WASHINGTON -- Russia’s top diplomat in the United States has blamed Washington for the worsening ties between the two countries, even as he emphasized common threats the two faced and the potential for cooperation.
Coming amid increasing rhetorical salvos between Moscow and Washington, Ambassador Sergei Kislyak’s comments on October 11 to an audience of university students and faculty were by turns conciliatory and defensive.
Russia has taken a prominent place in the U.S. presidential election campaign, with U.S. intelligence officials last week blaming Moscow for several hacking incidents of U.S. political parties and state electoral commissions.
President Barack Obama’s administration said on October 11 that it is planning some sort of response that would target Russia or its interests.
Speaking at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies, Kislyak repeated Russian statements that Moscow is not interfering in the U.S. election, and he lamented the sharp downturn in bilateral relations, laying the blame on the Americans.
“We are very much disappointed that instead of trying to build and capitalize on what both Russia and the United States can help together to solve the issues that do exist together…that we are locked into that kind of unfriendly discussions, and I think we are missing a lot of opportunities,” he said.
“I would like to underline that we feel that it’s not us who started it, it’s not us who’s fueling it, but the result is that is where we are,” Kislyak said.
The diplomat called for a renewal of cooperation between U.S. and Russian military forces in Syria, saying that the two sides shared a common goal of defeating terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. But he argued that Russia’s military presence in Syria is legitimate, having been invited into the country by the Syrian regime, a close ally.
A cease-fire negotiated by Moscow and Washington collapsed last month and gave way to a blistering assault by Russian and Syrian forces against the city of Aleppo, where parts are still controlled by opposition forces, as well as groups labeled as terrorists.
That led Washington to announce it was suspending all talks with Moscow over resolving the Syrian conflict.
In Syria, Kislyak said, “We are there on a fully legal basis, unlike some others who fly and send troops on the ground without asking permission of a legitimate government.”
In accusing Washington of stoking the bad blood between the two countries, Kislyak cited the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 law that sanctioned nearly 20 Russian officials for alleged human rights abuses and financial fraud. And he cited Washington’s actions during and after the street protests in Ukraine that forced its pro-Russian president to flee the country and be replaced by a markedly more pro-Western administration.
He also repeated Russian’s longstanding grievances against NATO, both its expansion into former Soviet bloc countries in the 1990s and its current deployment of troops and equipment to places like Poland and the Baltic countries.
NATO and U.S. officials have said the bolstered forces are aimed at reassuring alliance members nervous about more aggressive Russian actions in Ukraine, and also along some European borders.
“NATO is an alliance for [its members], not for others, and that creates new dividing lines that is pushed to our borders and that is something that is a very, very serious problem in our relations and most probably one that will have very, very long consequences,” he said.
He said he agreed with the assessment being heard with frequency in Washington policy circles that bilateral relations haven’t been this problematic since the end of the Cold War.
“The risks of miscalculations have increased. I agree with that. Especially with your forces being deployed, NATO forces, being deployed next to our borders, sometimes in a very -- how shall put it in a polite way -- in a strange way, to show up the strength of the United States,” he said.