Any U.S. effort to isolate Russia is doomed to fail, so the two powers might as well work together, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak told a major Washington conference on bilateral relations.
Calling current U.S. sanctions a “big disappointment,” Mr. Kislyak said the two nations need to focus on what they can achieve together rather than on their differences on issues such as Ukraine and energy.
“The number of issues where we work together is much larger than those where we do not find common positions,” he said at the annual meeting of the World Russia Forum.
Relations between the two nations need to be based on mutual respect and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, he said. “It’s not possible to bring Russia into isolation; Russia has a lot of interests and connections in the world,” Mr. Kislyak said, but added that sanctions are hurting “the credibility of the United States as a long-term partner.”
Obama administration officials have defended the graduated sanctions against senior Russian figures and companies since the Ukrainian crisis began, saying the Russian economy, stock market and currency have all felt the sting of the measures.
But the Russian ambassador rejected the idea that there is a new Cold War developing, even while acknowledging that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has disagreed with the U.S. on several topics. The Russian leadership viewed the uprising in Ukraine as an “unconstitutional armed overthrow of the government,” he said.
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Likewise, U.S. support of Syrian opposition fighters combating President Bashar Assad made Russians believe the policy would only fund terrorism and give Islamist militants areas to operate in, Mr. Kislyak said.
But, at the end of the day, U.S. and Russia must work to find common ground.
“The potential for our relations is huge — economic[ally], politically, otherwise,” he said.
The U.S. and Russia are more interconnected than some people realize, Mr. Kislyak said. The two nations conduct an estimated $40 billion in trade each year. And some coastal points in Russia and Alaska are only three miles apart from each other.
“We are the closest neighbor of the United States after Mexico and Canada,” the ambassador said.
Mr. Kislyak noted that the Russian Federation is a relatively new nation founded after the dissolution of the USSR, and that the country is still working to develop its market economy and democratic government.
“Just try to think where you were just 25 years after the revolution that gave you independence from the Brits,” he said.