Ambassador Anatoly Antonov's opening remarks at the the annual U.S.-Russia Business Council Meeting
I am grateful for another opportunity to address the leading US entrepreneurs. Our communication with the USRBC has become regular and constructive. It enables us to discuss the problems of concern to the business community in a straight-forward fashion.
We know how important it is for the business to have a clear understanding of the atmosphere of cooperation between the two countries as it helps foresee financial and other risks. We try to do our utmost to make your work in Russia comfortable.
It is not easy to speak about Russian-American ties, especially in the run-up to the US presidential elections. The Russia topic has once again become a central subject of the struggle between parties. Against the background of never-ending baseless allegations it looks as if American politicians compete to see who is tougher on Russia. At the same time any constructive development in our dialogue is perceived as a sort of concession made by Washington.
We cannot agree with such approach. It is our view that Russia and the United States are equally interested in developing stable and predictable relations. Due to objective reasons, their condition influences the global environment. That is why we consider it important to do our best to eliminate the sources of disagreement, differentiate shared interests and areas of disagreement and establish protective barriers to prevent further deterioration – fr om crisis to crisis.
The series of contacts between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump over the past months have shown that our countries can achieve considerable results when it comes to shared goals. Our leaders contributed greatly to the “OPEC plus” deal which stabilized the situation on the international oil market. The meltdown could have had very damaging consequences for the global economy.
In accordance with the presidential agreements Russia initially
sent a cargo aircraft with medical goods to New York. After that 200 ventilators were delivered to our country from the United States in response. We are grateful for this gesture of solidarity and support. We are looking forward to the implementation of the Joint Protocol regarding cooperation in various fields of research into COVID-19 signed on July 30 by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The ongoing contacts between the heads of the apparatuses of the national security councils, foreign policy and defense departments are a positive sign. Maintaining regular channels of communication helps better understand each other's positions and find ways to bridge the gap between them. An important impetus can be given by our legislators if they restore their dialogue. At least Russian side is ready for such a positive step.
It is revealing that prominent American experts from among ex-high-ranking officials started to call for the restoration of a meaningful dialogue between our countries and abandonment of megaphone diplomacy. In an open letter in Politico dated August 6 they criticized a policy based on futile attempts to corner Russia with sanctions. Unfortunately, the voices of realists do not yet resonate as loud as should.
I often receive questions about the changes we expect in Russian-American relations after the US presidential elections. I can only say that I have the same question in my mind. A strong anti-Russian consensus persists in America. Plus, whoever wins, the new administration will have to deal with a huge number of problems in bilateral relations. They cannot be addressed overnight. Political will and time are needed from both sides to create a more or less stable basis for cooperation.
I’m sure that normal predictable Russian-American relations meet the interests of the peoples of the United States of America and the Russian Federation. We have to find a solution on how to untie the knot of problems in Russian-American ties. We should pursue an honest forward-looking pragmatic policy in order to confirm our responsibility for international peace and stability.
We need to remember that strategic issues have always been the cornerstone of our relations under any circumstances. We hope that the United States will carry out a policy that does not seek military advantage over Russia. Our primary aim is to extend START Treaty immediately without any preconditions. Such proposal was made by Russian president Vladimir Putin in December, 2019. In his pre-recorded video address to the 75th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2020 president Putin reiterated that extension of the Russia-US Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is the issue of primary importance that should and must be promptly dealt with.
On behalf of the Russian side I’d like to assure you that our actions are aimed at stabilizing and then improving Russian-American relations.
Economic cooperation can provide a good impetus to that. Concrete figures prove that. For example, in spite of the pandemic, bilateral turnover of commodities reached 14.1 billion dollars in the period from January to August. It is remarkable, that the proportion of non-energy trade – trade in food, manufactured goods, medicine – is increasing. We see the start of new projects, the expansion of existing joint ventures. There is a growth of direct investments. Last year the volume hit 14.4 billion dollars.
In recent years we have repeatedly and at different levels made detailed suggestions on how to overcome the current deadlock in the relations.
Some issues are long-term, some can be fixed pretty fast. The full potential of trade and economic cooperation and ties between regions is yet to be reached. Cultural and humanitarian exchanges, contacts between people are in high demand. It’s important to promote interaction in the spheres with fewer contradictions, such as space, culture, the Arctic, fishery, scientific cooperation.
We have repeatedly stressed that we are ready to work with Washington on any issue. The main thing is that such cooperation should be built on the basis of equality, there should be no place for blackmail attempts and attempts to impose one’s will on each other.
Regardless of the person that will lead the US in the upcoming four years, our comprehensive proposals on normalizing bilateral relations are still on the table. We are ready to launch joint substantial work at any moment.
Answers to questions received during and after the online-conference
Q: What are the prospects of New START extension?
A: We are concerned about the deep crisis of confidence in relations between the two leading nuclear powers. The primary shared interest for Russia, the United States and the entire world is to maintain strategic stability, prevent an arms race and reduce the risk of military incidents.
With the erosion of the architecture of international security that was shaping during for the past 50 years and served to prevent the cold war from turning into a hot one, it is particularly important to maintain the regime of transparency and confidence-building measures in strategic areas in accordance with the New START Treaty.
We are satisfied that our teams have started dialogue on strategic stability. We have had a few rounds of consultations in Vienna. These consultations have been practical, useful, aimed at a compromise.
The Russian side looks forward to further progress of the talks. But the potential result could be very sensitive and delicate. In order to meet the interests of the USA and the Russian Federation, there should be no place for any attempts to get significant unilateral advantages in the military political sphere. We cannot single out just one problem and forget about the necessity to find a compromise on all key factors of strategic stability. We need a stability formula with equal rights and obligations. Russia’s main concerns are global missile defense system, the development of non-nuclear strategic offensive weapons within the framework of the concept of a global strike, the growing threats of weapons deployed in space, quantitative and qualitative imbalances in conventional weapons in Europe and so on. We are ready to continue intensive consultations to find solutions to these key factors of strategic stability.
Q: If arms control dies, what will replace it?
A: Obviously, by the death of arms control you mean the possible termination of the New START Treaty in less than 4 months, the latest agreement to lim it the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world – of Russia and the United States. This is indeed a very disturbing, but very real prospect.
Without preserving the Treaty, a period of unpredictability will begin in 2021. With the weakening of transparency measures and the reduction of communication channels, the mutual understanding of our countries regarding each other's strategic nuclear arsenals will be significantly reduced. The risk of accidental or unintentional use of nuclear weapons will increase, as will the likelihood that a crisis situation could quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict.
Let me remind you that we did our best to avoid such a scenario. We continue to conduct a dialogue with the American side on a wide range of arms control issues, in which the fate of the New START Treaty is a priority.
Whatever the outcome of these efforts, Russia is ready for any development of events. We have the necessary potential to ensure national security. Without getting involved in a costly race of nuclear missile arms, we will continue to search for ways to preserve the foundations of strategic stability and international security.
Q: What message would you like to send to the business community? What do you think about the prospects for economic communications?
A: Of course, in the conditions of never-ending sanctions (there were 90 rounds since 2011) and trade barriers, imposed by the administration, it is extremely difficult to sustain a constructive agenda of our bilateral relations. We see that business is the most affected. Business operators have to look for law “gaps” to fulfill joint projects and not to be punished by their own government.
At the same time it is impossible to deny that the development of trade and investment relations could make a common stabilizing impact on all the complex of the ties between Russia and the USA. This was acknowledged by our presidents multiple times. Donald Trump personally spoke out in favor of a qualitative increase of business contacts.
One of the initiatives suggested at the highest level, which is intended to implement the understanding of the heads of states, is to establish up a Consultative Business Council including business leaders. As for the Russian side, we are ready to launch the mechanism. We have proposed concrete ideas to the US administration and now we are waiting for reciprocal steps from Washington. I am sure that much will depend on the consolidated position of US entrepreneurs. At least in my conversations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross this year, they assured me that in its economic policy the White House is guided, first of all, by the voice of national businesses.
It is encouraging that the American business community keeps on working actively in Russia despite all the restrictions.
We see a significant potential of commercial ties in chemical and light industries, construction, transport, agriculture, medicine, services and information technology. By the way, international experts mark the high level of Russian pilot projects – so called "startups" – in advanced technologies and telecommunications.
Direct ties between regions could also provide a solid boost for business cooperation. Heads of Regions of the Russian Federation also tell us about their readiness to engage in a direct dialogue with American businesses.
Q: Electoral interference: how does the Russian side react to such accusations?
A: As for alleged attempts by Russia to influence the US domestic politics, such allegations are completely false. As Vladimir Putin stressed last week, we are outside observers. We do not interfere in the American electoral campaign. We will work with any president that the American people will elect. Let me remind you that on September 25 the President of Russia made a statement about a comprehensive program of measures for restoring the Russia-US cooperation in the field of international information security, including the exchange of guarantees of non-intervention into internal affairs of each other. Still, no response followed.
Q: The situation in the post-Soviet area (Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kyrgyzstan).
A: Belarus is our ally, partner in the Union State, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
We are concerned about the attempts to put pressure on the Belarusian leadership and destabilize the situation in the country. We consider unacceptable any outside interference in the internal affairs of the republic, any support for anti-constitutional actions.
Belarusians can figure out the current situation on their own. It is important that the country's leadership is trying to enter into dialogue with citizens protesting against what they consider an infringement of their rights.
Russia and the United States share common approaches to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Our countries condemn military actions along the line of contact in the conflict zone and call to resume negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
Around these theses were lined up trilateral joint statement of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Emanuel Macron on October 1, as well as the statement of the Foreign Minister of Russia, the United States and France on October 5. On October 7, the United States National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien emphasized that the interests of Moscow and Washington with regard to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh coincide.
The Russian Federation proposed to provide a Moscow platform for organizing contacts between the heads of the foreign ministries of Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (such a meeting took place on October 9).
We are watching the events in Kyrgyzstan with concern. We interact with all parties to the internal political conflict that emerged after the October 4 parliamentary elections. We hope that the situation will stabilize in the near future. As far as we understand, the United States is also interested in de-escalating the conflict between the political forces in the republic.