Staunton, November 1 – At his meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, said that US sanctions were in response to what Americans view as interference in the 2016 elections. In fact, of course, the sanctions were imposed because of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Crimean Anschluss.
This Russian effort to shift the explanation for sanctions has received a great deal of attention in the Moscow media (kommersant.ru/doc/3455647 and sobkorr.ru/news/59F978F2C36CB.html, among many others). It deserves to be attended to more widely.
On the one hand, it is part of Russia’s continuing denial of any aggressive or illegal actions in Ukraine. But on the other – and likely more important in terms of Washington politics at the present moment – it plays into a narrative that will make it more likely that the Trump Administration will not move quickly to impose additional Congressionally-mandated sanctions.
Speaking after his meeting with Tillerson, Antonov pointed to the depressing state of bilateral relations, the harm inflicted by the American sanctions policy which is based on the unproven accusations of Russian interference in the US presidential elections,” a position entirely consistent with President Donald Trump’s dismissal of that interference as “fake news.”
Antonov’s words were certainly delivering a message that the Kremlin wants delivered in the hopes that it can still find a way to avoid the imposition of what will be highly damaging personal sanctions by early next year and are thus likely to become a major theme of Moscow propaganda in the coming days.