Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation (RF) to the United States of America, RIAC Member.
Russia is widely considered today to represent one of the main geopolitical and diplomatic challenges to the United States. While dialogue between the two countries continues, the relationship is increasingly defined by adversity, confrontation, and mistrust. Indeed, appearing recently on Russian television, Ambassador Antonov described the relationship as outright “horrible.” Still, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated, both sides consider it “really critical” to continue talking to each other.
On Wednesday, July 8, the Center for the National Interest hosted a webinar featuring a discussion between Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, and Anatoly Antonov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States. A career diplomat, Ambassador Antonov has had a long and distinguished career in the Russian government focused primarily on security and arms control issues. Prior to his arrival in Washington in the fall of 2017, he served briefly as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and before that, from 2011-2016, held the position of Deputy Minister of Defense.
The discussion focused on several topics including the state of U.S.-Russia relations, Russia’s position on various international arms control agreements, and the controversy over the alleged Russian bounties in Afghanistan, among others.
The Center for the National Interest hosted an online webinar with Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, to discuss the current state of Russia-US relations on July 8th, 2020.
Ambassador Anatoly Antonov’s anwer to a media question following the webinar organized by Center for the National Interest
Question: Dear Anatoly Ivanovich, what are your impressions of the recent event?
Ambassador Antonov: I would like to thank the organizers and participants of this teleconference. This was a good opportunity to address experts and journalists on the problems of Russia-U.S. relations with an emphasis on bilateral consultations on strategic issues held on June 22 in Vienna.
The meeting was very productive, many interesting questions were raised.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to answer to all spectators since we received many questions even before the event. In this regard, it would be correct to publish on the Embassy’s web platforms the key points of the speech, as well as the answers (voiced and sent in advance) to the questions on the broad agenda of Russia-U.S. relations.
Main points of speech by Ambassador Anatoly Antonov on Russia-U.S. relations
It is very difficult to talk about Russia-U.S. relations. Too many contradictions have accumulated. There is an ongoing debate on who is more at fault for their deplorable current state. There are contrasting views on who should take the first step towards the other side. I have to admit that for now this process resembles walking in a circle without any clear perspective of finding common ground.
On many occasions, I had to persuade the American public that Russia and the U.S. are not enemies. And that we cannot afford the luxury of not talking to each other, despite all the existing disagreements. Due to objective reasons, the well-being of the whole planet depends on the quality of Russia-U.S. relations. We must remember that after achieving the common victory in the struggle to preserve the very foundations of the human civilization 75 years ago, Moscow and Washington assumed primary responsibility for maintaining common peace and security, according to the UN Charter.
Basic principles of international communication enshrined in this document have eroded in recent decades. As a result, we witness an increasing chaos and a decrease of manageability in world politics. Coronavirus pandemic has further underscored the dangerous trend towards a rising national egoism of states to the detriment of the ability to jointly respond to mutual challenges. Not coincidentally, President of Russia Vladimir Putin in his latest article on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of Victory in World War II paid special attention to the history of shaping of the modern system of international relations, when the victorious powers proclaimed their commitment to act collectively, seek for compromises and reject attempts to implement unilateral aspirations.
It is our duty to preserve global strategic stability and prevent local conflicts from spreading for such conflicts can evolve into great wars. Today, it is more crucial than ever to strengthen the institutions designed to maintain world order. In this regard, the President of Russia put forward the initiative to convene a meeting of the heads of permanent member states of the UN Security Council. We believe that such a summit would play an essential role in finding ways to improve the international situation and prevent it from following a dangerous scenario with unpredictable consequences.
I will not dwell in detail on the causes of the deterioration of Russian-American relations. I can only say that I consider their downward trajectory over the past 30 years, with all the ups and downs, as a consequence of the failure to finish the Cold War with dignity, on the basis of equality, without winners and losers.
I emphasize that we are ready for constructive cooperation to the extent that Washington is ready for. Of course, for us it is vital that our relations are readjusted on the basis of respect for our legitimate interests and the need to find compromises on the issues important to Russia, not just in terms of engaging us in solving the tasks of the U.S. agenda.
It would be no exaggeration to say that arms control issues have always been a core of the U.S.-Russian relations. We are deeply concerned about the U.S. actions leading to the collapse of strategic stability. The architecture of military restraint and mutual transparency that proved to be effective during the most difficult moments of the Cold War has become a burden to Washington. It is de facto creating military strategic environment that is beneficial solely to the U.S. Washington’s goal is to be able to use force whenever it fails to achieve its objectives with political tools.
As history has consistently demonstrated, the attempts to pursue a foreign policy based on force or a threat of using force inevitably bring about international instability, growing conflict potential and confrontation.
Its alternative is a cooperative approach to finding common solutions to the most pressing problems of global security. The Russian-U.S. strategic stability consultations provide one of the key venues for such efforts. The latest in the series of meetings took place on June 22 in Vienna.
The mere fact that the two countries held such an event should be considered a positive signal. Instead of practicing megaphone diplomacy, we need a direct conversation on the most pressing issues.
Overall, the meeting was conducted in a positive manner. It focused on practical aspects of arms control as well as approaches to international security problems. The important outcome was that the parties confirmed their interest in continuing a dialogue. They also identified a few topics for further discussion. In particular, they agreed to hold a working group meeting on space issues.
The two sides also decided to conduct an expert-level meeting to discuss nuclear doctrines and strategies, including the use of nuclear weapons. They agreed to further examine verification and transparency issues. It is likely to be one of the most difficult topics as our countries’ approaches on these matters differ significantly.
They will also discuss the issues related to all types of weapons capable of performing strategic missions and affect strategic stability which are not covered by any international restrictive regimes.
The Russian delegation stressed that the arms control we would pursue with the U.S. should be based on parity and mutual respect for each other’s interests and concerns. Therefore, we support a comprehensive approach to agreements in this area: we do not see any point in treaties that fail to take into account key factors affecting strategic stability (for example, the interrelationship between offensive and defensive strategic systems).
At the same time, the Vienna dialogue revealed persistent differences between our countries on a number of key issues. The parties could not achieve a common understanding on the extension of the New START Treaty and the so-called China factor.
The Russian delegation reiterated its argument why under the current circumstances the extension of the Treaty would be a reasonable and mutually beneficial step. It would not only avert the risk of the nuclear arms race escalation and inevitable increase of military instability, but would also provide space to overcome existing difficulties and agree on approaches to expand the possible scope and membership of future arms control agreements. For those reasons, last December Russia announced that it was ready to start discussions on technical issues related to the extension of the Treaty immediately and without any preconditions. However, for the United States it does not seem quite sufficient.
We are convinced that preservation of arms control regime and strategic stability facilitates the search for mutually acceptable solutions. Contrary to the claims of certain U.S. officials, this approach does not imply protecting outdated or obsolete formats at all costs. It is about avoiding extreme steps when those who use arms control modernization as a pretext destroy its tried-and-true foundations.
Amid global concerns over the collapse of the INF Treaty and uncertain future of New START, we deem it important to reassure everyone that we do not intend to drift towards confrontation fraught with the end of humankind. Eighteen months ago we suggested that Russia and the U.S. should adopt a joint declaration on the inadmissibility of nuclear war. A positive reply has yet to be received.
I would like to conclude with the words the Russian president said on June 24 at the military parade commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic war: "We understand how important it is to strengthen friendship and trust between nations and are open to dialogue and cooperation on most pressing issues on the international agenda. Among them is the creation of a common reliable security system, something the complex and rapidly changing modern world needs. Only together can we protect the world from new dangerous threats".
Here is another important idea. "In the end, the root of man’s security does not lie in his weaponry, but in his mind. What the world requires is not a new race towards armament. It requires a new race towards reasonableness. We had better all run that race". These words were said by Robert McNamara more than half a century ago in San Francisco. We invite the U.S. administration to take with us concrete steps in order to fulfil these aspirations of the American politician.
Is there anything positive in the Russia-U.S. relations?
There are some positive shoots.
We see the intensification of our dialogue on the highest and high levels. In compliance with the Presidents’ arrangements, our countries helped each other with medical supplies in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
We productively cooperated to stabilize situation on energy markets.
The dialogue between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Defense Ministers and the Chiefs of General Staff is also developing.
We also look forward to resuming the consultations between the Security Councils and our legislative bodies.
Of course, we cannot avoid differences. However, continuity of bilateral contacts, especially on the highest level, helps to prevent the Russia-U.S. relations from falling into the abyss.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to implement in practice the constructive tone of the Presidents’ talks.
The ideas of establishing the Business Advisory Council as well as non-governmental Expert Council, which were discussed during the Helsinki Summit, are still at the negotiating table.
In addition to the already mentioned consultations on strategic stability, we re-established the working group on counterterrorism.
Let us not forget the terrorist attacks in Russia which were prevented with the help of the U.S. special services.
In its turn, the Russian side was one of the first to support the United States after the tragic events on September 11, 2001.
We warned about the preparation of a terrorist attack in Boston by Tsarnaev brothers.
We have a regular dialogue on Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue and some other topics. Cooperation in the peaceful exploration of outer space also remains productive.
I believe that our countries could do a lot to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, including joining efforts of doctors and scientists in developing treatment and preventive methods to fight this disease.
What are the main irritants of the Russia-U.S. relations?
Those touch upon the Russian prisoners in U.S. jails, arrests of Russian citizens in third countries upon U.S requests, returning our seized diplomatic properties, putting an end to the “visa war” and normalizing conditions for the operation of our foreign missions. The list of problems is long.
We stand for resolving these issues. It would allow us to clear the ground for “construction works” to restore Russia-U.S. ties.
We have repeatedly proposed to exchange letters with obligations of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs – as President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov did – at Washington’s initiative - while re-establishing diplomatic relations in 1933.
We are ready once again to provide such guarantees and even on June 7, 2018 presented a draft of the letter to the U.S. Department of State.
In this context we reaffirm our proposal to create a working group on cyber-security. Professional work in this direction will allow us to alleviate the existing concerns and misunderstanding.
Vladimir Putin’s proposal of a meeting of five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
We have conveyed our proposals on the agenda to our partners. They include key issues affecting global politics, security and economy. The date and venue of such a meeting are yet to be determined. We think that it is important to reach an agreement on the substantive content of the summit before we move forward to organizational details.
We are confident in timeliness and necessity of a direct conversation between the nations bearing special responsibility for security on the planet, about the basics of interaction in international affairs and ways to reduce numerous tensions. The attempts to manage global processes in a unilateral way have obviously resulted in a deadlock.
The world needs to establish a democratic system of relations that would envisage the principle of indivisible security, equal opportunities for development and search for the balance of interests of participants of international communication.
What’s Russia’s position regarding the accusations of masterminding the killing of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
These allegations distributed by the media are a downright lie.
No concrete evidence has been presented.
The authors of the insinuation are trying to create an impression that our country is an enemy of the United States.
Seeking sensations, they aim to disrupt the dialogue between Special Representatives of our countries on Afghanistan Ambassador Kabulov and Ambassador Khalilzad.
Information provocations are poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation and deflect attention from the need to intensify efforts to launch the inter-Afghan consultations, to counter terrorist and drug threats emanating from Afghanistan.
Chinese participation in a trilateral dialogue
Washington has de facto taken the Treaty hostage by insisting that its extension is conditional on the progress in so-called trilateral arms-control negotiations involving China.
The topic of «Chinese threat» was the central part of U.S. statements at the Vienna meeting.
Americans pressed for our support for their idea of transforming the bilateral discussions into a trilateral forum.
The Russian delegation took notice of the arguments but made it clear that it should not be mistaken for agreement or intention to support the U.S. plans.
We are ready for any development of the situation with New START. We are not going to save it at any cost, especially the one that Americans insist upon.
We are open for multilateral discussions on possible measures to provide predictability and restrain in nuclear and missile sphere. We consider it counterproductive to force someone to participate in such discussions.
Consultations and negotiations of such nature must be conducted on the basis of consensus and with due regard for the legitimate interests of all parties.
That is why we consider the U.S. attempts to put international pressure on China in order to make it participate in nuclear arms control unjustified.
Russia, as you well know, gives priority to involving the UK and France in the dialogue. These countries do not only possess nuclear arsenals comparable with the Chinese ones but are also NATO allies which closely coordinate their nuclear policies with Washington.
According to the SIPRI Yearbook 2020, China has 320 nuclear warheads (all – non-deployed) as of January 2020.
According to the Pentagon’s statistics (2019), China has around 90 ICBMs and 48 SLBMs.
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces #INF
Another important issue discussed in Vienna was maintaining stability and transparency in the military sphere in a “post-INF world”. After the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty in August 2019 it has not shown any interest in constructive cooperation to minimize destructive consequences of the Treaty demolition.
Let me remind you that in February 2019 Russia made a unilateral commitment not to deploy ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in other countries as long as the Americans refrain from doing so.
Our calls for the U.S. and its NATO allies to adopt similar moratoria have been flatly rejected. Moreover, the Defense Department has accelerated the development of the systems previously prohibited by the Treaty and already tested them twice with the intention to deploy them in various regions.
The U.S. shall carefully weigh the pros and cons of destabilizing consequences of such a policy that could further intensify international tensions and global arms race.
An eventual deployment of American ground-based medium-range missiles in the Asian-Pacific region will not only affect the political-military balance of power in the area and global strategic stability but also directly infringe our national security interests.
The point is that this region is close to our borders as well as to the Pacific Fleet’s naval bases and facilities where our strategic submarine forces are stationed.
Deployment of any new American weapon systems there would endanger our nuclear deterrence capability.
Placement of ground-based shorter- and medium-range missiles (even conventional ones) in Europe would be much more destabilizing.
As experts know well, the use of these types of delivery systems makes it impossible to determine by means of a missile attack early warning system what kind of warhead is installed on the launched missile.
Why #NewSTART is so important to Russia?
New START is the last bilateral agreement limiting world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. New START has brought verifiable and transparent reductions in nuclear arms.
By 2018, the total number of warheads had been reduced by one-third and the number of delivery vehicles – the missiles and bombers that carry warheads to their targets – by more than half.
New START also plays an important role in bolstering mutual transparency and predictability, since we built into the treaty principles of equality and a balance of interests.
Its verification regime is reciprocal and highly effective.
As of late March 2020, U.S. and Russian teams have carried out 328 on-site inspections, visiting each other’s missile, submarine, and bomber bases.
The two sides have also exchanged 19,815 notifications about the status of weapons systems.
Each side thereby has a grasp on the day-to-day posture of the other’s strategic nuclear forces.
As a check on these regular notifications, the two countries exchange complete data about their strategic nuclear forces twice a year, detailing how many missiles and warheads are deployed on those fixed dates.
They also exchange telemetry from a selection of missiles launched on an annual basis, in order to provide transparency into missile test programs.
If New START is not extended, 2021 will mark the start of a period of unpredictability.
Most consequential, each side’s understanding of the other’s strategic nuclear arsenals will diminish, and a trust deficit will quickly grow.
As each party understands less, the two powers will be forced into more worst-case planning.
As nuclear numbers spiral upward and communication lines and transparency weaken, the risk of accidental nuclear use will grow, as will the chance that a crisis may escalate quickly to nuclear conflict. Therefore the Treaty is virtually the only thing keeping the escalation of a multilateral nuclear arms race at bay.
In addition, the extension of New START will allow time to overcome divisions and bring together different approaches in order to expand the scope and membership of a potential follow-on agreement.
I will give you just one example. Two of the newest Russian systems – Avangard and Sarmat ICBMs – could be covered by the Treaty but only if its duration is extended.
Back in December 2019, President Vladimir Putin proposed that Russia and the US should immediately and without any preconditions extend New START.
This offer is still on the table. However given the continuing uncertainty regarding the US decision on the extension, Russia is well prepared for any turn of events. We will guarantee our national security in any circumstances.
That is why to frame the question that the New START Treaty is important only for Russia is incorrect.
It is beneficial not only to our country but also to the United States, and the whole international security and stability system.
The US military have repeatedly stated the Treaty’s military-political significance for Washington.
The State Department has also confirmed it in its “Report on the Reasons that Continued Implementation of the New START Treaty is in the National Security Interest of the United States” released last month.
As for the U.S. request to include Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) in a future arms control agreement. To reach any progress here Washington should first return its NSNWs from European countries to the national territory, eliminate infrastructure for NSNWs’ deployment in Europe, and abandon the NATO practice of the so-called nuclear sharing which contradicts the fundamental NPT principles.
In light of the decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty announced by the U.S. last May, it is important to remember that the Treaty is a relevant and viable means of strengthening confidence-building measures and ensuring interaction of the participating states including at the military level.
Given the shortage of dialogue forums between Russia and Western countries on military security issues, the loss of such an essential channel of expert communication will be hard to compensate for.
On July 6, a special conference of the state parties to the Open Skies Treaty took place.
The participants in a video call format discussed the implications and further procedures of operation in connection with the US’ announced decision to exit the Treaty.
Unfortunately Russia and the United States failed to bring together their positions.
Washington showed no political will to seek mutually acceptable solutions. And it is not just our assessment. Many participants of the event spoke about the US withdrawal as a done deal.
As you know, the American side cited alleged violations of the agreement by Russia as an excuse to leave the Treaty.
We have repeatedly proved with numbers at hand the groundlessness of the accusations regarding Russia’s compliance with the Open Skies Treaty.
Nevertheless, despite the absurdity of most US claims, we have always shown openness to discuss issues that Washington feels concerned about.
There is a special mechanism created within the framework of the Treaty specifically for such discussions – Open Skies Consultative Commission.
For our part, we also have a number of concerns regarding the U.S. compliance with the provisions of the Treaty. The difference between the positions of the two countries is that we are willing – and we repeatedly demonstrated it – to find mutually acceptable technical solutions at the negotiating table.
The U.S., however, is apparently more interested in getting rid of the agreement which – as they say in Washington – ties its hands.
Whatever the real reasons for the U.S. decision to quit the Treaty are, it is obvious that all participants to the Treaty and international security as a whole will lose out as the result of such a step. Judging by the comments of Washington’s European allies, they are fully aware of the increasing risks to the stability on the continent.
Russia’s further actions in relation to the Open Skies Treaty are not predetermined, we consider various scenarios. A lot will depend on the actions of other state parties and the way a number of issues are resolved. There are administrative questions related to the looming US exit and technical ones – for example the need to redistribute of flight quotas, etc.
On the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty #CTBT
The delegations discussed in Vienna yet another flagrant example of groundless accusations against Russia. The U.S. alleges that our country has conducted nuclear-weapons related experiments in violation of the CTBT. There is absolutely no basis for such claims. Russia strictly observes the moratorium on nuclear testing. We believe that all compliance-related concerns should be discussed within the Treaty’s framework after its entry into force. Washington’s accusations are all the more irrational as it is the U.S. administration that took short-sighted steps and brought the Treaty to the verge of total collapse.
For its part, the Russian delegation pointed out media reports claiming that the U.S. administration was considering restarting explosive nuclear weapons testing.
Russia - NATO
Military risks in Europe are aggravated by the #NATO’s increasing military activities, particularly by those carried out in the vicinity of our borders. The Alliance’s actions only deepen instability and mistrust – the fact that we have been repeatedly warning about the NATO Member States. The latter have persistently ignored our proposals aimed at deescalating military tensions on the Russian and NATO’s forces contact line.
We propose to modernize existing agreements between Russia and the United States on the prevention of incidents on and over the high seas, including setting fixed minimal distances to be observed in encounters between military ships and aircraft, obliging military aircraft to use transponders, specifying the procedures for radio communication between ships and aircraft and organizing communication exercises. Our proposal to distance the locations of operational exercises from the contact line between Russia and NATO is still relevant.Source: Embassy of Russia in the USA.