A Vesti exclusive interview.
2018 was the year of missed opportunities in Russian-American relations according to our Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov.
In his interview with Alexander Khristenko, he shared what had been missed and what we can still catch up on.
- Mr. Antonov, allow me to wish you happy Diplomat Day and wish you and your colleagues success and resilience during these challenging times. Perhaps you'd like to say a few words to your colleagues as well?
Anatoly Antonov, Russian Ambassador to the USA: Thank you very much. February 10th is a very nice date in our lives, in the lives of diplomats. On this day, we recall what we managed to accomplish, we recall our veterans. As for me, first of all, I'd like to wish a happy Diplomat Day to my colleagues working in the central administration of the Foreign Ministry. I'd also like to send my best regards to my colleagues working abroad. But my special greeting, my kindest words, and my best wishes go to my colleagues who were forced to leave the US last year. Imagine, 60 diplomats. More than 200 people, if we count their families. Their lives took various paths from there. I'd like to believe that things will settle down and their lives will work out in the end. But I'd like to point out that we remember our comrades, our friends. We're closely following their careers and worrying about them.
- What's the current state of Russian-American relations? What's the level of your contacts? What matters do you discuss? And are you satisfied with the level of dialogue?
- I'd love to talk more about the good things today, about the recent progress of the Russian-American relations, but alas, I can't say there's been progress. I'd call the previous year, the year of 2018, the year of missed opportunities and the year of the continued degradation of Russian-American relations. Regrettably, we could feel their bad attitude towards us and their Russophobia towards the Russian Federation. We did our best to not let our relations descend into the abyss of a crisis. We were far from accomplishing every objective. We witnessed our relations deteriorating. I'm talking about the expulsion of the Russian diplomats. Russian citizens are being hunted all over the world. Many Russian citizens are in American prisons. We try to help them and try to free them.
The situation's extremely complex. Maria Butina is an example of that. I believe her case is well-known. The girl was baselessly accused of crimes she hadn't committed. Moreover, right now, she's being forced into admitting her guilt. We're closely following her case. We're trying to help and support her. We really hope that the court will make the right decision soon. We want to believe that Maria Butina will be able to come home soon and reunite with her family.
Another negative example is economic sanctions. If you open an American newspaper, you'll see that every day, Congress finds another reason as to why Russia should be punished. On the one hand, we keep cooperating with the US, even though our American counterparts dislike the word, in Syria. On the other hand, Congress is considering a bill that will punish us for helping the Syrian Armed Forces free their country, their territory, from terrorism.
The economic pressure against us is growing. Today, Congress is considering several bills. And unfortunately, bearing in mind that there's a certain consensus on Capitol Hill regarding Russia, all of those bills are likely to be adopted.
But having said that I must also note that we have a clear understanding of the situation. We're working on it. We keep painstakingly and meticulously explaining to our American counterparts that we're not their enemies. I always stress that. Even if the Americans call us foes and enemies, I strongly disagree with that. We have a great history of cooperation. It's enough to recall the Second World War. It's clear that when we're together we can achieve great results.
The Russophobes didn't manage to destroy everything. We retained our cooperation in the Arctic, in the field of culture. Just look at how hospitably the Americans welcome the Russian performers. The concert halls are full. People stand up to greet the performers and you can feel that they're enjoying the show. It's easy to win over the hearts and souls of ordinary Americans. The only thing that we need is our magnificent ballet. Whenever I get the opportunity, I attend such events with my colleagues. It's relaxing. I enjoy seeing, feeling the atmosphere.
The further you travel from Washington, the more you feel that ordinary Americans, businessmen, and local politicians have no negative attitude towards Russia. It feels like that negative attitude is concentrated in Washington. From Washington, it follows different routes, flooding various parts of the United States of America.
I can't help but mention that last year we had a very helpful summit, a meeting between the heads of state. And regardless of what others think, I still believe that the meeting was important and necessary. It allowed our leaders to discuss the severe issues in international affairs. Everybody must realize that. And I feel that the meeting between the leaders gives a positive boost to our administrations and governments to take particular steps that won't dismantle the architecture of our relations but would fix a couple of issues and initiate new projects instead.
I'd like to remind you that at the briefing, more specifically at the press conference after the summit, Putin made many interesting proposals. We still consider those proposals valid and believe that Russia must implement them. Today, we're greatly concerned by the fact that we can't restore the full range of our former contacts our political, economic, and military contacts that Russia and the United States used to maintain. I'd love to attend the meeting between the Foreign and Defense Ministers, a great format that has proved its relevance. I must admit that we still haven't established a permanent dialogue between our Foreign Ministers. Our attempts to break the impasse haven't been successful so far. And still, Mr. Bolton visited Moscow. Mr. Bolton had a meeting with Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev. Mr. Bolton had a meeting with Vladimir Putin and several other meetings. And it's crucial that we maintain this contact and that we don't just maintain it, but achieve certain results through it. I hope that this year we'll continue our dialogue. Perhaps Nikolay Patrushev could come to Washington. We'd gladly welcome him here. But I'll tell you right away: so far, we have no plans regarding that trip.
Last December, our Deputy Foreign Ministers resumed consultations on fighting terrorism. Recently, about ten days ago, the Deputy Foreign Minister responsible for the Asian-Pacific Region visited Washington. He and his counterparts discussed the Korean issue. Russian politicians and high-ranking diplomats have well-established contacts with their American counterparts in charge of Afghanistan. And naturally, among all of those contacts, I can't help but point out the contact between our Defense Ministries. We've managed to preserve it. You know that Chief of General Staff General Gerasimov had several phone conversations with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford. I can say that the nature of their conversations was quite professional. The parties openly shared their positions. One could feel that both countries are willing to continue developing that kind of dialogue. I'd like to add that today, the two Chiefs talk primarily about Syria.
But there are many more fields where our interests either coincide or conflict, and are not limited to Syria alone. There are many issues that we need to resolve together. I'd like to remind you that Russia and the United States are the two great nuclear powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council who bear a special responsibility for international peace and security. The fate of our world basically depends on how we build our relations. What I mean is that the nature of the Moscow-Washington relationship doesn't only define the nature of our bilateral relations but directly impacts international politics and security. In particular, my own deep conviction is that we're fated to coexist and cooperate with the US. Our world and global security will only benefit from that. If the current trend towards the cooling of relations continues, the only ones who'd benefit from that are terrorists, those responsible for the problems of the contemporary world. Fighting international terrorism is one of the central matters that concerns the entire international community. And there's a broad field for possible cooperation. We can do a lot together. Previously, we created a decent safety net in this field and we have the opportunity to develop it.
Yes, I must admit, that the US in its current state isn't yet ready to engage in an equal, pragmatic dialogue with Russia based on mutual respect. Yes, it would be great if it was ready but we're not going to beg to anyone. We calmly react to the situation and continue our painstaking daily work, explaining the advantages of equal cooperation between our two states.
- One of the paths where Russia and the US have always been together is arms control. Today, it seems that we're witnessing the collapse of one of the basic treaties, the INF Treaty. How did it come to that? The treaty is more than 30 years old and it always seemed that both parties consider this treaty vital and necessary. But suddenly, it becomes unwanted. Who is to blame in your opinion? What will come next? What will happen to New START?
- The system of disarmament treaties that formed over the last few decades used to meet the interests of international security. It used to meet and still meets the interests of the United States and Russia. I'd like to remind you that it all began a bit earlier. It all began with the US withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. Back then, we managed to mobilize many countries that supported the treaty. But we still couldn't save it. Years have passed. On March 1st, during his Address to the Federal Assembly, Putin demonstrated what we have today that won't allow the US to dominate the field of strategic security. But once again, on March 1st (or 2nd), they didn't believe us. But our Defense Ministry has proved in practice that we possess those systems. We're developing them and will continue to do so.
Now, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. You're correct, the treaty has existed for 30 years. It was an actual disarmament treaty. But today, the situation's changed. We did everything clearly and precisely, especially our Defense Ministry, that displayed unprecedented transparency and used simple terms and backed those terms with some hardware to explain that our missile, the so-called 9M729 (everybody knows the acronym now) doesn't violate the INF Treaty. However, for me it was clear from the very beginning: the tone of the statements of the US leaders and the tone of the statements of the admirals and generals from Capitol Hill makes it clear that they need those missiles and the US do everything to get a hold of their land-based version.
They had but one task. The task was to find a scapegoat, elaborating the same idea that was there in your question: who is to blame? And naturally, Russia was found guilty. It's incredible how they don't have any serious factual evidence and base their accusations on some fake Intel and secret information, but still insist that Russia violated the treaty. I was shocked when in Brussels we proposed to the NATO-members to invite military experts, to hold a round table, and think about how we can save the treaty. Because, you know, this treaty doesn't affect the security of the US. It mostly affects the security of the European states and Russia. A question arises: why does the US need such missiles if the treaty gets terminated? The concerns of our Defense Ministry are rather clear. It needs a plan to counter a possible missile threat in the future. A question: Imagine a map; where can these missiles appear? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the territories of the European states the territories of the NATO-members. I'm not talking about France or the UK in particular, but we know what countries share a negative attitude towards Russia and would be glad to provide their territory to house new missiles. And that's the greatest challenge and threat to our security.
I have a feeling that some generals started thinking that there's a chance that they might win a war against Russia. It's a dangerous misconception. There's no possible scenario where our defenses could be breached and our Armed Forces would suddenly be unable to respond to a challenge, any challenge, that the new American missile systems might pose. It's also important to note that Putin said that henceforth, that's a nice rough word, we shouldn't chase the US, proposing various initiatives in the field of nuclear disarmament or intermediate-range arms control. Everybody keeps quoting this statement, forgetting the sentence that came right after it: All of our previous proposals remain on the negotiating table.
And finally, the last part of your question. The question about START. It's hard to say anything so far. All that I see, all that I hear, and the results of the meetings here, in Washington, signal that the United States hasn't made a formal decision regarding the treaty. What decision are they going to make? We'll wait and see. Perhaps we won't be waiting for long. But all of those negative developments accumulating around the treaty make us fear for the future of the treaty. That's what I feel. Drop by drop, step by step, albeit quite powerful steps, a jigsaw-like picture is revealing itself. It shows the United States's intention to topple this concept of disarmament, to disarm our capabilities, and more importantly, to achieve military domination over the world. And that's not the only treaty at risk. The fate of the Partial Test Ban Treaty is also unclear. Having signed the treaty, the United States still hasn't ratified it after so many years. Once again, they resort to the same excuse, that Russia might be violating some part of the treaty. I'd like to remind them that Russia ratified the treaty. We're a party to that treaty and are legally bound to observe it. France and the UK also ratified the treaty. And we believe that if the United States would've accommodated the international community and ratified the PTBT, it would've positively affected the global situation.
- Mr. Antonov, is diplomacy in crisis? As a person who's worked in both diplomatic and military sectors, don't you have a feeling that the temptation to use force always prevails in the global context?
- I don't think that diplomacy is in crisis. Here's what I believe is happening in international politics today: the very foundation is being revised; the foundation that used to be the basis of international politics and law, the conventions and methods that had been forming for decades after WWII. I believe that we're just living in a difficult time, where we have to adapt to the new environment, to search for new approaches to resolving international issues. It seems that the world will require some time for the people, the politicians, who are trying to impose their methods upon the world, nation-specific methods, to eventually realize that they can't tackle those issues overnight and single-handedly.
- Thank you for the interview, Mr. Antonov.
- Thank you.
- We wish you a happy Diplomat Day.
- Thank you. Thank you.