World

US Envoy In Two And A Half Years “Bad”.

Russia says it is launching a “special operation” to destroy the military and “deny” Ukraine.

Washington:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made John Sullivan’s heavy task as U.S. envoy to Moscow more difficult as he struggles with the Kremlin’s nuclear weapons attack and threats to sever ties while keeping his embassy operating at one -tenth of regular staff.

“It was really bad two and a half years ago,” Sullivan recalled of his arrival in Jan. 2020. “It’s getting worse.”

The severe staff cuts imposed by the Russian government have yet to force him to clean toilets or embassy floors, as rumored in Washington, though he said he knows how to do both.

The grandson of the shy Irish immigrant explained this week in an interview about being a Washington man in Moscow five weeks into a war in which U.S. -supplied weapons killed his host country’s troops and sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies destroyed the Russian economy.

To date, he said, his meetings with Russian foreign ministry officials have been “not personally insulting or hostile,” and there has been no serious response to the embassy.

“The security situation here is not much different from a month ago, six months ago,” he said via video call from a modest office overlooking the embassy’s fresh snow -covered courtyard. “But that can change at the discretion of the host government in a minute.”

Sullivan is facing a situation not faced by previous U.S. ambassadors to Russia, said John Herbst, a former U.S. envoy to Ukraine with the Atlantic Council think tank. “We are really in a period of hostile relations with Moscow.”

U.S.-Russia relations were already at their hottest after the Cold War when former U.S. President Donald Trump asked Sullivan for one of the toughest jobs in U.S. diplomacy, previously held by prominent figures such as John Quincy Adams and George Kennan.

The rivals were embroiled in tit-for-tat deportations and diplomatic visa disputes, with Moscow ordering the closure of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. Petersburg in March 2018. The consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg were closed after he arrived, leaving the embassy as the only U.S. mission operating in Russia.

But its staff has shrunk from about 1,200 in 2017 to about 130, about half of whom are Marines and other security guards.

The two sides also disagreed on issues ranging from the Syrian civil war and the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea and separatist support in eastern Ukraine to U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia for trying to influence the 2016 presidential vote on Trump.

As relations deteriorated, Trump’s Democratic successor, Joe Biden, decided to keep Sullivan, a Republican lawyer of a non-Russian-speaking organization who has loved Russia since his childhood admiring the Soviet hockey team.

In April 2021, Washington recalled Sullivan for negotiations after a Russian envoy was called to Moscow.

Implementing a decree by President Vladimir Putin, the Russian government in May 2021 ordered the embassy to lay off many Russian workers performing critical tasks. That forced the cessation of processing of all but “life or death” visas.

The hope is that tensions will subside when Sullivan and the Russian ambassador to Washington return to their posts in June and Biden and Putin meet in Geneva the same month.

But the relationship got worse. Russia gathered troops on the Ukrainian border, demanded comprehensive security guarantees rejected by Washington and its NATO allies, and on February 24 attacked its neighbor.

“We’re in the Mariana Trough as far as diplomatic relations are concerned,” Sullivan said, referring to the deepest ocean gap on Earth.

Russia says it is launching a “special operation” to destroy the military and “deny” Ukraine. The war has killed thousands and uprooted millions.

Sullivan’s challenge involves an unpleasant routine.

Days after he launched his aggression, Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert, citing aggressive statements by NATO leaders and economic sanctions against Moscow.

U.S. officials said they were concerned about the covert threat of nuclear war they continued to hear from Russian officials, including comparisons to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Sullivan said he took seriously the threat “from the top of the Russian government” to sever diplomatic ties, stressing that “Russia is not involved in the growing rhetoric.”

“The United States doesn’t want to close its embassy here. President Biden doesn’t want to call me ambassador. But that’s not something we have to control,” he said.

‘CROWBAR TO GET ME’

Russia fired Sullivan’s deputies in February and recently said 37 more U.S. staff must leave by July. That would leave the embassy in “guardian status,” guaranteed by the skeleton contingent, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

The embassy has already lost its elevator technicians, meaning diplomats will likely do a lot of atlases soon, and keeping the sprinkler system operating would be a serious safety issue if the last two electricians had to leave, the U.S. official said.

An increase in overnight calls with Washington as tensions escalated over a Russian military escalation prompted Sullivan in February to move out of Spaso House, an elegant ambassador’s residence, a 15 -minute drive from the chancery and its secure communications facilities.

He moved to the more modest Townhouse One, where his deputy lived before being evicted, which is a quick walk to the chancery, the U.S. official said.

If diplomatic ties are severed, requiring the embassy to close, Sullivan said he will no longer be able to perform one of his most pressing tasks: defending detained Americans.

They include basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Trevor Reed, who launched a second hunger strike, and Paul Whelan, as well as a number of others unknown.

“I’ve told my colleagues at home, they have to use a crowbar to drive me out of here because I’m not going to go until, you know, until they either dump me or the president just says, ‘Look, you have to go home.’

Sullivan said he wants to “be here and at least to support the American people that we will leave behind behind bars.”

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