Answers by H.E. Anatoly Antonov, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States of America, to the questions of the TASS information agency
Question: What is your assessment of the American elections and the extent of impact they exert on Russian-U.S. relations? Should we expect that the notorious "Russian topic" will keep its place in the context of internal political struggle?
Anatoly Antonov: The elections in the United States are over. Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Joe Biden on his victory. As for the rest, the Russian Side prefers to give no comments on electoral campaigns in foreign states. It is our view that the process of local expression of will is an exclusively domestic matter of the United States. I will therefore confine myself to the reaffirmation that Russia is ready to have a pragmatic dialogue on the basis of equality and mutual respect with any ruling political power, whether it be the acting administration of Donald Trump or the future government of Joe Biden – all the more so since bilateral constructive cooperation not only meets the interests of our states, but also serves as a solid foundation for strengthening global security. Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that Russophobia is deeply rooted in the minds of American elites. It is evidenced in the attempts that local politicians made during the entire campaign cycle to cement the theme of the "Russian threat" in the context of the election struggle. Sometimes the candidates seemed to care more about competing to see who is tougher on Russia rather than dealing with domestic political problems that needed to be urgently addressed. By the way, the baselessness of the allegations regarding some fictional "Russian interference" was confirmed by the U.S. special services that acknowledged a lack of facts of any "foreign impact" on the elections. Also no evidence was provided on other stories, including the so-called "Russian plot" with the Taliban. At the same time, the latest groundless insinuations in the media regarding the alleged "hacks by Russian hackers" of information systems of the U.S. government agencies indicate that the level of hostility towards our country is still incredibly high in Washington. In this regard we reiterate: Russia does not carry out any "offensive operations" in the virtual space. I would like to remind you about the proposals made by Russian President Vladimir Putin on restoring Russia-U.S. cooperation in the field of international information security. Nonetheless, taken as whole, the topic of relations with our country will most likely remain an important agenda item of interparty struggle in the next political season. It cannot be ruled out that against the background of anti-Russian initiatives in the Congress that spring up like mushrooms attacks on our country will materialize in new sanctions. These approaches can hardly serve as a foundation for stabilizing our bilateral relations.
Question: The Kremlin press-secretary has recently said that you might attend the inauguration of Joe Biden. Have you received such an invitation?
Anatoly Antonov: According to the information from the organizers of the inauguration, due to the complicated epidemiological situation in the United Stated the ceremony on January 20, 2020, in Washington is supposed to be held in a "scaled-down format". Currently, we do not have any information about whom the U.S. Side is going to invite to this event. The Embassy has received no invitation.
Question: When the Russian Side intends to invite the new American administration, including Joe Biden, to visit Russia?
Anatoly Antonov: Foremost, we should wait for the inauguration of the new president and the establishment of a cabinet. We will keep a close watch on the domestic political situation in the United States. Plans for possible meetings with Russian representatives will be formed after government appointments are made. As for Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his congratulatory telegram to the President-elect of the United States of December 15 that he is ready for interaction and contacts with the new head of the United States. We hope that Russian-U.S. relations will not be sacrificed to the domestic political conjuncture in the United States and that our countries will be able to resolve the accrued problems on a pragmatic and equal basis.
Question: What are your expectations for the incoming new U.S. administration? Do you anticipate the start of a normalization of Russian-American relations under President Biden? Or do you expect further degradation?
Anatoly Antonov: During recent years relations between Russia and the United States have been in a deep crisis. We have no delusion everything will change for the better overnight when the new president takes over. There is no reason for that sort of expectations. We proceed from Washington’s fundamental policy track on the Russian track. Our country has been proclaimed an adversary. This definition is embedded in the doctrinal documents of the United States and enjoys a wide consensus among the local establishment. They use all the economic, political, military and propaganda armory for systemic deterrence of Moscow. Russian-U.S. relations have no personalized nature. The differences between Democrats and Republicans are tactical, not strategic. The essence of their approach is not to seek a compromise with Russia but to suggest we agree to everything Washington may demand. At the same time, Russian-U.S. cooperation could play a key role in resolving many global problems, though lately bilateral interaction has become more and more limited. We have a huge amount of work ahead. And one cannot expect quick results. It is necessary to smoothly promote even small projects which could bring about a positive dynamics and only after that proceed with more ambitious tasks.
Question: What, according to your forecasts, will happen in the coming months with the regime of unilateral U.S. sanctions against Russia?
Anatoly Antonov: It is difficult to make unambiguous forecasts. We are not the initiators of the restrictions; and Washington – as practice shows – does not need any special excuse to introduce new restrictions against Russia. Since 2011, we have witnessed 90 rounds of sanctions, with 350 of our individuals and more than 500 legal entities blacklisted. Fifteen further various anti-Russian bills have been introduced on the Capitol. In the near future, a defense budget is expected to be adopted with new measures against the participants of Nord Stream 2. We do not expect any breakthroughs from the next administration. There are no prerequisites for this. Sanctions have already become part of the U.S. strategy towards Russia. And every new blow through restrictions plunges bilateral relations into an even deeper abyss. Nevertheless, what we are definitely convinced of is that the Americans will not achieve their goals through the so-called instruments of coercion. And the damage, including inflicted to the United States itself, is apparent. Local businesses suffer the most. Entrepreneurs are forced to look for "gaps" to implement joint projects in a way that would imply no threat of punishment by their own government. We regularly discuss these topics with the local business community. The businessmen confirm that their activity in Russia brings them benefits and they do not intend to leave. They express hope for the normalization of relations in the political sphere and agree that the development of trade and investment ties could have a general stabilizing effect. Hopefully, the next administration will heed the voice of their entrepreneurs.
Question: What are the main steps of the next U.S. administration aimed at improving Russian-American relations you would you like to see in the short and medium term?
Anatoly Antonov: It is important to begin to gradually restore the destroyed communication mechanisms. The primary task after the change of power in the United States is to establish regular channels of interaction through the security councils, foreign policy and defense departments, special services, and parliamentarians. It is necessary to work towards the resumption of meetings in the 2+2 format. At the same time, we consider it necessary to seek the removal of numerous irritants in the bilateral sphere. The most sensitive topic is the return of diplomatic property illegally confiscated from us and the end of the "visa war". Of major importance are cultural and humanitarian ties and social contacts. Since 2010, due to the decision of the American court to satisfy the claim of the religious organization "Agudas Hasidei Chabad" against Russia on the so-called "Schneerson’s collection" all exhibition exchanges have been terminated. In this regard, we would like to hope that the future administration will, among other things, pay attention to the need for comprehensive exchanges between citizens of Russia and the United States. It is necessary to further propagandize the common historical fate of our two peoples, the allied relations during the Second World War, when our countries together achieved victory over fascism. It is important to encourage Russian-U.S. scientific cooperation, including in such areas as peaceful space exploration, Arctic exploration and, which is particularly relevant these days, the development of effective means to combat the pandemic.
Question: What are the risks of new U.S. attempts to build relations with Russia "from a position of strength", as it is commonly called in Washington? And what are the consequences, in general, of a further deterioration of bilateral contacts for the entire system of international relations and the global security architecture?
Anatoly Antonov: Generally, such attempts to build relations from a "position of strength" never yield anything good either in people-to-people contacts or in state-to-state relations. What does this position mean? In fact, it means an attempt to impose on the other side your will, your interests without taking into account its opinion. It is clear that such an approach is not applicable in the case of cooperation between the two major nuclear powers – Russia and the United States. It simply does not work. Not only bilateral relations, but also international security, in general, suffer because of the U.S. implementing its concepts of "peace through strength" and "great power competition". In its drive for military-political supremacy the U.S. is consistently getting rid of the contractual and legal restrictions that the regimes of arms control, confidence-building and transparency regimes rest upon. We hope that with the new administration, Russia-U.S. relations will improve, a positive dynamics will appear. We call on our U.S. colleagues to build relations on the basis of equality and mutual consideration of each other's interests. Much depends on the ability of our countries as permanent members of the UN Security Council to negotiate and find mutually acceptable solutions to the existing problems. The world will only benefit from such positive interaction.
Question: Will Russian diplomats continue to make attempts to extend the New START Treaty with the outgoing U.S. administration headed by Donald Trump? Or because of the position, which was publicly announced recently by Special Envoy Billingsley, the Russian Side has made a decision to simply wait for the accession to power of Joe Biden as a more negotiable partner?
Anatoly Antonov: The current administration’s political course has significantly contributed to the worsening of the nuclear arms control crisis. First of all, with regard to the extension of the New START Treaty. The U.S. has ignored our proposals for more than three years, delayed the adoption of a relevant decision and has become active only at the downhill of the current administration. Still, the U.S. has set out unacceptable preconditions for its consent to extend the Treaty. Russia has tried to break the deadlock around the New START Treaty extension. In doing so, we met the U.S. halfway. First, we agreed to extend the Treaty for one year instead of a more logical and possible period of five years. Second, we were ready – jointly with the United States – to undertake a political commitment to "freeze" for the above-mentioned period the number of nuclear warheads that each side possesses. Unfortunately, this was not enough for the U.S. partners. They continue to insist on immediate agreeing to intrusive verification measures of the "freeze". It is obvious that such demands go beyond the political commitment proposed by the U.S. Ultimatums cannot be the basis for a "deal". However, we are ready to negotiate on the New START Treaty extension with any U.S. administration that takes a balanced position. At the same time, we understand that it is impossible to agree on any additional conditions for the Treaty extension until February 5. Therefore, we call on the U.S. to extend the Agreement for the entire period provided for in the document – 5 years. And to use this time effectively to resolve the contradictions that have accumulated between the parties in the sphere of strategic stability.
Question: Will Russia remain in the Open Skies Treaty (OST) if the U.S. under Joe Biden does not return to it?
Anatoly Antonov: We will not speculate on the intentions of the next administration regarding the OST. However, we should note that the U.S. withdrawal from the Agreement was not a surprise for us against the background of the U.S. general approach aimed at destruction of bilateral and multilateral agreements in the sphere of disarmament and non-proliferation. At the same time, we should emphasize that Russia’s actions concerning the OST are not predetermined. We consider all the scenarios. Much will depend on our Western partners. The key question is - whether they are ready to preserve the Treaty, which is crucial for European security. If the answer is yes, they must fulfill obligations in good faith. In this regard, we will insist that they implement two provisions which are of principle for us. First, they must provide us guarantees that they will not transmit the information collected during the flights over the Russian territory to the U.S. Second, Western state parties to the OST must not prohibit Russian aircrafts to inspect U.S. military facilities located on the territory of their countries. We will build further approach regarding the Agreement with the consideration of all these factors.
Question: Are there any scheduled visits of Russian officials to the United States of their American colleagues to Russia during the Trump administration? If there are any, could you please specify?
Anatoly Antonov: The Embassy is unaware of such visits. The pandemic and the New Year holiday period also complicate things. Moreover, the U.S. federal government is busily transferring duties to the new administration. This process will continue up to the inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2021. It seems better to be patient and wait till the new administration finally assumes duties.
Question: Is there any progress in resolving such problems as, for instance, the fate of the Russian diplomatic property in the United States seized a couple of years ago? Or granting visas to Russian citizens, and first of all, diplomats?
Anatoly Antonov: There is no progress in returning the seized diplomatic property. We raise this issue on a weekly basis, demanding access to the property seized in 2016-2018 in defiance of the international law and the US legal norms. Among other things, we stress that the U.S. side violated the clauses of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations of 1961 and 1963, as well as the guarantees of inviolability of property anchored in the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. authorities have repeatedly denied our requests claiming that they are unable to satisfy our demands. We hope that the new administration will demonstrate a constructive approach towards resolving the issue and will adhere to its obligations under the international law. As far as the legal means of property return are concerned, all the options of returning of the illegally seized property are on the table. We have to admit that the visa issuance problem with regard to our diplomatic and technical staff for the Embassy and the Consulates General is aggravating. The practice of so-called visa exchanges is still in place. This concerns situations when a visa issuance for our employee is tied up to a permission to enter Russia for an American one. Though in 2019 we could swiftly find common ground, now the whole scheme struggles as the U.S .side is unwilling to find mutually acceptable solutions. In addition to that, the State Department delays visa extensions for the current staff of the Embassy. Previously it took days for the U.S. Side to extend a visa. Now it takes months with no guarantee of success. As for non-diplomatic visas for Russian citizens - unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has virtually stopped processing applications due to the pandemic restrictions. Visas are granted only under exceptional pressing circumstances, mostly on humanitarian grounds.
Question: Could you please enumerate issues – other than arms control and disarmament – that could contribute to expanding Russia-U.S. cooperation under the new administration and getting them of the free fall.
Anatoly Antonov: We have never concealed that we cooperate with the U.S. on important global issues both bilaterally and within the framework of the UN. With the Trump administration we managed – though often not easily – to coordinate our approaches to Afghanistan, the Korean peninsula, Libya, counterterrorism and combating illegal drugs. We exchanged opinions on Syria, Venezuela and the Middle East peace process. We continued our work on Nagorno-Karabakh in the OSCE Minsk Group. Other than that, we could cooperate with the Biden administration on the Iran nuclear problem with the emphasis put on the U.S. return to the JCPOA. We could also join efforts to implement the UN Security Council resolutions on the Palestinian issue. Russia and the U.S. could help Venezuela, Syria, North Korea and African countries overcome their current problems – surely, adhering to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs. Furthermore, we see a potential for cooperation in space exploration, combating the coronavirus and ecological disasters. Russia’s chairmanship in the Arctic council (2021-2023) also opens venues for cooperation. In other words, our countries can – like no one else – make a decisive contribution to resolving global and regional issues if they join forces and act in strict accordance with the international law. As mentioned before, we could stabilize the whole complex of bilateral relations through developing economic ties. Business circles are interested in cooperation and it helps sustain a positive dynamics in trade and investments. Thus, despite the pandemic and sanctions the bilateral trade volume reached almost 18 billion dollars in January-September 2020. In 2019 it was 28.1 billion. Russian crude oil export to the U.S. is on the rise. At the same time, the share of food, equipment, goods and medicines is growing. There are prospects for deepening ties in chemistry and textiles, construction, transport, agriculture, services and IT. By the way, U.S. experts see a high potential in Russian pilot start-ups in advanced technologies and telecommunications. A large potential is visible in direct regional contacts, sister cities movement. Today Moscow and the Republic of Tatarstan are actively developing ties with California, Texas, New York and Minnesota; Krasnoyarsky Krai and Chukotka – with Alaska. The Sverdlovsk, Vologda, Novgorod and Tyumen regions cooperate with the American states, too. There are 77 pairs of sister cities, about 20 of them continue to cooperate actively. All this is aimed at promoting trade and humanitarian exchanges.