. As a matter of fact, this is precisely what the Americans have been doing on Ukrainian territory. To keep the furnace of hatred burning anything goes: money, weapons, intelligence support, and US military satellites that keep an eye on Russian troop movements. The slogan is clear to the naked eye: a situation in which Russia may gain the upper hand in the special military operation must be prevented no matter what. The gist of the demands is obvious. First, a stop to the special military operation. Second, a troop pullout from pseudo-Ukrainian territories. Third, reparations to Ukraine for the damage incurred. 

In a situation like this we have no room for retreat. We can only move forward. If we leave the roots of Nazism on Ukrainian soil, it will sprout again after sometime and we will have to fight tooth and nail again to rid Ukraine and the entire world of this plague. We have had many discussions with [our] American counterparts about the dangers of the administration gettinginvolved in the Ukrainian conflict. We have warned them dozens of times about the harmful effects of prodding the Ukrainian military. We have been trying to drive the message home, to have politicians realize with their hearts and mindsthat there was no chance of reconciling oneself with the death of people killed in Odessa’s Trade Unions House, the shooting of unarmed prisoners of war and with daily slaughter ofRussians in Donbass and Lugansk and in other regions that have reunited with us. It seems that Washington is testing our strength. It all began with targeted deliveries of small arms a few years ago. And now, it is about Patriot missile systems. By the way, the amount of military aid is enormous. They would be better off using that money to meet the peaceful needs of countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

According to Politico, up to 90 troops will service the Patriot system. Who are these people? Clearly, Ukraine doesn’t have such specialists and it will take a long time to train them. Will it be Americans or, perhaps, citizens of other NATO countries? It would be nice to get a straightforward answer. Just the other day, we tried to get the White House and the Department of State to understand that all US systems, primarily the Patriot ones, would become legitimate targets for our military. What if Americans get killed? What if they are among the crews? How would Washington react? What is that if not proof of the administration’s direct involvement in the current conflict? What other evidence is required to confirm this assertion, which, by the way, government agencies here dislike so much?" Zelensky’s visit here and his talks in Washington showed that neither the administration nor Kiev are ready for peace. Both chose war, the death of rank-and-rifle soldiers and binding the Ukrainian regime even more tightly to US interests.

Yes, indeed, there are people in America who think otherwise, who think about peace. They see the problem in their own way. They offer proposals to resolve the situation - albeit, with serious flaws. This could be said about Henry Kissinger’s recent initiatives. I would emphasize the positive aspects of his ideas – the importance of a dialogue with Russia. But even this sort of signal is drowned out in a sea of Russophobia. Our diplomats in the United States seek to use every chance to clarify Russia’s position. We emphasize the high risk of a clash between the two great powers. We will keep working toward a situation where Russia’s security concerns will not be ignored, but be heard with the prospect of working together to resolve them.

— What exactly is to be done by the Americans to make theBilateral Consultative Commission’s (BCC) meeting possible and to resume inspections under the New START treaty? Is a bilateral dialogue on strategic stability possible regardless of Washington’s actions in Ukraine?

— Your question contains certain contradictions. What is the point of discussing only the resumption of inspections? Within the BCC there exist other serious problems that have not been resolved for a long time. We believe that the United States first of all must fully comply with its obligations under the Treaty. I am talking about our long-standing concern over the reconfiguration of the United States’ heavy bombers and submarine-based launchers for non-nuclear purposes. The procedures that the Americans use in relation to these systems are not enough to make Russian experts certain the reconfigured systems will be unusable for nuclear missions. In all likelihood, after the expiration of New START – incidentally, this will happen in three years from now – Washington will be able to easily restore these systems to their original shape. In other words, after some “finetuning” they will be able to perform nuclear missions again.

Naturally, there are technical issues, but all of them have a political tinge and political context. For instance, the guarantees for flights by our inspection planes and the issuance of visas to specialists from Russia without any delays or restrictions. Likewise, it is important to have a bird’s eye view of the situation. The problem of convening the BCC cannot be isolated from the general condition of Russian-US relations. A war is on against us. The enemy’s aim is Russia’s strategic defeat. Attempts at shaking up the internal political and economic situation are quite obvious. How can we be expected in a situation like this to let the Americans visit our holiest of holies – the system of Russia’s security, in other words, the military bases were nuclear deterrence forces are deployed? And how can one account for the fact that in the new security strategy there is not a single mention of a Russian-US strategic stability dialogue? The US military-industrial complex and armed forces are focused on achieving a pseudo-victory over our country. Strictly speaking, it is hard to say now when this dialogue – a dialogue on strategic stability – can be resumed. It was not us who froze it, we have not started a proxy war against the United States. NATO’s entire military-industrial machinery has been moved to Ukraine for a war on Russia. Apparently, time is needed for the Americans to realize the futility of their policy. For a start they should begin to diligently comply with New START and terminate subversive activities against our country.

— Recently, Washington hosted a US-Africa summit. The American authorities make no secret of the fact that their policy towards Africa implies, among other things, the wish to "oppose Russia's influence" on this continent. How do you see US policies in Africa, including in the context of the summit that was just held? Does Washington have a chance to attain its goals, or is it just sweet-sounding rhetoric about friendship, partnership and mutually beneficial cooperation? Does Russia feel in practice the consequences of such activities by the US? Does Russia intend to strengthen its ties with Latin America? If so, in what areas?

— One of Washington’s aims in Africa is to counter our country’s greater influence on the continent, as follows from the US strategy for sub-Saharan Africa. The US administration adhered to the same course at the US-Africa summit that you have mentioned. True, the Americans kept saying that a geopolitical standoff was not on the event’s agenda. But the cat’s out of the bag, as the saying goes. That the United States’ prime task in this part of the world is to oust Russia and China and this can be observed in statements by US officials and in the final documents adopted at the meeting: The Joint Statement on Food Security and the Vision Statement for US-Africa Partnership. Both documents bear a heavy anti-Russian and anti-Chinese tone. It is noteworthy that up to the very moment of their release, the content and the very instance of drafting of such documents had remained secret. Not only from the public at large, but from the participants in the summit itself. The way we see it, this is a fresh confirmation the US administration’s policy towards African countries is unscrupulous.

We are certain that Washington’s slogans about a new partnership in the 21st century in reality can be likened to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is the previous, essentially neo-colonial policy, cloaked in the garb of friendship. A key point to note is that the White House has never used the term “mutually beneficial cooperation”. Apparently, it is presumed here that the United States is destined to be the sole beneficiary. Have the Americans succeeded in turning Africancountries against us? My firm conviction is this scheme failed.As before, we feel the support and encouragement of our African friends to advance cooperation. The outcome of voting on anti-Russian resolutions at the UN General Assembly and our contacts with partners, including those in Washington, are a clear confirmation of this. On the Latin American track, the United States demonstratesa very selfish attitude toward developing countries. Last June’s summit of the Americas in Los Angeles is a bright example. Instead of proposing a unification agenda the US shaped the event to meet its own foreign policy interests. Washington abused its host status by not inviting Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The Latin Americans’ response to this kind of attitude was logical and harsh. As a result, the summit was held in a rather “truncated” way: nearly a third of the leaders were absent. The White House failed to grasp this message and it keeps following the so-called Monroe Doctrine. In a bid to consolidate its exclusive influence, the administration has been persuading the regional capitals to minimize cooperation with Moscow and Beijing. In the meantime, we never force Latin Americans to make a false choice with whom they should develop relations and with whom they should not. We never force anyone to make friends against their own will. We put the emphasis on wider mutually beneficial cooperation in any fields with countries that are ready for this.

— Could you say a few words, please, about the current conditions in which the embassy has to work, including the hindrances posed by the US authorities? Are there anyprospects for improvement next year, or do you expect it to worsen? Should we hope 2023 will bring about a settlement of the situation concerning Russian diplomatic properties, seized in the United States? Have any solutions in this area been found?

—The embassy still has to work in a climate of hostility and distrust. This is the fault of the local [US] ruling circles, who are obsessed with the idea of making an ‘international pariah’ out of us. The state of the Russian-US dialogue can well be likened to an Ice Age. Under the conditions of the campaign unleashed to ‘cancel’ Russia and everything related to our country, combined with attempts of psychological pressure by the US secret services, the position of the diplomatic mission reminds us of a siege. This manifested itself most strongly during the “spring aggravation,” when some developed the delusion they would be able to overpower us by means of a “light cavalry charge.” I would not say that the situation has now improved, but at least it has stabilized more or less. To be more precise, we have gotten used to the hostile and dangerous environment. Further attacks of Russophobic hysteria cannot be ruled out. We have serious problems with new personnel. Many of our colleagues are obliged to leave by January 1, 2023. There are no substitutes. The consideration of applications is trudging along slowly. Some are turned down. There are no chances in sight that the problems with seized Russian properties will be settled any time soon. Our repeated demands for getting access to the confiscated facilities have been rejected. Contacts with administration officials are rare. Mostly by telephone or by e-mail. Washington shows no signs that it is ready to look for diplomatic solutions for the sake of normalizing bilateral relations. We are invited to the Department or State or called by telephone only when they want to read out the latest demarche or hand us a note of protest. Rarely do we get an opportunity to explain Russia’s opinion, and once the official statement has been read out, we are rudely interrupted and told that our time is up. At the same time, we must admit that the Americans do not wish to sever relations altogether. They are trying to control the crisis. They understand the consequences of excessively drastic steps. The more so, since relations between two major nuclear powers are at stake. They are aware that without Russia it will be impossible to respond to global challenges. The food crisis is a vivid illustration. Also, the White House needs a channel of communication for settling other outstanding issues, such as prisoner swaps. The wish to influence the internal situation in Russia by means of diplomatic opportunities is a no less important factor. We do know the Americans use this tactic. We resist it. The Americans obviously wish to support the opposition inside the country. They have been trying to shake up the situation and set the public opinion against the special military operation. Despite our US counterparts’ unconstructive attitudes, we stay in touch with them and try to persuade them that “talking down to us” or using the language of force will be futile. Patiently and on a daily basis we keep clarifying the goals and tasks of Russia’s policy and progress in the special military operation. Naturally, we explain the ABCs of the risks of US involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.

— What contacts do you have with our compatriots? According to some sources, there are up to five million of them here. And on the West Coast some sites still bear traces of Russia’s presence from 200 years ago.

— I can tell you frankly that we have no confirmed statistics as to how many compatriots reside here. Estimates vary from 3 million to 7 million. Taking care of the interests of Russians who reside here is one of our priorities. The closure of our consulates in San Francisco and Seattle has had a very grave impact. Over there, the Russian communities run into several million, as far as numbers go. Even though we had to downsize our consular office staff – under US pressure – once the Covid pandemic-related restrictions were lifted, we resumed consular tours. We have been to California, Florida and Washington and visited Alaska for the first time. This is how we provided assistance to about 5,000 individuals. People across the United States are looking forward to our visits. Our compatriots give us a warm reception. There are no traces of Russophobia. They eagerly take various emblems and other memorabilia. They thank us for assistance and support. Together with our diplomats they participate in flower-laying ceremonies at the tombs of Russian and Soviet soldiers at US cemeteries. It is important that little children take part in such activities along with adults. The kids look very pleased and enthusiastic. We are aware of how important this work is and that its scope (consular tours - TASS) should be expanded many times over. We will do everything possible to meet the requests of all Russians who need our support.

— We see that securing the release of Russians from US prisons is high on the list of the embassy’s priorities. The White House, according to John Kirby, a White House official,said the other day that the United States was prepared to explore some additional opportunities for exchanging Paul Whelan, convicted of spying in Russia, and to act in a creative and innovative way. Do you see any signs that the US government is beginning to act in this way in earnest, and not indulge in “megaphone diplomacy”? Is an “all-for-all” prisoner swap between Russia and the United States possible?

— We are faced with an extremely daunting task – to prevent a situation in which at least one Russian will remain behind bars in the US. There are about 100 such people. Moreover, the list keeps growing. We regularly receive information about the arrests of our citizens in third countries at the United States’ demand and their likely extradition to the local authorities. Here they would have to endure great hardships, unbearable prison conditions and long and hazardous interrogation procedures and lengthy prison terms that seriously harm their physical and psychological health. The Americans know that and they have been trying to persuade Russians to agree to plea bargains, to plead guilty in exchange for shorter prison terms. I would like to support our Foreign Ministry’s advice addressed to all Russians to think long and hard before travelling abroad. If they may be of interest to foreign special services, it is better to refrain from such trips. Russia and the United States have a channel of communication between their special services to solve prisoner exchange issues. In the outgoing year, this dialogue confirmed its effectiveness and yielded positive results. Konstantin Yaroshenko and Viktor Bout are back home. This work continues. Let us give our colleagues a chance to work in a calm and peaceful environment, without being pushed around by the media. After all, the most important thing for us is a positive result. 

Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov interviewed by TASS