Russian Ambassodor to the US Sergey Kislyak gave an exclusive interview to the TASS news agency

July 5, 2017

TASS: How long have you been dealing with America?
S. KISLYAK: I took up a position at our UN mission in 1981. And in 1985 I transferred to the embassy.
TASS: Have you ever seen in the past anything like our times?
S. KISLYAK: I have to address various audiences in the U.S. quite frequently, you know. And they often ask me if we’ve dashed back into the Cold War era. Most typically, I tell them we haven’t although the superficial indicators look similar enough.

The anti-Russian frenzy that defies belief sometimes has swept the U.S.

Back at that time, there was a confrontation of different social and political systems. An anti-Russian frenzy that defies belief has swept the U.S. now. It is spreading against the background of an unhealthy state of the U.S. political world with its profound divide, the electrified atmosphere, the quagmire of reciprocal accusations, and suspicions.
Along with it, the amount of problems that threaten the U.S. national security inside and outside the country doesn’t show any signs of decreasing. But the chilling spells that come out of Washington deprive us of many chances to take parallel actions or to work together so that we could eliminate these problems.

TASS: Do you have an explanation for what is taking place?
S. KISLYAK: I simply think the world is changing. A big enough number of countries are getting more capabilities to influence it and more resolve to defend their interests.
The opportunities for ensuring ‘American leadership’ – and the Americans would quite often fancy a supreme leader’s role – are not as expansive as in the past but Washington assimilates realization of the changing reality with much difficulty. And that is why those who don’t tally with the criteria spelt out by the Americans are perceived as challenges to American interests and contenders, not as partners in the solution of common problems.
When it comes to Russia, the fears and prejudices of the Cold War era that seemed to have long turned into fossils get a new lease of life. This heavily bedims reality.

The opportunities for ensuring ‘American leadership’ – and the Americans would quite often fancy a supreme leader’s role – are not as expansive as in the past
As a result, falsehoods about Russia’s aspirations and specific steps are piling up and Russia is passed off as an enemy. In this case, politicians often compete in putting forward the ideas on how to contain or punish Russia.
I think history will dispel these untruths in due time and America will begin to turn towards greater normalcy in relations with Russia, especially because it would serve their (the Americans’) interests.
Incidentally, the Americans have already had to give up their own lies many times in modern history. However, as a rule, they do it ex post facto, after many deeds are done. This was the case with the aggression against Iraq in 2003 and now they’ve started wondering about the ‘justifiability’ of the operation in Libya.

TASS: A total of six U.S. presidents have occupied the office during the span of your professional career. This means about ten presidential races alone. Was there anything inherently unusual in the last campaign?

S. KISLYAK: The last presidential race was not unusual by and large but it brought out some of America’s peculiar traits in bold relief. In the first place, the high enough polarization of society in the run-up to the election and the resultant utmost fierceness of struggle. Secondly, there was an unprecedented injection of political money into the electoral process and the fact electrified the atmosphere of the election further.

TASS: And was there anything unusual in preparations for this election on the Russian side?

S. KISLYAK: There were no preparations for this election on our side. This wasn’t our election. But quite naturally we watched it with much attention and our counterparts from other countries did the same.

TASS: OK, let me put it this way. Did we forecast Trump’s victory as something realistic, as something we were to prepare for? When did you believe in it?

S. KISLYAK: We prepared for doing business with the Americans with an equal share of expectation for the victory of either party, depending on who would get to the White House in the final run.
As regards the chances for victory, we had to rely much more on the assessments and opinions of U.S. experts and sociologists who know their homeland better.
When did I believe in Trump’s victory? When the CNN said he had won.

TASS: Everyone was confident from the very start Hillary Clinton would win. Did we prepare for it? And in what way?

S. KISLYAK: As I’ve said, we were getting ready for any possible outcome. And we proceeded from the conviction that whoever might win, the cornerstone elements of U.S. policies could change at a slow pace only.
No doubt, nuances and adjustments in the patterns of translating policies into life are possible but American political mentality has a very big degree of inertness.
We prepared for a possible victory of Secretary Clinton in the same way as for Donald Trump’s victory. And the main thing was our readiness to work together on common challenges, as well to defend our own interests regardless of which party would dominate.

TASS: I think all countries from Canada to Mexico to Mongolia to Burkina Faso would like to keep themselves informed on the course of events in the U.S. and to have an opportunity to wield influence on them. I’m absolutely sure conferences are held ahead of U.S. elections in places like Paris or London and there’s a lot of head scratching there over what outcome is more preferable and how it could be possibly attained. What about ourselves? Why do we keep saying all the time we don’t care, that we are prepared for just anything, that we don’t want anything and don’t interfere in anything?

S. KISLYAK: We say we haven’t interfered because we haven’t interfered. As for the absence of wishes on our part, this isn’t true to fact. We have always wanted a return to normalcy in Russian-American relations.

We have always wanted a return to normalcy in Russian-American relations.

This is the essential wish, the groundwork one can rely on in building a partnership. And partnership would objectively serve both countries’ interests. I do believe in it.
As for other countries, I would recommend looking into the statements of numerous European leaders ahead of the U.S. election. They were very often not neutral. Their support for Hillary Clinton, who eventually lost, was greater than that for the current President.

TASS: Russia itself is heading for an election in 2018. We’re saying all the time the Americans meddle everywhere. Is there any U.S. meddling in our case? Do you have any such information?

S. KISLYAK: They’ve tried to meddle and it is highly unlikely that they will abandon it.
Take the U.S. legislation, for instance. It directly stipulates for the Secretary of State to ‘develop’ the democratic administration, clarity, and so on in the Russian Federation. The list is long and, by the way, it includes a provision on ‘disseminating broadcasts with the support of the United State’ and it has already been bankrolled.

TASS: I see. And what was it specifically that got out of tune during Obama’s presidency? He seemed to be quite harmless and gentle. Just recall his slogans like ‘Don’t do stupid sh*t’ or ‘Lead from behind’. But he obviously was sore at us. Why?

S. KISLYAK: I’d rather refrain from categorical assessments, especially the ones with regard to the leader of a country we’re working in.
The problem is generally far more serious. The U.S. finds it difficult to reconcile itself to the situation where someone else can have viewpoints and interests and is ready to fight for them. Yet Russia is exactly one of these countries.
In spite of this, we don’t set ourselves a goal “to cut the U.S. down to size”. We simply are ready to act on our own in the areas where the fundamental interests of our country and our people are concerned. We are ready to take resolute steps, like we did in the situation of Crimea’s return to Russia after the people in Crimea had determined their destiny – to be part of Russia – at the polls.
Naturally, some people didn’t like it – here in the U.S. as well. A different option had obviously been drafted for Ukraine and we, too, realized the fact.

TASS: How do you like the beginning of Trump’s work? He promised to harmonize relations with us but they’ve tied him hand and foot. Now we’ve gotten new sanctions during his term of office. Did he fizzle out? Or is there still some hope?

S. KISLYAK: Work with Donald Trump’s administration is unfolding uneasily. The internal political struggle in the United States has dealt a heavy blow to Russian-US relations. Sometimes, you are surprised at the ease with which the American establishment is ready to sacrifice normalcy in our relations. This is largely due to the strong inertia of both political thinking and Washington's realpolitik.
President Trump has said more than once he is interested in establishing dialogue with Russia but we can see how strong the political inertness in the U.S. is in real life. In many practical things, we can still see the continuation of the line inherited from the previous administration.
Is there still some hope? It's hard to count on a quick and easy way to normalization: there are too many people who want to hinder its advance. The sanctioning frenzy against our country in the US Congress only confirms that. The new sanctions are another headache.
Nevertheless, the impending meeting between the Russian and US leaders will take place soon. I hope it will determine in which direction interaction between our countries will further develop. There are always opportunities for positive turnarounds. What is needed is the resolve not to miss such opportunities. Let's see what the US will do for the meeting.

TASS: Looking from the height of your experience of your experience, what would you advise to our politicians – and to foreign ones, too – so that we could put our relations on an acceptable track?

S. KISLYAK: I think, first of all everyone should be calm. We have every ground to have confidence in our course, to trust our own strengths and refrain from succumbing to retaliatory frenzies under any circumstances.
It’s important to remain firm and principled and to keep the doors open just in case our American counterparts develop the understanding that normalcy meets their own interests much more than confrontation.

TASS: How many years have you spent working in New York and Washington? Do you feel bored now? Or, on the contrary, did you get accustomed to it?

S. KISLYAK: I’ve worked in the U.S. for about seventeen years. Do I feel bored? No. I didn’t have time for boredom.

First of all, everyone should be calm

There’s plenty of work here plus the everyday responsibility. That’s why you don’t have either time or nerve for sentiments.

TASS: Predictions suggested you would move to New York, to the UN, from Washington. Did the Americans put the gate down quietly? Your current fame might be annoying them.

S. KISLYAK: I believe the UN Secretary General made a good choice by appointing an experienced Russian diplomat as his deputy. Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov is a great professional, and the UN will benefit from an appointment of this kind.
As for my private life, my family and I myself are happy that we’ll return home to Russia soon.
I am sure there were no behind-the-scenes moves during the nomination of the Russian Under-Secretary-General, including by the US administration.

TASS: And how do you treat this very same fame? You are portrayed here as an arbiter of people’s destinies – something no one before you could even dream of. Does it thrill you at least a little bit? Or is it sickening?

S. KISLYAK: This rather saddens me. This popularity is based on false narratives and lies with respect to what we do here at the embassy.
I sometimes feel sorry for those the Americans who endlessly dig up some fake news about Russia instead of tackling serous issues facing their own country.

TASS: The situation goes even as far as cartoons or jokes. Are you aware of this? Have you seen something of this sort that made you smile?

S. KISLYAK: I’ve seen some of this stuff. My aides are tracing it. Something is even funny.
I won’t cite any examples because humor in mostly unkind with regard to our American partners

TASS: Is this kind of fame an asset and an impediment for an ambassador? Doesn’t it so happen that the more efficiently you work and the bigger the benefits you bring to your homeland, the more bites you get in a foreign country?

S. KISLYAK: Strange as it may seem, in real life popularity neither helps nor hinders (the ambassador’s) daily routine. What impedes it is something entirely different, namely, the poisoned atmosphere, in which we have to work.

TASS: What in your opinion is the main thing in an ambassador’s work? Whom of the acclaimed diplomats, either Russian or American ones, do you feel the biggest respect for?

S. KISLYAK: I think the most important thing in the work of a diplomat is love for his or her homeland and the realization of responsibility vested in a person working far away from home.
We have had many great diplomats in the history of our diplomatic service. I had real luck as a young diplomat. The first ambassador I reported to was Oleg A. Trayanovsky, the USSR’s permanent representative at the UN in the 1980’s. Then I was invited to take up a position at the embassy in the U.S. by Anatoly F. Dobrynin.
These were great ambassadors. They were cultured, educated, strategically thinking, demanding but friendly. Both had a very subtle sense of humor. Such people embody our country’s best diplomatic traditions.

TASS: Given the experience you’ve had to go through in Washington, one year of your service here should be counted as three years. I’d rather congratulate you as if it were a release from galleys but people from the outside won’t understand it. You’ll be missing the embassy later all the same. What do you think you will be recalling most often?

S. KISLYAK: I’ll surely be missing the embassy. We have a perfect staff here. Incidentally, many staff members are young enough. We have many talented and eagerly working diplomats. It’s working together with them that I will recall most of all from my life in Washington.

Beyond any doubt, there are many interesting and talented people here, like in Russia.

And I must admit that, in spite of all the electric charges in relations between our countries, I’ve formed good relations with quite a few Americans over the years. They are people from different spheres of life – the diplomatic service, arts, and even business.
Beyond any doubt, there are many interesting and talented people here, like in Russia. And they have the ability to maintain normalcy in professional contacts and in personal relations as well, even at a time when inter-state relations are not blossoming.

TASS: Will you write a book about it?

S. KISLYAK: Well, time will show.

Interviewed by Andrei Sitov