Key strategist in Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine will be new Russian ambassador in Washington

Politico reports: A new — and likely more aggressive — chapter in Russian diplomacy is about to begin in Washington with the departure of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose soft-power approach to D.C. will be taken over by noted hardliner Anatoly Antonov.

The switch in what has become one of Washington’s most scrutinized jobs comes as the controversy over President Donald Trump and his allies’ ties to Moscow intensifies, especially with the revelation that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at the height of the campaign after being told she could provide damaging information on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The scandal has at times centered on secret meetings with Kislyak — a long-time and well-respected diplomat who held the top post in Washington for nine years before his 2016 meetings with Trump officials made him a politically radioactive figure.

The 62-year-old Antonov is also a longtime diplomat, but he recently completed a nearly six-year stint as a deputy in Russia’s far more hardline defense ministry.

Antonov’s arrival is expected to be a noted shift in Washington’s diplomatic community, where Kislyak was known as an affable fixture on the embassy party circuit, and an experienced political figure with routine official access to U.S. government circles.

“It’s the continuation of a trend we’re seeing throughout Europe, where Moscow is putting in hardline, almost Soviet-style diplomats,” said Heather Conley, who runs the Europe and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

After navigating some of the most tense U.S.-Russia relations in recent memory, including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Kislyak was rumored to take a post at the United Nations following his near decade of service in Washington. But as the Trump-Russia scandal flared, he was instead recalled to Moscow, though the Kremlin has not said what factored into that decision.

Where Kislyak dealt in soft power — known for lavish parties, calls for better relations between the U.S. and Russia,and a genial if unyielding demeanor — Antonov’s reputation as a hardline Kremlin acolyte precedes him.

As a defense official, Antonov was a key strategist in Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, and he received a medal from Putin awarded to officials who participated in the Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. That participation also made him a target of European Union sanctions in 2015, though he was never singled out by U.S. economic penalties.

“He was a very outspoken defender of the whole thing, very nasty in his attacks,” said former U.S. ambassador Alexander Vershbow. “You can expect to hear him talking a lot about NATO encirclement of Russia…he not only says that stuff but he believes it.” [Continue reading…]

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