Russia has 'no space to retreat' – ambassador
Russia’s ambassador to the US has rejected President Joe Biden’s latest prediction of an imminent Ukraine invasion, saying Moscow wants to solve problems together with Washington rather than see its security concerns and sovereign rights continue to be shrugged off.
“We would like to put everything on paper,” Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said on Sunday in an interview with CBS News host Margaret Brennan. “We would like to see legally binding guarantees for Russian security,” such as a commitment that Ukraine won’t be allowed to join NATO.
Asked about Biden’s statement that President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, Antonov avoided contradicting America’s commander-in-chief directly, saying Russia has declared in writing to the US State Department that no such attack is planned. But he also bristled at the notion of Western nations presuming to decide how Russian troops should be deployed.
“There is no invasion ...,” Antonov said. “We don’t threaten anyone. Why do you, why do other countries try to impose their decisions on us – where we can deploy our troops and how many? I would like to emphasize once again that this is our own territory.”
Can you even imagine that Russia will impose on the United States not to deploy your forces in Florida or in San Francisco?
Brennan argued that Russia has forces deployed in neighboring Belarus and Moldova, as well as separatists backed by Moscow in eastern Ukraine. “We’re talking about Belarussia,” Antonov replied, saying he would like a chance to discuss Russia’s joint military drills with Belarus. He added that the US has military bases in many nations – in fact, Washington has about 750 military installations in upward of 80 countries – while Russia has only a few. “And we can’t see any contradiction to any legally binding norms on this issue.”
The CBS host repeatedly accused Russia of Europe’s biggest military buildup since World War II, saying it has Ukraine surrounded on three sides. “It looks like intimidation,” she said, suggesting that Moscow’s aim may be swallowing up Ukraine’s Donbass region or securing international recognition for Crimea being Russian territory.
Antonov again defended Russia’s right to deploy troops as it sees fit in its own territory and insisted that Moscow isn’t a threat to Ukraine or the US. He said Russia isn’t trying to take territory from any country and that Moscow considers the Crimea issue closed.
The current crisis will easily be resolved if Kiev can be persuaded to abide by the 2014 Minsk agreement, stabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine, Antonov said. He added that for its part, Russia has “grave concern” about NATO expansion and missile deployments on its doorstep.
“Why are you ignoring Russian concerns on security?” Antonov asked. “Today, the problem is not Ukraine. The problem is what kind of world order will be in the future.” The key principle is “indivisible security,” meaning that neither NATO nor Russia should be allowed to strengthen its security at the expense of the other party.
The ambassador noted that NATO undertook waves of expansion, while Russia withdrew troops that had been stationed close to Baltic states, such as in the Kaliningrad area. “And nobody even said ‘thank you,’” Antonov quipped. Adding Ukraine to NATO is “not possible for us to swallow,” he said. “You’ll see that there is no space for us to retreat.”
Antonov emphasized that Russia doesn’t want a war, having suffered the loss of 27 million people in World War II. He denied Brennan’s assertion that NATO is a “defensive alliance” and said Moscow doesn’t want the Western bloc’s weaponry deployed along its borders.
As for Ukraine, Antonov said, Russia wants only “stable, good relations” and for the people of Donbass to enjoy the rights of any free society, including being allowed to speak their native language.
“The United States and Russia are key players in the world,” the ambassador said. “We are permanent members of the Security Council. We bear a special responsibility for peace. We have a lot of problems to discuss … We can work together.”