Remarks by Ambassador Anatoly Antonov at World Affairs Council - Seattle
Allow me to welcome you all here in Seattle at the World Affairs Council. I would like to thank the organizers of the event for the unique opportunity to talk about the current state of Russia-U.S. relations, share my views on how our countries could cope with this difficult time in our shared history.
There is an entire group of diplomats at our Embassy, who just a while ago used to work at the Russian General Consulate in Seattle. They all keep saying that Seattle is an incredibly distinctive city, with its rich past and a glorious, bright future. It is the place that hosts leading global companies – Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Uber, which all for many years have been successfully operating on the Russian market.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to see for myself how magnificent Seattle is, and I can say with certainty that this experience has exceeded all my expectations.
Russia-U.S. relations have ended up in a deep crisis. One can dwell for a long time on its causes, reconstruct events and recall who said one thing and who said another. But it’s unlikely that we can come to a single conclusion in such complicated atmosphere. Probably, it would be wiser to not search for the guilty, but rather to seek a solution to mend the situation.
Evidently, the current state of affairs does not meet the interests of our people and our countries – two permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is clear that our countries have serious disagreements. However, Moscow always proceeded from the fact that in maintaining peace Russia and the U.S. can and must find common ground. As two largest nuclear powers we bear a special responsibility for security on the planet. That is why we should act carefully, rely on finding compromise, toning down disagreements and avoiding confrontation.
We haven’t still been able to achieve progress. On many issues we are stuck in a deadlock. We hope that the significance of the “Russian factor” in U.S. domestic politics will decline, and we’ll be able to achieve progress in normalizing our relations. There is a good foundation for that in basic understandings reached by our presidents during last year’s summit in Helsinki. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Sochi this May inspires cautious optimism, as he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
We consider restoration of the disrupted communication channels to be the immediate task. The very idea of boycotting mutual contacts during a crisis is absurd. Even during the troubled times of the last months of the former U.S. administration, when anti-Russian rhetoric was being voiced loud and clear – even then Secretary Kerry had full-scale contacts with Minister Lavrov.
A dialogue has never been a concession or an approval of the politics of the other party. However, in its absence it is hard to agree on anything, even in theory. The only outcome of such policy will be a rise in distrust, suspicions and misunderstanding.
Among the positive results I can note that last December our deputy foreign ministers resumed the dialogue on counterterrorism. Our military maintain a successful deconflicting mechanism in Syria. A dialogue on political aspects of the Syrian settlement is ongoing. We keep exchanging viewpoints on Afghanistan, nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula. Despite the disagreements, we hold discussions on Ukraine and Venezuela. Generally speaking, there are more than enough grounds for joint work. Russia-U.S. cooperation could become a real foundation for resolving many pressing issues.
I believe that Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula and the situation in Syria – they all can become a starting point to mend Russia-U.S. relations. It’s worth mentioning that my colleagues and I have developed pragmatic relations with special representatives Zalmay Khalilzad, James Jeffrey and Stephen Biegun. I hope that these talented diplomats will not be fired tomorrow after my positive words.
In order to rebuild trust, a dialogue is essential in other areas – between our parliaments, political scientists, scholars, businessmen, civil society institutions. Developing such contacts could not only contribute to de-escalation of tensions, but also play a positive role in the search for practical solutions that would lead our relations out of a deadlock. In this context the initiative suggested by Russian President Vladimir Putin on establishment of an expert council comprised of representatives from non-governmental circles, who will elaborate recommendations on developing a sustainable model of cooperation, as well as on creating a Consultative Business Council, bringing together leaders of large private companies in order to promote trade-economic ties – it is still relevant.
One of the key agenda items in Russia-U.S. relations were and remain to be the issues of strategic stability and arms control. Bilateral dialogue on these issues was never disrupted even during the most difficult times of the Cold War. During the recent visit of Secretary Pompeo to Sochi this topic was especially discussed, and an agreement was reached on the necessity to resume joint work. On June 12, 2019 Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and Under Secretary Andrea Thompson held the first meeting on strategic dialogue. We hope that these consultations will give positive momentum to the practical and professional discussion between the governments of the two countries.
I would like to remind that we have amassed a number of concerns. We are troubled by the current trend to scrap the disarmament and arms control architecture. It includes the deployment of the global U.S. missile defense system, demise of the INF Treaty due to the U.S. decision, and the future of extending the New START that expires in February of 2021. The fate of these treaties concerns not only the security of Russia and the United States. It reaches down to the core problems of international security. Should the treaties be preserved, it would be proof that Russia and the U.S. adhere to their nuclear disarmament obligations under the NPT provisions.
In case the New START ceases to exist, we will be left without any restrictions in this area for the first time in the last 50 years. This situation is fraught with an arms race, which at worst can lead to a nuclear conflict, and at best – to deprivation of every nation of the fruits of its own labor. Wouldn't it be better to turn the funds meant for creating all the more devastating types of armaments to the things necessary for a decent human life: food, clothing, homes, hospitals, schools?
The Russian side stands ready for serious substantive consultations on strategic stability. It's time to sit down at the negotiating table and see what the decisions might look like.
A crisis is always a moment of truth. It feels like that with sanctions, information attacks and attempts to isolate Russia certain politicians are striving to force us to surrender and abandon our national interests. I am confident, that everyone in this audience knows that Russia has always enjoyed the privilege to pursue an independent foreign policy over the course of its thousand-year history. We will continue to take proper steps to strengthen our sovereignty. We certainly do not do it at the expense of the security of other countries, including the U.S.
We must lay aside the prejudices, and above all – the hostile attitude to one another. Since 2017 Russia is defined as an “adversary” in certain U.S. laws and doctrines. I strongly disagree with that.
I would like to point out that from historical standpoint the fundamental interests of our countries have almost never clashed. Let’s leave aside the time after the October Revolution, when it took years for the U.S. to recognize a young Soviet Republic. Even the “Cold War” was a conflict of ideologies rather than a clash of basic national interests. I must emphasize – we have no territorial claims to each other.
Russian Empress Catherine the Great supported the U.S. in its struggle for independence. Emperor Alexander the Second and Abraham Lincoln called each other “good friends”. Our country took the side of the American president during the U.S. Civil War.
We fought together against Nazism. On April 25 Russian diplomats together with representatives of the State Department and the Pentagon once again commemorated the historic meeting between the Soviet and U.S. troops on the Elbe River, which is on of the most powerful symbols of our brotherhood-in-arms.
These important examples remind us that the periods of good relations between the two countries only benefited the people of both our nations.
In order to mend Russia-U.S. relations we will require persistence, patience, ingenuity and, most importantly, political will. If we simply “go with the flow”, there won’t be any light at the end of the tunnel. In this regard regular contacts between Russian and U.S. leaders are not only useful, but absolutely necessary in order to define the future vector of Russia-U.S. relations and strengthen international security.
I wish to hope that we will not remain hostages to each other’s prejudices. Russia-U.S. relations cannot stay on the decline forever. We all live under the same global roof. The world needs to strengthen strategic stability, which in turn depends on the nature and quality of the dialogue between Russia and the U.S. It is necessary to step away from confrontation and seek ways of reconciliation. To try and build equal, mutually beneficial relations. We are ready for such work.