Russian Ambassador Speaks at U.Va. About Ongoing Conflict

By: Val Thompson Email
By: Val Thompson Email

August 26, 2014

The Russian ambassador to the United States spoke in front of a packed crowd at Newcomb Hall Tuesday night, defending his country's actions in Crimea and Ukraine.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was hosted by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. He spoke about how the conflict in Ukraine is straining relations between Russia and the United States.

"The popularity of Americans in Russia has dropped significantly," Kislyak said. He said some Russian young people are now ashamed to wear baseball caps of American teams.

The tension is largely due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The United States blames Russia, claiming that Russia is supplying arms to pro-Russian rebels who are fighting against the Ukrainian government.

But Ambassador Kislyak says Russia wants to resolve the conflict, but Ukraine won't stop attacking its own people.

"People get killed each and every day," Kislyak said. "They are trying to kill people rather than start talking to them. That's the biggest problem in this region. We know it much better than our American friends."

Kislyak took several questions from the audience after his 30-minute speech. Allen Lynch, a U.Va. professor of international studies, pressed Kislyak to admit some responsibility on Russia's part.

"He gave the impression that Russia is a passive observer," Lynch said. "(Saying) 'If only the world would come to see the problems through Russia's eyes we could sit down and resolve all these issues.' That is only a very partial side of the story."

Kislyak said another reason for the deteriorating relationship between America and Russia is a series of disagreements over international actions by the U.S.

"We were absolutely against the last war that the United States decided to launch against Iraq," Kislyak said. "We knew that there was no weapons of mass destruction."

But Lynch says the ambassador is just deflecting blame.

"We heard a lot about the Americans and the Europeans and the Ukrainians responsibility," Lynch said. "We heard almost nothing about Russian responsibility."

When asked about Russia's annexation of Crimea, Kislyak said he didn't like to use the word "annex." He said Crimeans voted for independence and asked Russia to accept them, and the nation was happy to do so. He claimed Crimeans were dancing in the street when they became part of Russia.

Kislyak questioned why there is so little trade between Russia and the United States. He said Russia trades more with Holland than with the U.S., even though Russia is only three miles from the Alaska border. He pointed out that Russia is America's closest neighbor besides Canada and Mexico.

When asked whether he is optimistic about the future of American-Russian relations, Kislyak quipped, "do you know the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? A pessimist is a well-informed optimist."

Still, he's hopeful that relations between the two nations will improve.

"We are not planning to return to the Cold War," Kislyak said. "But at the same time, it takes two to tango."

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