Russia envoy to US: Anti-nuclear channels are dead
No communication channels similar to those 60 years ago between Russia and the United States insinuate a nuclear threat.
A secret, direct link between the Kremlin and the White House helped prevent nuclear war 60 years ago when Moscow and Washington were engaged in a nuclear standoff known as the Cuban Missile Crisis in the United States, according to Newsweek.
Today, however, with US-Russia relations at their lowest point since the Cold War's end and new talk of nuclear contingencies emerging from both sides, Moscow's envoy in Washington has told Newsweek that no such communication exists, ushering in a new and dangerous era for the two countries, as well as the rest of the world.
Anatoly Antonov, Russia's Ambassador to the United States, recalled his predecessor, Anatoly Dobrynin, who said at the time that "the Cuban missile crisis revealed the mortal danger of a direct armed confrontation of the two great powers, a confrontation averted on the verge of war thanks to both sides' timely and agonizing realization of the disastrous consequences."
Antonov also quoted US President John F. Kennedy, who told Soviet Council of Ministers First Deputy Chairman Anastas Mikoyan shortly after the October 1962 crisis was resolved with an agreement for Moscow to withdraw missiles from Cuba and Washington to withdraw its own weapons from Turkey, "What we have now is, although our two countries do not challenge each other directly, we keep running into each other almost everywhere, which in our nuclear age is fraught with serious dangers for world peace."
"These words of the former US president can be quite legitimately used to describe the present state of relations between Russia and the United States," Antonov told Newsweek. "The world is once again speeding up to approach the line with nothing behind it."
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"The undeniable advantage of that time was a continuously operating confidential channel between Anatoly Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy," he added, referring to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the President's brother and advisor, who played a critical role in negotiating an end to the affair. "It allowed the Kremlin and the White House to relay information to each other in a timely manner, do appropriate analysis, and clarify positions of the two states."
But Antonov said the two powers were now at a considerable disadvantage, as "today, the infrastructure of our communication with the Americans has been demolished." Antonov laid the blame on President Joe Biden's administration.
"The attempts of Russian diplomats in Washington to re-establish such contacts have been futile," he said. "The administration is unwilling to talk with us as equals."
"The Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in the restoration of a status quo that existed around Cuba before the deployment of Soviet missiles," Antonov added. "It is impossible to resolve the current situation in the same way."
Newsweek reported that the last reported conversation between Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin took place on February 12, two weeks before the Russian leader launched a special military operation in Ukraine. The Kremlin's decision came after months of unsuccessful discussions in which Moscow requested that Washington and its allies withdraw military infrastructure from former Soviet states that are now NATO members.
Antonov argued that Russia was "struggling not against Ukraine but on its territory — for equal relations, a world order based on international law, the UN Charter and practical implementation of the principle of indivisible security for all."
"I would like to emphasize that in the present conditions a return to the previous state of affairs is unacceptable," he added, "when threats to Russia's national security were mounting on our western borders." But he questioned whether Washington was "ready for a serious professional conversation on international peace and stability."
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He cited the White House's new National Security Strategy as evidence that the US was merely doubling down on its efforts to enforce what he referred to as "the so-called rules-based order." He called it "a kind of fantasy that Washington has dreamt up and is imposing on the whole world," and the notion that "the entire international community must unite in the fight against China and Russia."
"Cooperation is only acceptable with allies and those who follow the US policy lead," Antonov said of the document. "The Strategy offers a distorted picture that all the troubles in the world erupted because of Russia's special military operation. Before that, everything was allegedly fine."
"The Americans plan to continue cultivating alliances against China and Russia in critical areas," he added. "This is all backed up by an ideological basis — a confrontation between democracies and autocracies. Such an approach disavows the White House's claim about its unwillingness to divide the world into blocs and engage in a new Cold War."
Newsweek reported that Biden has repeatedly disavowed any plan to pursue a new Cold War-like conflict with either China or Russia, but he has nonetheless singled out these two powers as the top two threats to the US on the world stage. Tensions with Moscow have hit an especially critical point, as Putin has repeatedly warned he would use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory, which has come to include four new regions after a popular referendum held last month.
He himself stated earlier this month that "we have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis," and that, for the "first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have a direct threat of the use of the nuclear weapons if, in fact, things continue down the path they've been going."
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Biden asserted that Putin, whom the US leader claimed to "know fairly well," is "not joking when he talks about the potential use of tactical and nuclear weapons."
Reached for comment by Newsweek last week, a White House spokesperson said that "the President's comments reinforce how seriously we take these threats about nuclear weapons — as we have done when the Russians have made these threats throughout the conflict."
"The kind of irresponsible rhetoric we have seen is no way for the leader of a nuclear-armed state to speak," the spokesperson added. "But if the Cuban missile crisis has taught us anything, it is the value of reducing nuclear risk, not brandishing it."
According to Newsweek, Antonov argued that it was the US that had disrupted the nuclear order, not just in expanding the NATO alliance, but also in allegedly halting communications related to the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington.
State Dept. says 'not true' US, Russia have no communication channels
In response to the Russian envoy, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said it is "not true" that the United States and Russia have no communication channels to reduce escalation.
"That's not true," Price said. "That is not a characterization that we would agree with. Of course, it is not business as usual with the Russian Federation, but we certainly have ways to convey messages of the highest importance to the Russian Federation."