Russia’s new ambassador to the United States has been described as both ruthless and charming. Since his arrival in Washington six months ago, he has emphasized the charm — hosting parties, giving speeches and even launching a bluegrass-backed embassy podcast at a moment of bitter U.S.-Russian relations.
But Anatoly Antonov says he has been disappointed to find a cold reception on Capitol Hill, where he’s had a hard time obtaining meetings. Some lawmakers’ offices have even asked him not to publicize the sessions.
Antonov’s first meeting with a U.S. lawmaker came three months into his tenure, when he sat down in December with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. His most recent, with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, took place on Tuesday.
“The Congress, overwhelmed by Russophobia, is led by politically biased emotions, rather than a clear-thinking mind,” the Kremlin envoy told a POLITICO reporter, who interviewed him in a combination of written and face-to-face chats. “We are bluntly told they fear criticism.”
U.S. lawmakers are going beyond the silent treatment. Some successfully pushed the District of Columbia to recently rename a stretch of road outside the Russian Embassy to honor Boris Nemtsov, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was gunned down near the Kremlin in 2015.
That hasn’t stopped Antonov from opening the heavy gates of his fortified embassy compound north of Georgetown, where the Russian flag was lowered to half-staff last month in observance of the school shootings in Parkland, Florida.
At a recent Russian film screening at the embassy, where guests nibbled on meat and cheese under the watchful eyes of plainclothes Russian security guards, Antonov was quick with a smile — and heavy on scripted Kremlin talking points — as he discussed the political climate in a Washington rattled by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s suspected role in the 2016 U.S. election.