Russia’s ambassador to Washington admitted in a recent interview that he has not spoken with Vladimir Putin since being appointed to the post in 2017 – not even during the invasion of Ukraine – but denied this meant he was out of favor in the Kremlin.
The envoy, Anatoly Antonov, shrugged off the lack of communication with the Russian leader, claiming to Politico in an interview published Monday that he is in constant contact with senior officials in Moscow and other government agencies.
“We have a different system,” Antonov told the outlet.
The ambassador also looked askance at a question asking if he had tried to get Putin on the phone.
“To give an opportunity to the FBI to listen to everything that Mr. Putin could say [to] me? ” Antonov responded.
D espite his lack of contact with the Russian leader, Antonov rejects the idea that Putin has been isolated and is being given bad information as Russian troops experience a number of setbacks in Ukraine, including a recent forced retreat from around Kyiv and its suburbs .
“He knows everything,” insisted the 66-year-old Antonov, a former deputy minister of defense and foreign affairs. “He is able to study thoroughly each report that he gets from various services, and, just after thoroughly studying these reports, he makes decisions taking into account the members of the security council of the Russian Federation.”
Parroting Putin’s term for the invasion – “special military operation” – Antonov voiced the Russian spin on the brutal assault, even while admitting Ukraine is a separate country from Russia that has a right to sovereignty.
“It’s a very narrow approach to say the ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine,'” he told told Politico. “We are talking about changing the world order that was created by the United States, by NATO countries after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.”
Antonov also echoed Moscow’s claim that the goal of Russian forces was not to subsume an independent country, but purge Ukraine of Nazis – even though the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.
The envoy also denied reports that Russian troops have massacred civilians in Bucha, that they have deployed chemical weapons and that the attack is not progressing as planned.
Meanwhile, questions linger in Washington about whether Antonov or other Russian envoys carry any influence, especially if Putin is relying on a limited number of advisers.
“At this point, I do not think anyone really thinks he’s a proxy for Moscow,” Gavin Wilde, a former National Security Council official who dealt with Russia, told Politico. “Why give him a platform to troll?”
Others disagree, arguing there could be value in keeping communication lines open with the ambassador.
“He’s not just a factotum at this point with no useful purpose,” insisted Rose Gottemoeller, a former senior US official who dealt with Antonov during the New START nuclear arms treaty negotiations in 2009 and 2010, citing his long resume and contacts within the Russian government, including the intelligence agencies.
A Russia analyst who has met with Antonov since the invasion began Feb. 24 said the diplomat appears to realize that “the risk of something really nasty happening in the [US-Russia] relationship has increased significantly over the past six or seven weeks because of this conflict. ”
“Quite frankly,” the analyst added, “he does not know how things are going to turn out, because he does not know what Moscow’s next steps are going to be.”