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Interview: U.S. Ambassador Reaffirms Support For Ukraine's Integrity, Calls On Russia To Talk

U.S. Ambassador Huntsman On Religious Freedom In Russia, Sanctions, And Ukrainian Elections
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U.S. Ambassador Huntsman On Religious Freedom In Russia, Sanctions, And Ukrainian Elections

The U.S. ambassador to Russia said Washington was committed to defending Ukraine's territorial integrity, saying the issue of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine was "a core part of our estrangement with Russia."

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service published on April 13, Jon Huntsman also called on Russia to "engage in a helpful process that will allow the people of Ukraine to see their nation restored."

"We do care deeply about the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which has been badly violated," Huntsman said. "[Moscow's 2014] annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine… – it has not been resolved. Nothing has been done in terms of positive steps toward recreating the contours of a whole and free Ukraine…."

"It is time to get to the negotiating table and find some solutions, which has not been the case for the last many years," he added.

Huntsman’s comments come just over five years after Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and then annexed it, a move that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of United Nations members.

In April 2014, the month after the Crimea annexation, armed men began seizing key buildings in parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and a full-blown war broke out shortly thereafter.

The Changing Story Of Russia's 'Little Green Men' Invasion
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Diplomats and journalists have documented Russia’s backing for the fighters, who have battled Ukrainian government-backed forces. More than 13,000 people have died.

The United States, the European Union, and others imposed economic sanctions against Russia following the annexation and the outbreak of fighting, sanctions that remain in place despite indications from U.S. President Donald Trump that he might consider easing them.

Sanctions Consensus

Huntsman said that maintaining sanctions against Russia is one of the few matters on which both major U.S. political parties agree.

"This issue, in the United States Senate, has united almost 100 percent of Republicans and Democrats," he said.

The International Criminal Court ruled in November 2016 that the war in eastern Ukraine was "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation."

In addition to Crimea and the Donbas conflict, Huntsman cited the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

And he cited the case of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose 2009 death in a Russian prison led to the passage of a U.S. law that has infuriated the Kremlin.

"People uniformly in Congress feel very strongly about these issues and how we should respond,” he said.

Support For NATO

Huntsman also affirmed U.S. support for NATO, saying that it protects "the freedom and liberties of almost a billion people who share common values."

"NATO will continue to build and to shift and to figure out how best it can maintain its role and its posture maintaining stability in the region," he said. "It is a very important deterrent force."

Trump has been critical of NATO, complaining that the United States is bearing too much of the alliance’s financial burden. He’s also questioned NATO’s most important element: that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all 29 members.

"I only see successes when I look at NATO," Huntsman said. "It is there for a reason, and I think a billion people are very grateful and appreciative that the peace and freedoms of so many people have been protected as a result of this most-successful collective security organization."

Huntsman also addressed the case of two Americans facing criminal charges in Russia.

He called on Moscow to present its evidence in the case of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 on suspicion of espionage. He denies the accusations.

The ambassador lauded a Moscow court's April 11 decision to move U.S. investment banker Michael Calvey, who faces embezzlement charges, to house arrest.

A renowned investor, Calvey has built his private equity firm, Baring Vostok, into a billion-dollar management company with stakes in dozens of businesses, including Russia’s largest online search engine, Yandex.

"We hope, as I know his family does, that this is resolved as quickly as possible," Huntsman said.

Written by Robert Coalson based on interview conducted by Irina Lagunina.