Ambassador: Good morning Alexey. It’s a great pleasure to be with you in the studio.
Venediktov: Of course, today’s event, Mr. Ambassador, is the publication of the so-called “Kremlin report” of the US executive power to the US Congress, and a separate list that was published. Could you tell our listeners what status this report has and what status does this list have, what is it?
Ambassador: It is a fulfillment of legislation that was passed by the U.S. Congress back in July, signed by the President August 2nd. So it’s six months behind us. It called for everything that we have seen under sections 231, 241 and 242 – the lists, so called – which is by way of a report. All of this is to represent the amalgamation of sanctions that have been applied to our relationship for Crimea, for Donbas, for election meddling, and they’re all consolidated by Congress this last summer. What we saw yesterday was the delivery of one of the requirements of the legislation under section 241: a report. Now, I’ve heard it described as new sanctions, which it is not. I’ve heard it described as many things. It is simply a report required under the legislation, prepared by the Treasury Department and the State Department, delivered yesterday to the United States Congress. Now the U.S. Congress has it in its hands, and it will decide what to do with the content, how or when or if to make it public. And that’s where we are with respect to the legislation from six months ago. I would say that we should not allow emotion to drive this issue. We should recognize it straight up for what it is and also recognize it for what it isn’t. It isn’t new sanctions. It is simply a report, and, yes, it lists individuals as required under the legislation.
Venediktov: Who are those people who got on this list? All members of the government, the whole presidential administration and wealthy people with more than a billion are on the list. Those names are probably in the database of the embassy – these names can be found in open sources. What are those lists? What is the status of this list? What do they describe?
Ambassador: It’s describing what was called for in the legislation, which were individuals of means and influence, as part of a report. Nothing more than that. And that report now has been delivered to Congress. It was meticulously put together for months by people in the Treasury Department, in consultation with an interagency process within Washington, as mandated by the legislation. That’s where we are. I think our efforts and our attention should really be focused on the work ahead that needs to be done in order to address the underlying issues that got us where we are. I like talking less about what happened yesterday, because it’s based on actions taken six months ago, and I like talking a lot more about what we do from here. Because that’s what diplomats should be doing: rolling up their sleeves and saying, “OK, how do we then address the underlying issues that got us to where we are? How do we get to an environment that is free and clear of sanctions so we can begin to normalize what is a very important relationship for world peace and stability?”
Venediktov: Two clarifying question and we will proceed to the next question. First question: Does this mean that those who are on the list are criminals or not criminals?
Ambassador: I can’t answer that, to be specific. It was put out by the Treasury Department, and a specific office within the Treasury Department that specializes in sanctions. It’s consistent with the legislation. If people are interested in what this is all about, we’re a very open and transparent government. Our legislation is out there for people to read and to interpret. Take a look at the legislation that was passed last July, and they can see for themselves what this calls for.
Venediktov: And the second question which is being asked by our listeners: The publication of this report – yes, this is the American law – will it worsen your opportunities as the Ambassador in Moscow?
Ambassador: This is, again, Alexey, where we should be working based not on emotion, not on the moment, but on longer term shared interests. We have so many long-term shared interests. The list (of these interests) is very long, and it’s very important to global security and peace. So I would say, this will make headlines for a couple of days, and it will spin around for a while, and then we’ll get back to business. Let’s be very frank about the relationship of nations. Nothing ever stays the same. We’re always in flux, based upon our interests and our ability to solve issues between us. We’ll go forward and probably look back on this moment in time as being a challenging moment in the bilateral relationship, but not definitive in terms of how we work together going forward. That will be left to what we do in Syria, with respect to Ukraine, on issues like arms control, DPRK, and issues that really have an important implication for world peace.
Venediktov: I remind you that the U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman is on the air. Well, let’s talk about nations. Although the question of why everyone except for the President Putin is on the list is interesting. This is called “Putin’s list,” and Putin’s name is not there. (laughter) It was a just a remark. Look, I have a poll from the end of 2017 to the question: “What is the most unfriendly, hostile state to Russia?” And your country, the U.S., takes the first place, Mr. Ambassador. 69% of Russian voters, let us say, Russian residents believe that the U.S. is an unfriendly country to Russia. Let’s now forget about the 30%. What would you say to these 69 percent who see sanctions, who see cooperation with Ukraine and so on? What would you say to these 69 percent?
Ambassador: Well, I would say that if I read the tweets coming out of the Foreign Ministry, if I listened to the sound bites from senior responsible people who are castigating and using hostile and at times unfriendly terms about the relationship, portraying the United States in ways that depart from fact, I would say, I’d probably think the same thing if I were fed that day after day after day. The fact of the matter is, I feel a little bit like Alexis de Tocqueville, who came from France to the United States back in the 1830’s to do some sociological… he was a kind of a social anthropologist of sorts, and he wrote the great book Democracy in America. He came to learn about the people in America. Found new things. I’m roaming the streets here in Moscow. I’ve just come from the United States. I can’t even begin to tell you the warmth that I feel, the conversations that I’m able to have, the people – common people – that I’m able to interact with. I think I have a pretty good sense of what people think about my country. They don’t always agree with politics. They’re confused by how decisions are made, and a lot of Americans are too. But I think there is an underlying respect for innovation, ideas, music, culture coming out of the United States. I think there’s a great fascination with my country.
Venediktov: 69%, Mr. Ambassador – almost 70%!
Ambassador: I meet some of the 69% on the street. I’ve talked to the 69% and I’m saying that misinformation sometimes can give a snapshot at any moment in time of a negative or a so-called hostile relationship. This is what is poisonous about disinformation and hostile rhetoric that I think needs to stop. The kind of discourse that I hear coming out the Foreign Ministry is sometimes a little bit over the top and is not conducive to problem solving and not conducive to the kind of environment we need to create to solve problems. Now what would happen if we were to broadcast instead the important work we are doing in Syria, which sometimes is tripped up by propaganda and misinformation. But if people knew that Syria today was stable in terms of the fighting on the ground because the United States and Russia are working together. Our professional military is in communication. We’re talking on a pretty regular basis on the issues that matter most with respect to security. If we were to write in the newspaper and broadcast the fact that we are working on the transition now to a government, under the mandated UN Security Council – (Venediktov: Syria?) in Syria – people would turn that 68%+ around and say, “I had no idea they were working together in a way that is promoting peace and stability.” I just think the wrong facts and the wrong details sometimes are out there, and they’re spun in an unfriendly and unhelpful way. If you were to get the real truth out there, I would say that people in Russia would see the relationship as one based on problem-solving, trying to fix things where our interests overlap and generally trying to do the right thing. So, I take that number, because I come from a country that does a lot of polling, and I come from politics where you read polls every day, and often times those polls are wildly inaccurate based on any number of underlying factors. I’d rather say that I think the fact of the matter is we have good people on both sides of the Atlantic. Good decent people in America. You could take any individual from Russia, seat them at the dinner table with an American family, and they would have a great conversation. And you know what? They would find that they have so much in common. And the same thing is true here in Russia.
Venediktov: Let us take one ordinary American, the CIA director, who said yesterday that he fears that Russia will interfere, how it interfered in the previous electoral cycle, so it [Russia] will intervene in the electoral cycle of 2018, in November. I have a question, Mr. Ambassador: you, personally, before you became Ambassador, were you sure that the American mass media did not misinform the American government about Russian meddling in the elections? Are you sure that Russia interfered in the election process? Did you see the reports, documents or you get it from mass media?
Ambassador: I think what you have to look at, Alexey, because our media is diverse, it’s sometimes unwieldy. We have different newspapers, all different shapes and sizes, tone and content and ideological perspectives…
Venediktov: You are speaking with regret?
Ambassador: No! I grew up in a media world that was very homogeneous, and today I see a media world that is wide open. I think that more voices means a better informed electorate, which is what we need. I would say with respect to the election: a very interesting thing happened here that I think we need to understand. And that was 100 members of the Senate – half Republicans, half Democrats – these are people from farms, people from big cities, there are liberals, there are Democrats – they had a chance to review the facts, the content with respect to election meddling that was put together. They all read it, they all analyzed it, and they all voted on what to do. And this goes back to the vote I was talking about earlier last July that resulted in the consolidation of sanctions. They voted – this highly uncoordinated, at times unwieldy body – voted 98 to 2. Now, Alexey, I have very rarely if ever seen a 98 to 2 vote. That’s almost an impossibility. They only thing that would drive that kind of vote would be to give members of the Senate access to information, have them digest it, have them analyze it, and then vote based upon where they think the truth lies. So, when my friends here quibble with the idea that there was election meddling or they say it didn’t happen, I say, well, I think the true test would be in a political vote where you actually have to vote your conscience based upon the information that you are given. And it was almost unanimous. Republicans and Democrats alike. For me, you can argue and debate this all you want, but when it put it before 100 people who never agree on anything, and they conclude to the tune of 98 to 2, I think that’s a pretty definitive outcome. As definitive in American politics as you can get.
Venediktov: Look, you will say what you just said to me to various Russian politicians, to Russian officials in the MFA, in the presidential administration. You tell them what you just said to me, and they tell you: “No, it’s not. We did not interfere. Forget it, pass it on. We did not interfere.” “This is some kind of nonsense”, the President says, “Nonsense.” Let us pretend you sit, and you face 98 senators – and then you face the president of the Russian Federation. And you are a mediator as the ambassador, and what will you do?
Ambassador: Here’s what I say: We’re talking about the past. I want to talk about the future. I’d like to say that our goal between the United States and Russia – because it’s nice to have goals between two countries as important as the United States and Russia – is to end 2018 in a better place than we’re starting in. Or, let’s just say, in a better place than I found it to be when I arrive almost four months ago, which was right after the cut of 727 people from our Embassy which was devastating, I just have to tell you. If our goal is to end 2018 better than we sit today, then let’s prove the point as we move through the year, because there’s another U.S. election in November. This is what I’ve been pointing out. And there’s of course an election here – the Presidential election. Let’s get through the year without evidence of tampering or getting involved in our respective elections, and let’s prove the point that we can stay free and clear of that kind of thing, get through November in the United States, and let’s see what that does to the relationship at the end of the year. I’m a lot more interested in the future, than I am in the past, because we can debate both sides forever, and we’ll never get beyond where we sit today. The future is what’s important.
Venediktov: Imagine the future, 2018. And just recently President Putin said that he believes that the U.S. is interfering in our presidential elections. This is about the future. What would you answer him?
Ambassador: I run the United States Embassy here. I’m familiar with everything that we’re doing – that’s my job. We don’t meddle. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re more engaged in people-to-people diplomacy, in reporting on politics and economics. Listen, we don’t have an interest in doing the kinds of things that have been ascribed to us. We want there to be, this year, a sense that we can end 2018, again, on a higher plane than where we sit today. I hear those words, and I understand that there are going to be charges back and forth, but I, as one person who is sitting on top of the U.S. Embassy in my leadership position, that’s not what we’re up to. I hope that Russia will stay free and clear of our elections in November. Because I have said before and I was somewhat criticized for it, that if in fact – you heard it, Alexey! – if, in fact, there is meddling in November, I think it would have devastating consequences for this relationship. I think both sides know that. It’s important for diplomats to put down red lines. We should be open, and we should be blunt in terms of where we see the potential for catastrophic consequences. That is why I talk about it – because I don’t want to see that happen.
Venediktov: But the president (Putin), while commenting on the likelihood of U.S. virtual interference in presidential election in March in Russia, said that you [the U.S] support one of the candidates, Mr. Navalny and that the State Department supported him. Does it mean that the U.S. is interfering in the presidential election? For him, this is proof.
Ambassador: Well, if can show me the evidence, I’d be happy to see it. If you look at the schedules, you’ll find that there hasn’t been, since I’ve been here, interaction. In fact, some candidates probably are trying to steer clear of the U.S. Embassy knowing that it may create problems for them. But if there are charges of that nature, all I say is: bring forward the facts. Show them to me, and I’d be happy to address them.
Venediktov: You haven’t met with Navalny?
Venediktov: With Yavlinsky?
Venediktov: With Grudinin? With the Communists?
Venediktov: So you’ve only met with Putin, the candidate? When you gave him your credentials?
Ambassador: As I presented my (credentials), yes, that is correct.
Venediktov: Good. Then let us hope that the US will not interfere in our elections, nor will Russia interfere in the elections in the United States. This will be a good sign.
Ambassador: I just gave you, Alexey, a little bit of my calendar, which is always private. I should never be doing that, but I wanted to be very honest with you about that. Listen, I hope to meet people from all political backgrounds over time. My priority for the first three to four months is to meet leaders within the government. You have to establish a foundation of trust in your working relationships. You have to get to know people in the key ministries in order to begin the process of problem solving in the areas where we ought to be coordinating our efforts. But over time I look forward to meeting people from all political backgrounds.
Venediktov: So you don’t consider yourself the toxic ambassador? People don’t run from you?
Ambassador: (laughter) People, when they get to know me, they sit down with me, and they realize that we’re honest and straight forth on all issues, I think we’ll come to that conclusion pretty quickly.
Venediktov: Good. Let’s compare what you say now with what you have said recently – I’ll reveal for our listeners the information from your meeting with editors-in-chief. You said that your main task is to stabilize relations. The president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov recently said that the relationship between Russia and America is in a state of collapse. So stabilization means turbulence or collapse? What are your thoughts? You have been working for 4 months already.
Ambassador: Do you remember when I talked a few moments ago about unhelpful language? I don’t see the relationship collapsing. I see the relationship being in a very distinct cycle. Sometimes the relationship among nations will cycle down, and it cycles upward – I mean, just look at our last 25 years – in any political or diplomatic relationship. I sat yesterday with President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu for an event, and I thought to myself, this is quite unique! These two presidents would never have been doing this just a few short years ago, two heads of state. So, relationships cycle up and they cycle down, and right now as a result of the most challenging year we have seen in our bilateral relationship – 2017 – we are in a down cycle. But I think we’ve stabilized that down cycle. I think we are at the floor. Of course things could get worse, but it would be a tragedy to let them get worse than they are.
Venediktov: Mr. Ambassador, I know and, perhaps, you know, that there was a Polish writer Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, who said the following phrase, “We thought that we were at the bottom, when we heard a knock from below.” It seems to me that they are knocking from below.
Ambassador: I hear what you’re saying. It is in the interest of both countries and the interest of regional stability for us to stabilize the relationship and to begin managing it on a responsible basis going forward. Let’s look at taking out the highs and lows. If you look at the trajectory of the bilateral relationship the last 20 years – under Republicans and Democrats both – you have resets and restarts and all kinds of fancy diplomatic language that promise things that sometimes are very difficult politically to achieve, on both sides! And expectations get way up and then they’re dashed. They fall to the ground. I think it’s better that we begin a relationship being frank, open and transparent about our overlapping interests. We do have a series of overlapping interests where we can actually work together on things and probably put aside the issues on which we can find no agreement and begin to calibrate our language to suit that kind of responsible relationship. Because if there’s one word that comes to mind when I hear language used by responsible parties, is ‘irresponsible.’ How can you conduct a relationship with irresponsible rhetoric floating around out there? When there’s good news and we succeed, do like President Putin did when we had that exchange of intelligence information, saved lives in St. Petersburg. He was very open about it, he called the President, and it was something that was quite important. You mentioned our CIA director just a moment ago. Well, just in the last week, he’s had probably the most important meetings on counterterrorism that we’ve had in a very, very long time, at the senior levels. So, even as we’re receiving barbs coming into the Embassy and the relationship, we’re actually underneath engaged in substantive work that I think is saving lives and bringing stability to places like the Middle East and hopefully the Korean Peninsula, and hopefully over time, maybe even this year, Eastern Ukraine. These are all very important to world stability.
Venediktov: I remind you that Jon Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, is on the air. You are always speaking about some sectors, very narrow sectors, where it is possible to reach an agreement. Basically, as we see, it’s intelligence or military. But in the political sphere we face sanctions lists, harsh statements in relation to Russia are being made by your leaders and harsh statements are being made by our leaders. Does it poison relations? Is it mistrust or is it a show? What is showing off here?
Ambassador: Language matters, because language creates the environment in which we operate. When the language becomes too poisonous and too toxic, it becomes impossible to build trust. I talk about trust – I use that word a lot – and maybe that’s not the most appropriate word to use, but it’s the only one I can think of. Because in all of my relationship-building exercises, whether it’s in earlier country relationships that I’ve managed as a diplomat or even in politics as an elected official, trust is an indispensable commodity. I think that Russian friends know what I’m referring to. If your trust is depleted, you have no ability to work together at a table, because nobody will assume you’ll do what you’re promising to do. With language that is incendiary, it is impossible to build trust. When you receive a call from a head of state saying, “Thank you for the exchange of information that saved lives in St. Petersburg. Let’s keep working together,” THAT builds trust. That’s the kind of language that we need to build more and more in the way of progress. So the bad language, the incendiary language, is totally unnecessary – that’s the whole point – so why are we just shredding trust where we can easily build it up and prove to people in America and in Russia that we can be responsible, and we can manage in the interest of both sides?
Venediktov: – I should say that both of our presidents are sharp-tongued and, let say, acrid. And in that regard we see that their meetings and conversations on the top level are rare. In your interview to our Interfax colleagues you made it clear that a new meeting, a new summit is not being prepared. But it would seem that it is the direct contacts between presidents Putin and Trump which allow to do something, when they talk one on one not by means of tweets or television. Why then is the summit not being prepared?
Ambassador: President Trump has told me personally on more than one occasion how much he values conversations with President Putin. They’ve talked by phone, and they’ve talked on the margins of some meetings – Hamburg G20 and more recently the APEC meeting in Danang, Vietnam. So, you could have a summit meeting – I’ve worked for presidents before and I’ve seen summit meetings that result in zero – nothing – a lot of good pictures, but nothing else. So what came out of Hamburg, when we had a long informal meeting between President Putin and President Trump? The work that established the most important ceasefire in Syria in the southwestern region we have seen since the war started. That came out of that meeting. So then you look at the APEC meeting in Danang, where they had a pull aside, they had a side-bar. Out of that came a statement – a joint statement – that basically has allowed the work to continue toward the transition to governing in the steps that will now be necessary, brought up both together in the same page. Now, I generally base meeting on outcomes and substance. So you can have a summit meeting with no substance and no outcome. You can have a five-minute pull-aside that results in something that totally changes the dynamic on the battlefield or the transition to government. That’s how important the work is between the United States and Russia. We get together for an informal meeting and out of it comes something that completely changes the dynamic in Syria. So over time, of course, there will be more formal meetings. We have to take the steps that build the trust and create a framework of problem solving that results in enough success where the people in Russia and the people in the United States can say, “OK I understand why they’re having a formal meeting. They’ve done enough together, they’ve built enough trust. They’ve had enough in the way of success in Syria and Ukraine, DPRK. Now is the time to have a more formal meeting to enshrine much of the work that has gone on. I think we’re moving in that direction, but we can’t let go. We have to keep taking steps. Very important steps.
Venediktov: So it is one of the main problems: I look at the Russian audience attitude to the United States. In 2013, before Ukrainian crisis, you were considered an enemy by 38%, and in 2014 – by 70%. This is what happened in Ukrainian crisis. Russian people thought that the United States of America were behind Ukrainian crisis, Ukrainian war. Once you. Mr. Ambassador, recommended us to talk to Mr. Kurt Volker who is involved in this story. We talked to him and made an interview. Thank you so much! But we still don’t see that after Volker-Surkov discussions anything is moving forward in Ukraine. Do you really believe that the United States and Russia are capable to agree on anything in Ukraine, and this over Ukraine, beside Ukraine, instead of Ukraine?
Ambassador: It’s important to remember that U.S. officials from the President right on through have stated that the road to a more normal relationship with Russia goes through Ukraine. Very simple. Therefore, what is the approach we take in resolving. Again, this is not just the United States – this is all of Europe we’re talking about. This is multi-faceted on a number of levels. You look at the Normandy approach, you look at the Minsk undertaking, the French and the Germans have been deeply involved, and all of Europe of course feels strongly about this issue because it was a violation of the borders of a nation state. I’ve heard all the countervailing arguments. There’s a deal to be had here, and I’m guessing there’s only one person in Russia who can decide that they want to make that deal. Kurt Volker stated just yesterday that his fourth round – it’s now number four – out of Dubai with Mr. Surkov was constructive. I know Kurt Volker. I haven’t heard the word ‘constructive’ out of his mouth yet with rounds one, two or three. Round four he’s saying ‘constructive.’ The relationship between the two of them is, I think, evolving. They’re working better together. I think they’re putting more substantive proposals on the table, which is very important. But he left, probably, four key messages behind with Mr. Surkov in their meetings. The first really was the strong sense of concern over any lack of progress by not just the United States but all the other parties who are invested in this outcome as well. Because we’ve seen zero movement. An exchange of prisoners, which was helpful, but beyond that we’ve seen no progress at all. Number two is, we really do need a peacekeeping force here. This is going to be key for peace longer term. It’s got to cover the whole territory. It must be effective. When you look, Alexey, every night at the hundreds of ceasefire violations that are occurring, when you look at the total number of casualties – over 10,000 – when you look at the level of violence which has seen escalation the last month or two, not seen since February of last year, you understand why a peacekeeping effort is very, very important. And the third one, and the one that I think is important because it’s a human issue, and that is, what are the concrete steps we can take to assist human life and overcome human suffering and address the human condition: food, people free and clear from violence, safe passageways. These are the things we need to discuss, that are very, very important. The fourth issue, this isn’t just a U.S. concern: it’s a broad-based European concern, and the ball is in Russia’s court right now. That’s how we feel. We’re waiting to hear back from Russia on how they see the way forward and the steps that need to be taken. I think we’re at a very, very important juncture right now. 2018. When I say we ended on a higher plane, we could see a year in which there’s real movement on Ukraine. And we proved to all parties involved we could act responsibly here. If we get to the end of 2018 without any movement, I think we’ll be sitting right where we are today.
Venediktov: May I get into article 5 which you didn’t mention, which you hid. As far as I know, it was also discussed in Dubai how to administer those regions. Not only peacekeepers, but also who will administer, manage. A proposition was made that maybe to think of external management by the example of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Do you know anything about that?
Ambassador: The options were put forward by Kurt Volker, and I’ll leave some of those details to him, other than the fact that the peacekeeping force he’s put forward as critical to resolving this situation for all the obvious reasons. I’ll leave more of those details about the peacekeeping force, the content of the peacekeeping force, the place and the responsibilities of the peacekeeping force all to Kurt. I think that will be part of the discussion moving forward.
Venediktov: I told you before we got on-air how I don’t like diplomats and do like generals. After all to escape the response this way.. Well, we will ask generals, though Volker is not a general. Anyway could you estimate from US viewpoint what is happening in the south-east of Ukraine? Is it aggression by my country or are there also elements of Ukrainian inner conflict? Because if it is aggression then troops are recalled and it’s finished, and everyone is happy. Or after all there is Ukrainian inner conflict, how do you think?
Ambassador: It’s a complex conflict. Very complicated. And it gets more complicated with each passing month when there is no resolution at all. A lot of work has gone into where we go and then next steps. It’s all wrapped up in the Minsk understanding and the Minsk agreements. For people who are interested, they should take a look at that, because it spells out the steps that all parties wish to take as we move forward and embraced by Russia as well.
Venediktov: This is a diplomat! And what did you expect?
Let’s come back to another important topic. It is disarmament. I think that this issue is always sidelined. We see strains. For example, president Putin spoke of that in relation to New START Treaty, to short- and intermediate- range missiles. He blames you, the United States, that you in fact has already violated this treaty. The United States and you predecessor Ambassador Tefft told me that No, it is Russia who builds a new missile (let me call it by the name – “Rubezh”) which violates this treaty. Both sides violate this treaty. Is it dead?
Ambassador: Let’s start with the premise, Alexey, that New START, which is the most ambitious arms control agreement that either side has undertaken in a generation, reaches a very critical and important milestone on February 5. The United States is going to meet it, and I believe that Russia will meet it too. So let’s take just a moment and applaud each side for the work that has been done on this very important document which spells out the number of deployed nuclear strategic weapons and launchers that one can have in existence. And then the steps we’ll take in terms of verification of those numbers as we go forward. This represents, I think, a very important moment in arms control history between the United States and Russia. We have the INF agreement that is in dispute. We have concerns about violations on the part of Russia. We have talked openly about that. Not only the United States but others have concerns about violations as well. Let’s not give up on INF. That’s not the intention of the United States. INF has served the purposes of European stability for 30 years, going all the way back to 1987 when President Gorbachev and President Reagan signed this very important document. It took an entire class of weapons off the battlefield. It took Pershings on the European side and SS20s on the Russian side, took them completed out. The fact that new weapons systems would be introduced, ground launched cruise missiles where we see violations on Russia’s side, is a dangerous turn, and they must be addressed. But let’s not give up. I know there’s been a lot of talk by my Russian friends about, ‘Ah, the United States is going to pull out,’ and that we don’t take it seriously, that’s nonsense. We take it very seriously, and everyone in Europe takes it very seriously. Why? Because of the progress that clearly has been made over the last 30 years and the confidence that has been built around a very important arms control agreement and respect for the content of that arms control agreement. We take these violations very seriously.
Venediktov: Isn’t it lost, Mr. Ambassador? You said now the word “trust”, I can’t miss it. How could the arms be controlled, not only nuclear, if there is no trust? The trust is lost!
Ambassador: The fact that we’re getting with New START to the numbers on our due date – 1550 – means that there’s enough trust between the two of us to say that we are meeting that deadline and we’re now going to count the systems. That takes trust – it’s verification. Trust but verify, in the words of Ronald Reagan. INF, again, I just want to reiterate the point that we have no intention of pulling out of INF. We do have every intention of making sure that the parties are consistent with the content of the agreement and that there are no violations. We will continue to make our case and continue to work through this as we move forward. Russia has already named specifically the system that was used by its correct nomenclature and we should have a process by which we can work out our differences here without threatening cancellations of key treaties, which we’re not going to do. Let’s for a moment say that both sides have worked very hard and we’re moving in a positive direction as it relates to New Start and we’ve got a lot of work yet ahead of us but this is the time – I call it the high five moment – where we can high five each other as they do in American sporting games as we cross February 5th. It doesn’t stop: the work then continues and is even more intense after that, but the fact that we’re even getting to February 5th, arriving at our goals, which is our hope, is a very big deal.
Venediktov: You said “sport”. You know there is another accusation which could be heard very often even from president Putin against the US. For some reason in my country there is confidence that behind the expulsion of Russia from Olympics and behind crushing on Russia the story with doping system stands US administration who intimidates officials of the Olympic Committee, purchases officials of the Olympic Committee in order to push aside Russia, to punish Russia. Is it so?
Ambassador: Why do people think the United States is so good at all these conspiracy theories?! I don’t understand – I’ve been in government under at least five presidents and forging policy and interagency consensus around ideas and approaches and strategies is really, really tough to do in the U.S. form of government. And to be accused of these elaborate conspiracies, I have to stop and laugh because my government couldn’t coordinate in ways that would suggest we could probably pull that off! So, this is nonsense. I hear it and it’s just another way of diverting attention away from the facts. You have people who are looking into facts. You have people who do that for a living. You have the International Olympic Committee that has long undertaken an investigation. The facts speak for themselves. You have documentaries and exposés and films that have been made about the subject. Let the facts speak to the truth. We are where we are: there was an elaborate system in play at the Olympics and it was outed. And here’s where we are.
Venediktov: Let’s sum up. A few final questions on your assessment of the cooperation between Russia and the US in various spheres. So, speaking about Syria: do you consider our cooperation as a more positive or more negative?
Ambassador: In Syria I would say it’s more positive generally than it is negative. I read only negative (in the press) but I’m intimately familiar with the details and involved in much of the making of those details, and I would say we’re having (can I use a diplomatic term, Alexey?) constructive discussions. Which is better than destructive discussions!
Ambassador: We are more positive than negative. The very fact that UN Security Council resolution votes were unanimous against DPRK says everything that you need to know about where we are. We’re all against the testing and deployment of these ballistic and nuclear weapons. We ARE in favor of stopping the proliferation of nuclear material, and we ARE in favor of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Venediktov: Fight against terrorism.
Ambassador: I would say counter terrorism is moving in a productive direction, better than I’ve ever seen or heard about it before, evidenced, of course, in St. Petersburg. But this is also an issue that has consumed the attention of senior officials with the collapse of various groups in Syria like ISIS, for example, because they’re on the run and they’re looking at recongregating elsewhere and continuing to propagate their terrorist acts. Russia is vulnerable. The United States is vulnerable. Our friends and allies are vulnerable. We must work together. It’s a responsible issue for us to be doing that.
Venediktov: I am not even asking you about economic cooperation because sanctions perhaps move us to negative side.
Ambassador: Again, I end where we started: a report is not sanctions – it’s a report. We don’t have any new sanctions.
Venediktov: I mean real sanctions.
Ambassador: Well, current sanctions are in place, but I also know that we have 500 very active members of the American Chamber of Commerce. I’ve spoken to them a couple of times, and they want to do more. But they want to do more when there is a more confident relationship where they can invest money in the expansion of projects and new projects and know that it’s not going to be tripped up by politics. This is why what we’re doing is so important in terms of saving lives and making countries safer and more secure and improving the stability of regions. All of that is very important in its own right, but in our bilateral relationship it builds trust and confidence, and that allows for the flow of capital back and forth, trade to ensue and jobs to be created. As far as I can tell, whether you’re a governor of a state or whether you’re managing a bilateral economic or political relationship, that is what is truly important. Beyond just security, you have to have jobs, you have to have income, you have to be able to pay the bills. And that kind of economic relationship longer term is what we should be focused on. And it’s not today where it needs to be.
Venediktov: And my last question to Jon Huntsman, US Ambassador to Russia. A lot of questions came, and you will be surprised, far too many are worried about this thing: Is a military clash between the US and Russia possible in any region of the world? Is the war possible?
Ambassador: We have carried on a relationship for a very long time. Back even during the days of the Soviet Union where we had proxy confrontation and proxy battles. I would say that we should be smart enough and are smart enough in terms of how we manage our respective interests. That if anything of that were to occur, it would represent a complete failure on the part of leadership, on the part of diplomacy, and on the part of our citizens getting to know each other better – that’s called people-to-people diplomacy. So long as we can keep all that intact, I think we have a better future to look forward to. And I do genuinely, Alexey, look forward to a better end of 2018 than the beginning that we’ve experienced.
Venediktov: The last question to Jon Huntsman. When Cuban Missile Crisis and Berlin Crisis took place we were little and don’t remember. But we do remember the crisis in Europe in 1983. You were working for president Reagan at that time. Was crisis of 1983, the crisis of missiles more fearful than now? Is it better or worse now?
Ambassador: You have to look at issues and how they’re filtered through the media. The media back in 1962 was simple compared to where it is today. You had three networks in the United States – ABC, CBS, NBC. You had maybe a handful of papers that drove the news – Chicago Tribune, New York Times, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News. Today there’s a cacophony of voices and opinions and I sometimes stop to think about, if we were to relive the Cuban Missile Crisis today, what the outcome might be, because there would be a different level of reporting, shall we say, and a different level of anxiety on the part of the American people and probably the people of Russia. So I say to my friends in government in Russia, let’s be as responsible as we can be. It’s in the interests of the people we serve. And I say to the members of the media: you have an important job. You should get to the bottom of issues. You should present the truth. You should stay away from disinformation.
Venediktov: As always in the end, if you want to tell something directly to our listeners. You have 2 minutes to address them. Both 69% and 31%.
Ambassador: Alexey, thank you for allowing me to be on your program. Let me say from the bottom of my heart what a pleasure it is to serve in Russia. People ask me all the time, as if they were concerned about my well-being, “How do you like living in Russia? How do you like your job? How do you like working with the Russian people?” In all cases I can say that I really do love it. I love this job because it’s a real challenge and I know it’s important enough where if you put forth the work and effort, it’s important for the people in both countries and important for global stability. I love living in Moscow with my wife and two children, and I love getting to know the Russian people and their traditions and their culture. I have great respect for the history and the traditions and the civilization that is represented in this country. It is a truly great civilization, and it reminds me of a much younger civilization in the United States. I always think that if we were to sit at the dinner table together what our conversations might be. You know what? To begin with, we would make friends, we would find that we have a lot in common, and I think we would learn from each other’s experiences. I really do hope that as we move into this year, that we can shut down the rhetoric, that we can listen more to each other, and we can find solutions to our common problems – and see that 69% number, or whatever that is, change, because I have every faith and confidence that that number is a misrepresentation of how the Russian people actually feel about the United States.
Venediktov: It was Jon Huntsman, US Ambassador to Russia. In the end of the year we will sum up, of course. Thank you!