This tete-a-tete might make for a good absurdist art film — call it My Lunch with Anatoly. Politico’s Daniel Lippman happened to be in a Georgetown restaurant at the same time as Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov, whom Politico described in April as “Washington’s least popular man.” Antonov had company, however — former US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad and National Interest chief Dimitri Simes.
Oh to be a fly on the wall, eh? Actually, Lippman was close enough to take notes, and offers a few highlights of the conversation. It was as odd as one would imagine a conversation with a Putin toady to be:
The Russian ambassador agreed when Khalilzad said “we need an agreement” to end the war between Ukraine and Russia. On the prospect of a peace deal, Antonov asked Khalilzad, “What would [the U.S.] like us to give up?” Khalilzad suggested that Antonov have dinner with the Ukrainian ambassador. In an apparent reference to Russia’s false claims that neo-Nazis are running Ukraine, Antonov asked Khalilzad: “You have a lot of Jewish guys in the United States. Why are they so tolerant of what’s happening in Kyiv?”
File this under “questions that answer themselves.” Antonov apparently either drinks from Vladimir Putin’s thirst-quencher and truly believes the Nazi allegations, or he’s just carrying Putin’s water by pushing that line in Washington. It’s tough to say which is worse, but it’s so far off the mark that it would be hilarious in any other context. A lot of Jewish guys in the US aren’t into wars of aggression aimed at imperial conquest, especially when the target of that aggression is a Jewish guy in Kyiv.
Of course, the official line from Moscow is that even Jewish guys can be Nazis. Remember that bon mot from Antonov’s boss, Sergei Lavrov? The Russian foreign minister doubled down on that claim by accusing Israel of supporting neo-Nazis before Putin finally apologized under pressure. Antonov’s remark reminds us that Putin and his regime still haven’t given up their clinical case of Nazi projection.
Curiously, after trying to woo Khalilzad with that bat-s*** crazy propaganda, Antonov lamented that the US doesn’t pay proper respect to Russia:
“We don’t get any respect” from Washington, Antonov complained, adding that Russia “need[s] respect” and “would like [the U.S.] to respect” it. Asked what might lead to the normalization of relations with the U.S., Antonov told Khalilzad, “I cannot answer your question,” but later said that Russia needed “security guarantees.”
Anyone else getting strong Fredo vibes from that?
Respect is a strange demand from a country that’s presently attempting to annihilate a sovereign nation on the basis that is doesn’t actually exist. Furthermore, the US and the EU have been exceptionally deferential to Putin and Russia even after two other earlier invasions and territorial grabs — 2008 in Georgia, and 2014 in Ukraine. Putin seems to have problems with “respect” — such as in respecting sovereignty of his neighbors, respect for the civilians in cities like Kyiv, Kherson, and Mariupol, respect for other sovereign nations in which his intelligence forces conduct assassinations against dissidents and journalists, and so on.
Maybe if Russia respected the sovereignty of others, there’d be more room for the dialogue Antonov seeks:
Antonov bemoaned the lack of dialogue and communication between the U.S. and Russia, comparing it unfavorably to the Cuban missile crisis, during which the U.S. and Soviet Union continued to talk. Near the end of the lunch, Antonov said: “Zal, I would like to use your contacts and your contacts in this administration,” and Khalilzad discussed the need for a “track two” in communications between the U.S and Russia.
We definitely should maintain such dialogue, but it was Russia that cut off those communications, not the US. It took almost three months for Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu to answer calls from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to pursue deconfliction and keep the war from escalating. That was just five weeks ago or so too, so it’s not clear whether that was a one-off or if Shoigu is now more regularly answering Austin’s calls. Antonov’s still in Washington, for that matter, even if he’s being shunned socially in the Beltway. He can still make diplomatic calls and personal visits, but he’d better have a better argument that trying to rally America’s “Jewish guys” onto Putin’s side.