The following is a transcript of an interview with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov that aired Sunday, February 20, 2022, on "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Russia's Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov. Good morning ambassador, and thank you for coming on the program.
AMBASSADOR ANATOLY ANTONOV: Good morning. Thank you very much for inviting me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I'll get right to it. President Biden says that President Putin has decided to invade Ukraine. Is he correct?
AMBASSADOR ANTONOV: You'll say that it's very difficult to correct your president. I do not want to be involved in any discussions in your country. I just would like to express our position. If you don't mind, I will start from basic things. There is no invasion and there is no such plans. It was fixed in Russian documents that we conveyed to our American friends in the State Department. Russia has publicly decided- declared its readiness to continue the diplomatic efforts to resolve all outstanding issues. By the way, I would like to say a few things. Each state has a right to protect its boundary and border. The Russian Federation, the United States, as well as any state, has such a right. It's no exception. Russian troops are on sovereign Russian territory. We don't threaten anyone. Why do you- why do other countries try to impose their decisions on us? Where can we deploy our troops and how many? I would like to emphasize once again that this is our own territory. Can you even imagine that Russia will impose on the United States not to deploy your forces in Florida or in San Francisco?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Respectfully, Ambassador, you have troops in Belarus, which is not technically Russian territory. You have troops in Moldova. You have separatists you are funding and supporting in the east of Ukraine. This is not your territory.
AMB. ANTONOV: Yes. Well, we are talking about Belarussia. I hope that there will be an opportunity for us to discuss it. We will discuss joint drills that are undergoing. And I would like to say–
MARGARET BRENNAN: They were supposed to end today. Are those troops staying in Belarus indefinitely?
AMB. ANTONOV: You'll see that as to United States, you have so many military bases in various countries. As to us, we have just only a few. And we can't see any contradiction to any legally binding norms on this issue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It looks like intimidation. You have over 190,000 personnel in and around Ukraine, you've got it surrounded on three borders. Your words and your actions don't seem to match, sir.
AMB. ANTONOV: Again and again, I would like to say you that we have our legitimate right to have our troops where we want on Russian territory, on Russian territory. And I would like to say you that we are not threaten to anybody. We are not threaten to United States. We are not threaten to Ukraine. It's very easy to solve this crisis. If you persuade Kyiv to sit at the table of negotiations when Lugansk and Donbas people, so there will be no fighting, there will be peace, there no will be any casualties. It's so easy. But as to us, as to Russian Federation, we have a grave concern regarding activities of North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And I would like to say you that forces of this bloc have came- have come to a Russian boundary.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Sir, Moscow–
AMB. ANTONOV: There's a lot–
MARGARET BRENNAN: –supports the pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country. That's what you're referring to there when you talk about Donetsk. President Zelensky says he wants to meet with President Putin. If you're interested in diplomacy, why doesn't that meeting happen?
AMB. ANTONOV: You say that you don't want to listen to what I try to explain you. You don't want to listen to Russian concern regarding security issues. It's not honest because even- I'll take a one proverb from our American friends that each coin has two sides. Why are you all looking just only on the one side? Why you prefer to ignore the second one? Why you are ignoring Russian concerns on security? Today, The problem is not Ukraine. The problem is what kind of world order will be in future? Whether we can together establish a firm security guarantee for everybody without undercutting very important principle of indivisible security for everybody. It means that you have no right to strengthen your security at the expense of Russian Federation. And we also have no such right. It's clear–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Ambassador –
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, Mr. Ambassador –
AMB. ANTONOV: –in many documents –
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, you didn't answer the question about –
AMB. ANTONOV: –endorsed by the United States and Russia–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You didn't answer the question about President Putin and President Zelensky meeting. But moving on. You personally, before you were a diplomat, you were a top military officer. And in fact, you were given a medal of honor for your work trying to return the Crimea. You've been under sanctions in the EU and Canada for your role in those operations. Is the big goal here for Russia ultimately to get the rest of the world to recognize Crimea as part of Russia? Is that what this is all about?
AMB. ANTONOV: An issue of Crimea is solved, an issue of Crimea is closed for us. It's a Russian territory and we don't want even to discuss this issue at all. It was not how to say a military operation by Russian forces. It was a decision by people who live in Crimea. That's clear. That's why I can't understand why and we are talking now about Crimea. We have to deal with the situation in Europe it is very important. For the United States? It's easier to stop such crisis. You have to persuade Kyiv to fulfil Minsk agreement. That's all.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, so for you—
AMB. ANTONOV: That's all.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When you- for our listeners, when you were talking about the Minsk agreement, you were talking about agreements in regard to the east of Ukraine where there has been fighting for the past eight years. Is Russia ultimately trying to get the rest of the world to give that portion of Ukraine over to the Russian Federation? Is that what you're trying to do here?
AMB. ANTONOV: We are not trying to take any territory of foreign countries. I would like to confirm that Donbas and Lugansk is a part of Ukraine. What we want- we don't want to see irritants along the perimeters of Russian territory. We are interested to have a stable, good relations with Ukraine. And what we want- we would like to give an opportunity for peoples who are living in Lugansk and Donbas to speak their native language, to use all rights of any society that we can enjoy. That's all what we want.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Why don't you use the legal mechanisms to do that then instead of funding separatists?
AMB. ANTONOV: It is excellent legal mechanism that was discussed by our two presidents in Geneva. And Mr. Biden has confirmed that Minsk agreements are valid and it's necessary now to implement Minsk agreement. I would like to refresh your memory saying that Russia is not a party of Minsk agreement. Parties of these conflicts are Kiev, Luhansk and Donbas–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. And Russian separatists that–
AMB. ANTONOV: – in Minsk agreement, that- that's necessary for them to start real work. And if you look at all provisions in Minsk agreement, you will see what everybody has to do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hmm. Do you think your policy right now is effective, given that the reaction to Russia's military buildup has been for NATO and the United States to just pour more money and more weapons into the area? Isn't that the exact opposite of what you say you're trying to do?
AMB. ANTONOV: You'll see that we're very much concerned what United States and other major countries are doing. They are pumping off Ukraine with a lot of weapons. There are, by the way, agreements, politically binding agreements between the United States and Russia, which we got in the form of OEC, as well as so-called Wassenaar Arrangement.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understand–
AMB. ANTONOV: We shouldn't–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But respectfully ambassador, your country has the largest military buildup–
AMB. ANTONOV: You don't want to listen to me. You don't want even to give me opportunity to explain–
MARGARET BRENNAN: No I do.
AMB. ANTONOV:–explain the Russian position.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I just want you to answer the question I'm asking. You have the largest military buildup in Europe since the end of World War II. How do you expect NATO to react?
AMB. ANTONOV: You'll see that we did a lot of to withdraw our troops from various regions that are very close to Baltic states- to Eastern European states. We withdraw a lot of troops from Kaliningrad area. And nobody even said us "thank you." At the same time, we see five ways of expansion of NATO. NATO has started exploration, tech- military technical exploration of Ukraine now. It's not possible for us to swallow. You'll see that there is no space for us to retreat. There is just only Russian Federation.
MARGRET BRENNAN: Well, you know that President Biden–
AMB. ANTONOV: We see–
MARGARET BRENNAN: said Ukraine won't join NATO in the near future, and the German Chancellor said it's absurd for there to be a war because Ukraine's membership in NATO isn't going to be allowed any time soon. So why aren't statements like that good enough?
AMB. ANTONOV: You say that- Ms. BRENNAN, a lot of words about it, and we would like to put everything on the paper. We would like to see legally binding guarantees for Russian security. So we send our package of proposals. What should we do? We don't want to see next wave of expansion of NATO. We would like you not to use my eastern and central European countries, as well as Baltic states, to deploy their new weapons. We don't want INF missiles deployed in Europe.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
AMB. ANTONOV: And we have proposed you to deal with this issue, to sit together, and to find a solution. Again, today we are not talking about Ukraine. We are looking towards the order that we will establish together in Europe and in the world as well. Why don't you want to listen to our concerns in this respect?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, President Biden says his Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with your top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, this week, but only if there is no military action or invasion. Can you guarantee there will be no military action or invasion?
AMB. ANTONOV: I just started my dialogue with you from words that we send in written form to the State Department. And I would like to confirm again that there is no invasion now. As you know, there was a lot of fake news in the mass media and in many American channels that today we're going to start invasion, and I would like to confirm that there is not any plan to start war. We don't want a war. Don't forget that during the Second World War, we lost 27 million.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
ANTONOV: Do we know how many- how many Americans died during the Second World War? Half a million. We were brothers in arms. We fought together. So why shouldn't we try to find solution together?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly, exactly. And that is why the question of having the largest military buildup by your military since the World War, the Second World War has raised some eyebrows. You have the largest nuclear forces in the world. You have hypersonic missiles. Why are you so threatened by a defensive alliance in a country like Ukraine?
ANTONOV: We have concern not about Ukraine. We have concern regarding activities of NATO. We see how NATO is–
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a defensive alliance.
ANTONOV: No, come on. It's not a defensive alliance. You see that North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not peace-loving NGO. It's political military machinery, a bloc. And I remember my meetings in Brussels. Many times your ambassadors tried to persuade me that Russia is not an enemy of United States or NATO. And the main threat is coming from the southern part of Europe. I said, "Come on. I understand your concern regarding Iran or other countries, but why your machinery is coming to my boundary. It's not fair." You'll see that- and we would like to stop such expansion. We would like United States to withdraw their troops and their weaponry from those states, because it's our lives, it's our guarantees of security for our people. We don't want to see military machinery deployed along the boundary with the Russian Federation. Let's discuss it. Let's solve it. You say that you mentioned that Russia is the major nuclear power. I would like to say the same – that United States and Russia are key players in the world. We are permanent members of Security Council. We bear a special responsibility for peace. We have a lot of problems to discuss - pandemia, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other things. We can work together. We offer you-
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Ambassador-
ANTONOV: We send you a package of proposals.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we will watch that diplomacy in the coming days. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time. Thank you for coming and answering questions this morning. We'll be right back.
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