Russia Names Sanctioned Diplomat Antonov as New Ambassador to U.S.

  • Deputy foreign minister replaces Sergey Kislyak as ambassador
  • European Union blacklisted Antonov over crisis in Ukraine

Where U.S. Relations With Russia Stand Right Now

Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed a hard-line critic of the U.S. who’s blacklisted by the European Union over the Ukraine crisis as his new ambassador to Washington.

Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Antonov will succeed Sergey Kislyak, the Russian envoy embroiled in controversy over contacts between the Kremlin and members of Donald Trump’s campaign team in the 2016 presidential elections. Antonov will also be Russia’s permanent observer at the Organization of American States, the Kremlin said in a website statement Monday.

The appointment, which had been expected for some time, comes amid growing Kremlin disillusionment with Trump, who campaigned on pledges to improve ties but has failed to deliver as president amid investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the elections.

As relations have soured, Russia and the U.S. have engaged in punitive tit-for-tat measures involving their embassies. The U.S. announced on Monday that it’s slashing visa services in Russia after the Kremlin ordered it to cut two-thirds of staff at its embassy and consulates. Russia said it took that step in reaction to new sanctions legislation passed by the U.S. Congress last month, as well as over Trump’s failure to reverse a December order by then President Barack Obama to expel 35 Russian diplomats and seize two embassy compounds in response to the alleged election interference.

Veteran Diplomat

Antonov, 62, is a veteran diplomat who’s an expert on Syria and Ukraine, two key areas of policy friction in U.S.-Russia relations. He returned to the Foreign Ministry in December after serving as deputy defense minister from 2011, where he denied the covert Russian military presence in Ukraine as the war unfolded in 2014. He also presented rejections of allegations that Kremlin-backed rebels had shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board. The EU and Canada placed him on their sanctions lists in 2015.

Antonov’s forceful advocacy of Kremlin policy at the Defense Ministry earned him a reputation as a hawk. In 2015, he blamed “Western spin masters” for the Ukrainian crisis, which he said was “aimed directly against the interests of Russia.” He also said that Asian countries were targets of “undisguised U.S. pressure” as part of efforts at “systematic ‘containment’ of Russia and China.”

Kislyak, 66, was ambassador in Washington from 2008. He was dogged by controversy over his meetings with fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, after U.S. intelligence agencies said Russia was behind a sophisticated effort to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. Russia has denied the allegations.

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