Russian lawmakers have backed a deputy foreign minister as the new ambassador to the United States. He’ll move to Washington in July right after the G20 summit where Russian and US presidents are expected to meet for the first time on the sidelines.
A Moscow State Institute of International Relations graduate, Anatoly Antonov, 62, is a career diplomat. The new envoy is a doctor of science. He worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for 30 years. In 2004 he became the Director of the MFA Department for Security and Disarmament to be promoted to deputy minister of defense of the Russian Federation in 2011. He was appointed deputy foreign minister last December. The appointment of deputy foreign minister as ambassador elevates the level of the Russia-US relations. Since 2015, he has been under the EU and Canada sanctions over his alleged involvement in forming Russia’s policy on Ukraine.
Normally, high-profile diplomats have been appointed as Russia’s (Soviet) ambassadors to Washington, it’s enough to remember Maxim Litvinov, Anatoly Gromyko and Anatoly Dobrynin. The less known Mikhail Menshikov had served as Minister of Foreign Trade of the USSR before his assignment as ambassador to the United States.
The US is going through hard times but it is still a great power. Being a Russian envoy presupposes taking on special responsibility to make him the first among the equals regarding other ambassadors.
The tradition to assign career diplomats to the post is maintained. The only exclusion was Vladimir Lukin (1992-94) who before the appointment had acquired vast experience of research work in the prestigious institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences – the Institute of World Economy and International Relations and Institute of the US and Canada Studies. Lukin had also served a few years as a Foreign Ministry official before going to the US. So he was dry behind the ears and quite fit for the job.
The US practices a different approach. The majority of ambassadors to Moscow have not been career diplomats, including William Bullitt, the first US ambassador to the Soviet Union, the famous Averell Harriman appointed in 1943 and Michael McFall (2011-2014) – the author of the reset policy. Jon Huntsman, who is expected to head the US embassy in Moscow soon, was a politician (the governor of Utah), businessman, and diplomat. He is the chairman of the Atlantic Council, a think tank that normally demonstrates a rather unfriendly attitude to Russia.
Anatoly Antonov enjoys great experience of holding talks with US officials, especially in the field of arms control and military activities. The deputy foreign chief was the lead negotiator in talks to forge the New START Treaty in 2010, working with US diplomat Rose Gottemoeller, the current Deputy Secretary General at NATO.
Antonov joined the team of the main negotiators on ballistic missile defense (BMD) cooperation after NATO’s 2010 Lisbon Summit. The talks ended in 2013 without any results as Russia firmly opposed the idea of installing NATO’s BMD sites in Europe. The official also led the Russian team in 2015 and 2016 during the talks on de-confliction in Syria to prevent incidents during military aircraft operations. Antonov has headed Russian delegation at the talks on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and on combatting weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
The new Russian ambassador has always sounded convincing in his remarks about the need for Russia and the West to join together in the fight against terrorism. «No one can feel safe today, nobody is living on an island», Antonov warned, speaking at a terrorism conference in Moscow last April. According to him, joining efforts like in the days WWII of was the only way for international community to defeat terrorists who posed a global threat.
Arms control tops the bilateral agenda. The retired military, like Herbert McMaster, the National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary James Mattis, have great influence on the current administration’s foreign policy. They have certain mentality to be understood. Under the circumstances, the Antonov’s experience in military matters comes in handy.
Antonov is going to head the embassy at the most difficult times in the history of Russia-US relations. There is a pile of burning issues to tackle under unfavorable circumstances at the time the US administration is under deep state attack.
It’s not all gloom and doom in the Russia-US bilateral relationship. Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of International Affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, is going to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (June 1-3) for the first time since the sanctions were introduced in 2014. This is a good sign for business community. The American Chamber (AmCham) has confirmed the information. This year, AmCham will organize a round table on Russia-US business dialogue.
The phone conversations between the nations’ leaders, the US joining the Astana peace process to settle the conflict in Syria, the State Secretary Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow to be received by President Putin and the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to Washington, where he was received by President Trump in the Oval Office – these are the signs that a dialogue between the US and Russia is being gradually built. A seasoned diplomat with the experience of holding top government positions in the capacity of ambassador can make a significant contribution into overcoming the crisis in the relations between the two great powers.