Russia’s ambassador to the US described a “toxic atmosphere” in Washington toward his country – denying the Kremlin meddled in the US election or poisoned an ex-spy and his daughter, according to a report.
“It seems to me that atmosphere in Washington is poisoned — it’s a toxic atmosphere,” Anatoly Antonov told NBC’s “Today” show on Friday. “It depends upon us to decide whether we are in Cold War or not. But … I don’t remember such [a] bad shape of our relations.”
He added that “there is great mistrust between the United States and Russia.”
“Today Russia’s responsible for everything, even for bad weather,” he said. “It’s high time for us to stop blaming each other. It’s high time for us to start a real conversation about real problems.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 13 Russians on suspicion of running a disinformation campaign during the 2016 election was “not a proof” of responsibility, Antonov said.
The diplomat also said Russia had nothing to do with the nerve agent attack of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
Antonov said there was “no evidence” Russia was responsible, even suggesting a conspiracy by saying the attack happened “very close to a UK military chemical laboratory.”
Yulia has regained consciousness and her father remained in critical condition. Britain has blamed Russia for orchestrating the attack using a Soviet-era nerve agent known as Novichok.
In retaliation, Britain, the US and their allies have joined together to expel more than 150 Russian diplomats from their countries.
On Thursday, Russia responded by announcing it was kicking out 58 employees of the US Embassy in Moscow and two of the American Consulate in Yekaterinburg.
“If anybody slaps your cheek, your face, what will be the reaction from your side?” Antonov told NBC. “You will retaliate. It goes without saying.”
The escalation of tensions between the US and Russia comes as President Trump tapped two foreign policy hawks for his team – Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser.
Despite the heated rhetoric, Antonov waved a political fig leaf.
“I have offered my colleagues from the State Department from [the Department] of Defense, to sit together, to come to my residence,” he said.
“If they are scared, I say that, ‘Come on, we can meet in a restaurant and to discuss all outstanding issues.’ It was four or five months ago. And I got [an] answer: silent.”