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New Russian Ambassador Expected To Take Tough Stance On U.S. Diplomacy


Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, is pretty famous for a diplomat. That's because of revelations that he met with key members of the Trump administration before the president's inauguration. Kislyak served as ambassador throughout the Obama administration, and he's now set to leave Washington. When President Trump and Vladimir Putin met during the recent G-20 summit, they agreed to speed up the exchange of new envoys between Moscow and Washington. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow that the man expected to replace Kislyak is a tough negotiator.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: For months now, Russian media have been speculating on the replacement for Sergey Kislyak, speculating because until President Vladimir Putin formally appoints him, nothing is official. But one man has already been approved by two parliamentary committees. His name is Anatoly Antonov, a 62-year-old career diplomat known as a tough arms control negotiator and hardliner on America. Gary Samore, who worked on arms control in the Obama White House, remembers him well.

GARY SAMORE: Off camera, when you're not doing business, he is a very pleasant person to deal with. On camera, when you're doing official business, he's a tough, you know, Russian negotiator, deeply suspicious of the United States.

KIM: Like Kislyak and Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, Antonov, who comes from Siberia, is of the generation of Russian diplomats who got their education during the Cold War.

SAMORE: I found him when he relaxes, you know, very personable and easy to, you know, talk to just like Kislyak was. But when it comes to business, they'll do what they're instructed to do from Moscow.

KIM: What's unusual about Antonov is that he also served as a deputy defense minister, which led the EU to blacklist him for his role in the war in Ukraine. He has a reputation as someone ready to fight for Russian interests, and that's why he was picked for the job even before the U.S. election, says Alexander Gabuev from the Carnegie Moscow Center. He says Antonov was supposed to be what he calls a war ambassador.

ALEXANDER GABUEV: He was meant to be war ambassador because Moscow believed that Hillary Clinton definitely will be the next U.S. president and the approach of Clinton administration towards Russia will be very hostile and hawkish.

KIM: One former U.S. diplomat remembers his masterful use of human emotions, from the warmly charming to caustically sarcastic. Another ex-diplomat calls Antonov of one hell of a negotiator but says that when push comes to shove, he can be very practical. Antonov also has a tough reputation in Moscow.

GABUEV: He's very hands-on managerial style. Not many colleagues like to work with him because he's just a very demanding boss and a very demanding person. So he's not that easy to work with.

KIM: When he met with lawmakers in May, Antonov outlined his views of relations with the U.S. on Russian TV.


ANATOLY ANTONOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Good-neighborly, equitable, mutually respectful relations," Antonov said, "benefit the peoples of both countries." That might sound like a load of diplo-speak, but analyst Gabuev says Antonov will change his tone as the situation demands.

GABUEV: If the relationship deteriorates further, I don't think he will be shy to call it out loud, make a lot of noise.

KIM: Sergey Kislyak is expected to leave Washington as early as next week. Anatoly Antonov is already waiting in the wings. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.