Russian ambassador: It's been pretty lonely here in Washington

He throws parties. He plays bluegrass on his podcasts — Russian bluegrass, that is. But darn it, people in Washington DC just don’t like Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov — or at least they don’t want to be seen near him. Antonov, who took over the position from Sergei Kislyak after the latter became a household name in the Russian-interference narrative, blames “Russophobia” for his diplomatic isolation in the US, Politico’s Nahal Toosi reports:

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.

This lament certainly comes at an odd time. At the moment, a former Russian intelligence agent and his daughter are struggling to survive contact with an unidentified nerve agent, which needless to say is not usually found in the Salisbury, UK community. Russia seems to be building its own reputation as unpleasant company, even apart from the political fallout of its ham-handed interference in American elections over the last few years.

It’s also a bit whiny to complain about one’s reception under those circumstances, too. Want to have more company? Perhaps tell Vladimir Putin to stop his propaganda efforts and also the assassinations of former spies, too. If we can live with Chelsea Manning, why can’t Putin live with Sergei Skripal and Alexander Litvinenko? Maybe whiny is going too easy on Antonov and Putin.

On the other hand, there is some validity to Antonov’s complaints. The mood in the US seems reminiscent of 1950s-style Red hysteria, to the point where normal diplomatic contacts become fodder for accusations of treason. Trump’s critics set that tone in questioning then-Senator Jeff Session’s unrelated conversation with Kislyak into a requirement to recuse himself from Collusiongate, although in the long run, the recusal will likely end up benefiting Sessions. There are valid reasons for people in Congress to connect with the Russian ambassador, such as Orrin Hatch’s recent visit to deal with Russian hostility toward Mormons. The purpose of ambassadors is for both the envoy and his/her hosts to cultivate contacts and increase understanding between nations.

Antonov says all he wants is to accomplish that:

“All I hear is ‘meddling, interference,’” complained Antonov, drink in hand and eyebrows raised. “I don’t know these words. I want to talk about friendship, cooperation.”

One good way to get the latter is to stop the former, of course. Perhaps Antonov should take up his complaints with his boss rather than with Congress. He’d get more RSVPs that way, and maybe Antonov would find that “Russophobia” wasn’t the real problem after all.