Next Rus­sian en­voy toes Krem­lin line

Trump faces shift in diplomacy with Kislyak de­par­ture

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY DAN BOYLAN AND GUY TAY­LOR

Moscow’s mer­cu­rial U.S. Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak — a cen­tral char­ac­ter in the Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling saga — will soon leave Washington, but his re­place­ment might prove prob­lem­atic in his own way as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion tries to find a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Vladimir Putin’s Krem­lin.

Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Ana­toly Antonov has been tapped to re­place the avun­cu­lar Mr. Kislyak, a man Rus­sia watch­ers say is a far more rigid fol­lower of the Krem­lin line.

Mr. Antonov, 62, has been a be­hindthe-scenes player in Moscow’s for­eign pol­icy ma­chine who was tar­geted by the Euro­pean Union with sanc­tions for his role in Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine. But he also is an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for im­prov­ing U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions, as long as Moscow doesn’t have to bend too far.

“He played a cen­tral role in the Krem­lin’s de­cep­tion to un­der­re­port the num­ber of troops it had in the Crimea op­er­a­tion,” mil­i­tary an­a­lyst Alexan­der Goltz said in an in­ter­view from Moscow. “And for that, he is un­der sanc­tions by the EU.”

As deputy for­eign min­is­ter, Mr. Antonov is seen as cen­tral to Rus­sia’s resur­gent pos­ture in the Mid­dle East — par­tic­u­larly in fos­ter­ing bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and Iran.

“Ana­toly is very much a hard-liner and an arms con­trol kind of guy,” said Ariel Co­hen, a se­nior fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil think tank. “But these [am­bas­sadors] are not in­de­pen­dent pol­icy peo­ple by any means. He will be car­ry­ing out the Krem­lin’s agenda.”

Re­port­edly a key fig­ure host­ing Ira­nian mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tions to Moscow, Mr. Antonov also has en­cour­aged Rus­sian de­fense of­fi­cials to travel to Tehran, in­clud­ing a visit that De­fense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu made to the Ira­nian cap­i­tal in Septem­ber.

Speak­ing to Al-Mon­i­tor on the con­di­tion of anonymity, one of Mr. Antonov’s for­mer col­leagues in the For­eign Min­istry called him an “ex­pe­ri­enced, skill­ful and tough negotiator.” An­other source re­cently told The Moscow Times that he had the de­ter­mi­na­tion of a “bull ter­rier.”

The Rus­sian news­pa­per Kom­m­er­sant has re­ported that Mr. Antonov, who also has served as deputy min­is­ter of de­fense, re­cently voiced frus­tra­tion over ten­sions in the Moscow-Washington re­la­tion­ship.

“We need to con­vince our Amer­i­can col­leagues that eq­ui­table, neigh­borly and mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful re­la­tions meet the in­ter­ests of both the Rus­sian and Amer­i­can peo­ples,” Mr. Antonov said, ac­cord­ing to Al Mon­i­tor. “Rus­sia and Amer­ica are sim­ply fated to pos­i­tive co­op­er­a­tion.”

He has ex­pe­ri­ence ne­go­ti­at­ing with U.S. gov­ern­ments. In 2010, he headed the Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion on the Strate­gic Arms Re­duc­tion Treaty, dubbed New START, and en­gaged in pro­longed ne­go­ti­a­tions with State De­part­ment As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary Rose Got­te­moeller. A treaty ul­ti­mately was ne­go­ti­ated.

“He is a 100 per­cent cyn­i­cal guy. He will do what he is or­dered to do,” Mr. Goltz said. “With Got­te­moeller, he made se­ri­ous con­ces­sions be­cause he had been or­dered to pre­pare the treaty. But a few years later, he did all he could to hu­mil­i­ate her with re­spect to his role in the Ukraine.”

‘Zero trust’ en­vi­ron­ment

Mr. Antonov will be ar­riv­ing in Washington at a low point in re­la­tions, which Mr. Co­hen char­ac­ter­ized as a “zero-trust” en­vi­ron­ment be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Pres­i­dent Putin. The two men are ex­pected to meet for the first time next month at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many.

Rus­sian an­a­lysts ar­gue that a large part of the mis­trust stems from con­tro­ver­sies swirling around Mr. Kislyak and his deal­ings with fig­ures at the high­est lev­els of the Trump cam­paign and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In Fe­bru­ary, Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, was forced to re­sign af­ter it was re­ported that he had dis­cussed sanc­tions against Rus­sia with Mr. Kislyak prior to Mr. Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion and lied to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence about the na­ture of those talks.

A month later, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, a for­mer Trump cam­paign sur­ro­gate, landed in hot wa­ter when it was re­vealed he had spo­ken twice with Mr. Kislyak last year but failed to dis­close those con­ver­sa­tions when asked by Congress. Mr. Ses­sions then re­cused him­self from Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

In May, The Associated Press re­ported that Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and White House spe­cial ad­viser, Jared Kush­ner, and Mr. Kislyak tried to set up a se­cret backchan­nel com­mu­ni­ca­tions line with Rus­sia that would have used Rus­sian equip­ment.

Also in May, Mr. Trump met with Mr. Kislyak and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Of­fice. Dur­ing that meet­ing, Mr. Trump al­legedly bragged about fir­ing FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey, whom he re­port­edly called a “nut job.”

“I can­not im­age [Mr. Kislyak] sit­ting there and hack­ing the elec­tions him­self,” Mr. Co­hen said. “But he did meet lots and lots of peo­ple around Washington. That was his job.”

The Krem­lin has de­nied U.S. in­tel­li­gence find­ings that any sort of in­flu­ence cam­paign ever oc­curred, and Mr. Trump has re­peat­edly called the col­lu­sion story a me­dia-cre­ated hoax. Mr. Putin vig­or­ously de­nounced reports this month that Mr. Kislyak was a top spy or re­cruiter of spies, say­ing his con­tacts were the ba­sic job de­scrip­tion of an am­bas­sador.

“It’s his job; he gets paid for this,” Mr. Putin heat­edly told NBC’s Me­gan Kelly in an in­ter­view this month. “He must meet, dis­cuss cur­rent af­fairs, ne­go­ti­ate. That’s what he’s there to do.”

But the for­mer am­bas­sador cer­tainly ad­vised the Krem­lin on the nu­ances of how the elec­tion hack­ing saga was play­ing out in Amer­ica. In Jan­uary, the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity con­cluded that Mr. Putin in­ter­fered last year in the race for the White House with an un­prece­dented state-spon­sored cy­ber­cam­paign to boost Mr. Trump and un­der­cut Demo­cratic ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Kislyak’s de­par­ture

Fit­tingly, Mr. Kislyak’s de­par­ture ap­pears to be en­veloped in a cloud of dis­in­for­ma­tion. The on­line news site Buz­zFeed — which pre­vi­ously pub­lished an un­ver­i­fied, sala­cious op­po­si­tion re­search dossier on Mr. Trump — re­ported that Mr. Kislyak would leave af­ter a July 11 go­ing-away party at Washington’s St. Regis Ho­tel. The U.S.Rus­sia Busi­ness Coun­cil said on its web­site that it was host­ing the re­cep­tion and called the ca­reer diplo­mat “a re­li­able and thought­ful in­ter­locu­tor for the Amer­i­can busi­ness com­mu­nity dur­ing his time in Washington.”

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry de­nied last Mon­day that Mr. Kislyak had been of­fi­cially re­called. Spokes­woman Maria Zakharova wrote on the min­istry’s of­fi­cial Face­book page that it was Mr. Putin’s de­ci­sion when to re­call Mr. Kislyak to Moscow and ap­point a suc­ces­sor. Dmitry Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told re­porters in Moscow, “When there is an ap­pro­pri­ate de­cree, we will in­form you.”

The Rus­sia probe

Mr. Kislyak re­mains a cen­tral fig­ure in the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Trump links to the Krem­lin. But much of what he knows will likely never be aired pub­licly given the diplo­matic im­mu­nity pro­tec­tions he en­joys and his im­mi­nent de­par­ture from the U.S.

Born in Moscow to Ukrainian par­ents, he stud­ied nu­clear physics be­fore en­ter­ing the for­eign ser­vice and rep­re­sented the Soviet Union at the United Na­tions dur­ing the 1980s. He was widely known and re­spected as an “old school” diplo­mat, un­fail­ingly cour­te­ous and dis­creet but also a staunch de­fender of Rus­sian poli­cies.

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, nine months be­fore Mr. Trump’s sur­prise elec­toral vic­tory, Mr. Kislyak told a small group of jour­nal­ists gath­ered at the Rus­sian am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in Washington that re­la­tions with the U.S. had fallen to their low­est level since the end of the Cold War.

“The di­a­logue we used to have has slowed down sig­nif­i­cantly,” he said dur­ing the rare round­table dis­cus­sion with re­porters. “We were able to end the Cold War, but most prob­a­bly we weren’t able to build post-Cold War peace. We’ve failed to cre­ate a real tis­sue of our re­la­tions, and that makes these re­la­tions very, very vul­ner­a­ble.”

But in wide-rang­ing com­ments, the Rus­sian am­bas­sador re­jected the idea that a new kind of Cold War was in the off­ing. “We ought to work to­gether, and we are per­fectly open to do­ing so,” he said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ana­toly Antonov, who has been tapped as the next Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the U.S., is an ad­vo­cate for im­prov­ing re­la­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.